Out of court settlement in N58.9b loan dispute inconclusive, parties tell court
Parties in the N58.9billion loan dispute between Pan Ocean Oil Corporation Nigeria Limited (POON), its affiliate companies and Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) are yet to come to terms in their bid to settle out of court.
Lead counsel for the firms, OAR Ogunde (SAN) and his AMCON counterpart, Kunle Ogunba (SAN) informed Justice Mohammed Liman of the federal high court, Lagos, of this development at the last hearing.
“We have not gotten any feedback that the matter has been settled and therefore intend to proceed with our motion”, Mr. Ogunde (SAN) told the court, adding that the claimant/respondent had not shown any concrete step towards settlement.
He informed the court that the order obtained by AMCON was executed against third parties, who had been sent out of the sealed properties.
“If the claimant can be restricted, then this will encourage us to wait for settlement because expensive buildings can attract thieves if left unoccupied”, he argued.
Mr. Ogunde (SAN) further stated that the liability of third parties would affect his clients and requested for an undertaking that would allow them regain possession of their respective properties.
In response, Mr. Ogunba (SAN) said that the interest of his client should not be jeopardised in the process. “The decision with respect to the proposal on settlement cannot be taken in a day. It needs time. If third parties are aggrieved, they know what to do”.
“The defendant has a legion of companies, which they operate. We have put a system in place to attend to affected third parties. One of them is Saipem Contracting Nig Ltd, who wants to leave and we have instructed them to write to us,” Ogunba (SAN) said.
The trial judge in response stated that it was improper to drive tenants out and then began to listen to them. “It is a bullet approach which is wrong. Once possession is taken, you serve tenants notice and not to drive them out,” he said, adding that there was no justification for AMCON’s action.
He held that the tenants should be allowed to enjoy their tenancies with the option to retain or renew tenancy, maintaining that third parties should not be prejudicially affected.
Counsel for one of the tenants, Saipem, Mr. Olugbenga Onalaja informed the court that he had written to Ogunba (SAN), seeking to be allowed to go into the property to take out his assets since his tenancy had expired. The court therefore struck out the notice of claim filed by Saipem, saying that it had been overtaken by events. The judge also discharged all the banks that filed affidavits indicating that they had no account with the firms.
Mr. Ogunde (SAN) then informed the court that its ex-parte order was harming the defendants. “Our application is ripe for hearing. All the accounts of defendants have been frozen, even accounts of POON, Beam and Trensix on which the orders of the court executed in this suit did not cover. He further said his client’s operations of crude oil had been hampered, that up till that day, the defendants had no access to one dollar as all monies went into an account controlled by AMCON and the banks.
“If things are not managed well, oil and gas production will cease. We have been paying despite being in court. How can we continue to pay when the accounts have been frozen? These issues are militating against settlement. There was no point freezing the accounts. People who should be paid are not paid as a result”, he declared.
Consequently, the judge advised the lawyers to work through the process of settlement and take interest of parties into consideration. “I am aware that the actions of the receiver may affect the fiscal policy of the country. The receiver also has fiduciary duty to protect. It is not for the court to set criteria for parties, you do that yourselves”, Justice Liman said and adjourned to October 13, for the report of settlement.
The judge stated that if parties did not settle during vacation, they were at liberty to approach a vacation judge to argue any issue that they considered urgent or important.
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