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‘$15bn fraud case’: Court to resume criminal hearing against Petro Union Nov 15

‘$15bn fraud case’: Court to resume criminal hearing against Petro Union Nov 15
November 14
11:21 2021

A federal high court in Lagos will resume hearing in the ongoing trial against Petro Union Oil and Gas Company Limited over an alleged $15 billion attempted fraud.

In a hearing notice issued recently, the court said it will resume proceedings on November 15.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had filed a lawsuit against Petro Union, its financial consultant, and four of its directors — Abayomi Kukoyi (trading under Gladstone Kukoyi & Associates), Kingsley Okpala, Chidi Okpalaeze, and Emmanuel Okpalaeze in March 2020.

The defendants alongside the firm are facing a thirteen-count charge on sundry criminal counts bordering on conspiracy, obtaining by pretenses, forgery, and fraud.

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Testimonies from key witnesses for the prosecution exposed how the company and its directors allegedly plotted and conspired to defraud the Central Bank of Nigeria and the country.

So far, eight witnesses have testified before the court, including a former minister of finance, a senior officer of the CBN, and an ex-Union bank UK staff.

In her testimony, Nenadu Usman, former minister of finance, said a letter came to the ministry from Petro Union in February 2017 requesting a mandate for the CBN to approve the investment of funds into Nigeria.

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Subsequently, the letter went to the permanent secretary, ministry of finance — and later to the home finance department for advice.

According to her, the ministry concluded that what was required was for the ministry to remind the Petro Union that the CBN does not require the mandate of the minister of finance before such foreign capital can be imported to Nigeria because it is not public funds.

She concluded her testimony that the ministry was not in a position to, and neither did it confirm, the existence of the funds referred to in Petro Union’s letter.

Olugbemileke Akinyemi Akinwunmi, another witness who works with CBN Abuja as a principal manager responsible for domiciliary accounts and management of inflows into the revenue account, informed the court that he was mandated to compile the series of records relating to correspondence between the CBN and Petro Union.

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When explaining international transfers, he stated that all outflows from the CBN go through a platform called SWIFT and that all processes must pass through this platform and that for payments to be processed, there must be a correspondence bank for the inflow. He further explained to the court that the CBN services two categories of clients — ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) in one category, and banks and other financial institutions in the second category. He said categorically that beyond these two types of customers, the CBN does not maintain accounts for individuals and is not involved in the receipt of funds into Nigeria for private transactions.

He said he saw a copy of a statement allegedly presented by Petro Union as the statement of account of a company called Goldmatic Limited. Upon review of the statement, he confirmed that no company with that name exists in CBN’s records. From the name, it is safe to say the company is a limited liability company, and CBN does not keep accounts for such entities.

Walter Mbah, a former employee of Union bank, London, informed the court that the bank’s London branch received a request from the Lagos head office to confirm a cheque for GBP2,556,000,000 in 2001. As is the usual practice, the London branch wrote to Barclays bank for confirmation of the cheque. Barclays bank responded via its letter stating that the account against which the cheque was drawn had been closed since 1989.

Mbah testified that while Union bank could not trace the copy of the letter written to Barclays bank, the bank still had a copy of the response from Barclays bank. The response from Barclays bank was tendered and admitted by the court in evidence.

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It is expected that when the criminal trial resumes on Monday, 15 November 2021, the prosecution will conclude its case, and the defense will open its case either immediately or at the next adjourned date.

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