Abebe vs Statoil: Defence Witness Shocks Statoil At Forgery Case Hearing
The evidence being dangled before the Special Offences Court in Ikeja, Lagos, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in its prosecution of the Chairman of Inducon Nigeria Limited, Dr. John Abebe over allegation of forgery, could soon prove to be spurious if the latest submissions made at the court were anything to go by.
For the record, Dr. Abebe facilitated the coming of British Petroleum (BP) into Nigeria and helped to secure three deep offshore oil blocks with OPL 213,217 and 218 for the BP-Statoil Alliance in 1991. Reportedly, BP later vacated the block and the alliance with Statoil, but Statoil currently enjoys proceeds made from the oil blocks. Abebe has since 2010 been in court claiming the agreement was for him to be paid 1.5% of the net profit made from the venture.
The Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal have both ruled in Dr Abebe’s favour on the main suit and Statoil has appealed these judgments to the Supreme Court since 2012. However, allegations are rife that the alleged forgery case is the latest move by Statoil to stop the Inducon Chairman from having his entitlement.
The EFCC had last July arraigned Abebe, younger brother to the late former First Lady, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, before the court on a four-count charge of forgery, fabricating evidence and attempt to pervert the course of justice levelled against Abebe by Statoil Nigeria Limited. According to the charge sheet, the defendant was accused to have on June 22, 2010 knowingly forged a letter dated November 30, 1995 and belonging to BP Exploration Nigeria Limited to that of his company, Inducon Nigeria Limited. The defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges.
But at the recent sitting of the Special Offences Court, a defence witness and Deputy Director of the National Archives, Mrs. Roseline Ovesuor, informed the court that based on the provisions of sections 37 and 38 of the National Archives Act, it was an offence for companies registered in Nigeria to take their records outside the country. She made the revelation at the resumed hearing of the case before Justice Mojisola Dada.
Flowing from the argument, Mrs. Ovesuor, who said she has been working there for more than 30 years at the Department of National Archives of Nigeria, stated that by the provisions of sections 37 and 38 of the Act, it was an offence for a Nigerian company to take its records outside Nigeria.
The witness, who testified under examination-in-chief led by Counsel to Abebe, Uche Nwokedi (SAN), said the Department of National Archives is responsible for the management and preservation of documents of historical value in Nigeria for federal ministries, parastatals, agencies, commissions as well as private companies, institutions, multinational companies and individuals. She added that the National Archives is also mandated to assist ministries, agencies, departments at the federal level, state level, private organisations, and business houses to establish their archives when necessary.
The defence witness testified that the National Archives Act is the law that regulates their activities and was promulgated in July 1992. She explained that in every organisation, public or private, there exist three levels of records: that is, current, semi-current and non-current. She noted with an organisation, private or public, incorporated in Nigeria and is functioning in Nigeria, the law states such records must be housed by the organisation within the country where that organisation was established and is operating.
Under cross-examination by EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, she pointed out that she was not aware of the facts of the charge against the defendant and that she had not seen the documents that were tendered in court in this matter. When she was shown all the exhibits that were tendered in this case so far, the defence witness testified that she had not seen them before as they were not archived with the National Archives.
It will be recalled that in the course of proceedings on the alleged forgery, the EFCC through the Managing Director of Statoil Nigeria Limited, Paul Piche, who is the prosecution witness one (PW1), and PW2, Joanne Cross, who works with British Petroleum (BP) United Kingdom Plc, had produced documents before the court to allegedly prove the charge against Abebe.
The documents, which were prepared by BP Exploration Nigeria Limited and Inducon Nigeria Limited (both Nigerian companies), were said by PW2 to have been produced from a privately managed archive in London known as Iron Mountain.
But in part of Abebe’s case as argued by Nwokedi in his no-case submission which was dismissed by Justice Dada, he contended that the act of exporting or sending the documents to the United Kingdom for archiving is an offence prohibited by Nigerian law.
The counsel stated that the action contravenes the provisions of sections 37 and 38 of the National Archives Act, and that the documents were legally inadmissible for proving the charge against the defendant.
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