A federal high court in Abuja on Friday vacated an interim order of forfeiture granted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in respect of the Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 245 otherwise known as Oil bloc.
The order granted EFCC on January 26, 2017 pending investigation and prosecution of suspects in an alleged $1.1 billion Malabu Oil Scam was set aside and vacated by Justice John Tsoho on the ground that conditions precedent before such order could be issued were not met by the Chairman of the EFCC.
Delivering ruling in two separate applications of Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited and Agip Exploration Limited, Justice Tsoho said the order of forfeiture ought not to have been granted the EFCC boss in the first instance because he did not meet the required conditions to enjoy such forfeiture order.
The judge agreed with the two oil companies that there was no case of tracing of assets or attachment before the EFCC boss rushed to the court to apply and secured the order for forfeiture as part of the condition precedent.
Justice Tsoho also held that the EFCC Chairman was not the proper person that can invoke court jurisdiction for temporary order of forfeiture and that the subject matter, OPL 245, being an oil block is a tangible property not movable.
“I have taken a critical look into the processes filed and submissions by counsel to parties in the matter and I have come to the conclusion that chairman of EFCC failed to meet conditions that can enable him enjoy order of temporary forfeiture.
“In effect, the order of temporary forfeiture of January 26, 2017 granted on the application of the EFCC Chairman is hereby set aside and vacated”, the Judge held.
“With the setting aside of the order of the temporary forfeiture, proceedings in respect of this matter here come to an end” the Judge said.
Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited and Nigeria Agip Exploration Ltd and other individuals had last month in Abuja asked the Federal High Court to discharge the order of forfeiture which it granted the anti-graft agency.
Justice Tsoho had on Thursday, January 26, 2017 granted an order of interim forfeiture of Oil Prospecting License (OPL 245) to the Federal Government pending investigation and prosecution of suspects in the $1.1 billion Malabu Oil scam.
At the hearing of the matter, Professor Olaniwun Ajayi (SAN), representing Shell Exploration Limited told the court that the first applicant had filed two applications, with one seeking the discharge of the order of forfeiture to the Federal Government which the court made pending the conclusion of the matter.
The company had also asked the court to dismiss or strike out the suit as well as an order, “staying or suspending the effects of the interim order made by this court in favour of the EFCC directing that OPL 245 be managed by the Department of Petroleum Resources on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria pending the conclusion of investigation and prosecution.
The company held that the execution of the action by the EFCC constituted a gross abuse of office and process of the court and that the process of procuring the ex parte order of the EFCC Chairman was unconstitutional and unlawful.
It held that the respondents misrepresented and suppressed material facts in obtaining the order and prayed the court to discharge the order in the interest of justice.
Counsel to the second applicant, Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited, Mr Babatunde Fapohunda SAN who also filed the same application, urged the court to set aside its earlier order in the interest of justice.
It would be recalled that Justice Tsoho granted the order following an ex-parte motion filed by the EFCC through its counsel, Mr Johnson Ojogbane.
The property is to be managed by the Department of Petroluem Resources on behalf of the federal government, pending the conclusion of investigation and prosecution of all those involved.
Ojogbane, in the ex-parte application, had urged the court to grant the order pending the investigation and prosecution of the suspects.
The other suspects named in the application are Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Limited, Shell Nigeria Exploration Limited, Nigeria Agip Exploration Ltd and other individuals.
The EFCC counsel had in the motion noted that the investigation bordered on alleged acts of conspiracy, bribery, official corruption and money laundering.
It will be recalled that the EFCC had in December 2016, charged nine suspects, including the former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Mohammed Adoke, over the issue.
Adoke was accused of illegally transferring more than $800 million purportedly meant for the purchase of the OPL 245 to Etete, Malabu Oil.