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EFCC witness testifies in Petro Union, directors trial

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EFCC PHOTO: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES<br />

The trial of Petro Union Oil and Gas Company Limited and its officials continued last Wednesday before Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court, Lagos, with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) prosecution witness, Mr. Leke Akinkunmi, who is Associate Head, International Funds at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) testifying.

The four directors, Abayomi Kukoyi (trading under the name and style of Gladstone Kukoyi & Associates), Prince Kingsley Okpala, Prince Chidi Okpalaeze, and Prince Emmanuel Okpalaeze are facing a 13-count charge including alleged forgery, conspiracy, obtaining by false pretenses, procuring and uttering a Barclays Bank cheque in the sum of £2.556 billion, and fraud.

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They were also alleged to have some time in April 2007, forged a statement of account purported to have been issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria in the name of Goldmatic Limited, which was used to obtain a judgment in the sum of £2.159, 221, 313.54 billion from the Federal High Court.

According to the EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), the offences are contrary to, and punishable under sections 1(2), 1(2)(a) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.

He also maintained that the offences are contrary to and punishable under sections 509, 467(2)(I) and 468 of the Criminal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

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In his testimony, the witness, Akinkunmi, said the Central Bank, like other apex banks globally, functions as a banker to banks and the government and does not hold accounts for private individuals or companies.

Akinkunmi also reviewed the statement of account in question and pointed out several irregularities on the document when compared to the standard CBN-issued statement of account.

Following his testimony, the defence counsel led by Joe-Kyari Gadzama (SAN) and Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) cross-examined him.

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The anti-graft agency had in January hearing presented other key witnesses, including former minister of Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman.

The former minister testified about how she received and responded to a request from Petro Union for approval to bring an investment of £2.556bn into Nigeria.

She stated that she directed the company to approach the CBN since a new law had by then divested the Ministry of any involvement in approving foreign investments into Nigeria.

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She clarified that the response of the Ministry of Finance, which she signed was by no means an endorsement or confirmation of the investment.

Another prosecution witness at the hearing in January, an official of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Ojetunde Oluwaseyi, had also presented several documents, which Petro Union had relied on to obtain the judgment in question.

He explained that he had never heard of the purported author of most of the documents during his career in the Federal Ministry of Finance.

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He explained further that there are several incongruities in the documents presented, including the fact that several letters containing different information on the same subject matter were written on the same date and given the same reference number.

He explained that this was contrary to the practice in the Federal Civil Service and he strongly suspects that the documents were forged and created to achieve a particular clandestine purpose.

Parallels have been drawn between the Petro Union fraud, involving £2.556billion, and the infamous P&ID case, which sought to defraud the Federal Government of Nigeria of over $10billion for various reasons.

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The Petro Union fraud is targeted at the Federal Government of Nigeria represented by the CBN, the Federal Ministry of Finance, and the Attorney-General of the Federation as well as Union Bank of Nigeria.

The suspects, using a series of forged documents including a purported CBN statement of account had obtained a judgment for the sum of £2.556billion together with interest at 15 per cent yearly from 1994 jointly and severally against the defendants.

The value of the Petro Union judgment together with interest amounts to over $15billion, a figure that far exceeds the amount involved in the P&ID matter.

An appeal to set aside this judgment is currently pending at the Supreme Court.

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