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Lawyers decry campaign against AITEO over Shell’s alleged oil diversion

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Lawyers and eight other groups, yesterday, raised the alarm over what they described as smear campaign against Aiteo Eastern E&P Company Limited and its executives, following its suit on alleged Shell Petroleum Development Company’s (SPDC) diversion of 16 million barrels of oil.

They said the campaign was well-financed, lubricated and aimed at diverting attention from the crude theft allegation against Shell and sabotaging efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari to increase the country’s oil revenue.”

They made the allegation in a statement issued by Tochukwu Ohazuruike and Mallam Kabiru Yusuf at a joint press conference in Abuja.

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The conveners and participating groups are the Consortium of Lawyers for Human Rights and Justice, African Centre for Human Rights and Justice (ACJHR), National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Arewa Consultative Youth Movement, Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo Youth Movement, Niger Delta Youth Council, Oduduwa Youth Assembly, Middle Belt Youth Vanguard and the Africa Youth Council (AYC).

A Federal High Court in Lagos on January 25 granted an interim Mareva injunction directing banks to freeze SPDC and its subsidiaries’ accounts to recover the value of the 16 million barrels of crude oil Shell allegedly diverted from AITEO.

Justice Oguntoyinbo had on January 25, 2021, directed banks to ring-fence any cash, bonds, deposits and negotiable instruments amounting to $2.7b and pay all standing credits to Shell companies up to the value into an interest yielding account in the court Chief Registrar’s name.

On March 9, 2021 the judge rejected Shell’s application to vacate its Mareva and summoned three of the banks’ secretaries and chief financial officers for allegedly disobeying the order.

The groups claimed that they had credible intelligence that Shell had resorted to procuring, conducting, coordinating and supervising the smear campaign.

They traced the problem to a complaint by some indigenous oil companies in Nigeria that export crude oil from the Bonny Oil Terminal operated by Shell complained to the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) on the level of unaccounted crude pumped to the terminal through the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL).

The DPR investigated the issue and discovered that Shell deployed the unapproved metering system through which it diverted over two million barrels of oil, which it asked Shell to refund to the companies.

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However, AITEO hired private investigators and auditors, who discovered that Shell took over 16 million barrels of crude oil from AITEO with discoveries of additional millions of barrels missing.

“The unapproved metering system Shell deployed gave inaccurate figures of the actual volume of crude pumped from the NCTL to the terminal.

“This made the Federal Government to blame it on crude oil theft by third parties and made government to waste resources in pursuit of oil thieves,” the groups added.

They said the smear campaign would argue that AITEO was a serial loan defaulter that failed in its obligations to its lenders and therefore, portray the company in bad light before lenders, insisting that the information was false and that “AITEO repays its loans.”

Records of loans repayment to other entities abound and that even on the current facilities obtained from Shell was still being serviced.

“Seeing that there are unauthorised deductions and charges to its accounts, AITEO convened a meeting to reconcile it accounts. Rather than respond to the call, Shell mobilised other lenders to threaten to take over AITEO’s assets and businesses if it fails to part with over $900m.

“This warranted AITEO to approach the Federal High Court, Abuja, which restrained Shell and other lenders from taking over AITEO’s business, pending the determination of the matter. Shell and the lenders appealed against the ruling and have since abandoned it,” the added.

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