The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Thursday opened its case against a former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, Jide Omokore, and others whom it charged with nine counts of criminal diversion of about $1.6bn alleged to be part of proceeds of sales of petroleum products belonging to the Federal Government.
A former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Andrew Yakubu, appeared before the Federal High Court in Abuja where the trial is ongoing, as the first prosecution witness.
Led by the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), the witness who was the GMD of the NNPC, when the controversial transactions took place, narrated in his testimony the roles played in the alleged scam by Omokore, his companies and other accused persons.
The other co-accused persons included a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, Victor Briggs; a former Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the NNPC, Abiye Membere; and a former Manager, Planning and Commercial of the NNPC, David Mbanefo.
The other co-defendants are Omokore’s companies – Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited.
Fielding questions from the prosecuting counsel, the witness said one of the two sets of the Oil Mining Leases (permit for oil exploration) leading to the controversial transactions was named Focardo Series.
He said the other set of OMLs numbered 60, 61, 62 and 63 in which ConocoPhillips Limited was a partner.
Yakubu, a chemical engineer, who retired as the NNPC boss on August 1, 2014, said Shell was operating Focardo Series on behalf of the NNPC which had 55 per cent of the interest in the Forcados Series OMLs.
He said Shell, Total and Agip had the remaining 45 per cent of the interest.
Yakubu also testified that, on the other hand, ConocoPhilips was a joint venture partner with the NNPC and Agip in the OMLs 60, 61, 62 and 63.
According to him, ConcoPhilips had 20 per cent equity in the assets of OML 60, 61, 62 and 63, while the NNPC had 60 per cent and Agip had 20 per cent.
He explained that Shell, Total and Agip divested their 55 per cent interest in the joint ventures in the Forcardo Series, while Conocophilips sometime in 2012 divested its 20 per cent in the joint venture in the OML 60, 61 and 62 to Oando.
He said after the divestments of Shell’s interest in Forcardo Series, the NNPC along with the NPDC went into Strategic Alliance Agreement with Atlantic Energy Drilling.
NPDC also took over the role of operator from Shell in the new relationship.
He said the terms of the SAA provided that Atlantic Energy Drilling would provide the “technical services support” and funding.
He said similar step was taken when Conocophilips divested its 20 per cent in the joint venture in the OML 60, 61 and 62 to Oando.
He said, “NNPC/NPDC saw an opportunity to further grow their capacity and now requested the petroleum minister to assign the 60 per cent equity interest of the NNPC to the NPDC.
“The request was approved by the minister, and also the request for Atlantic Energy to continue to support the NPDC with funding and technical services in respect of this asset as well as a result of the assessment of their performance in the previous assets. That was approved by the minister. The approval came back to me and I conveyed it to the Executive Director Exploration and Production in the person of Engr. Membere (the fifth defendant who then conveyed the approval to NPDC.
“The Company Secretary and the Legal Department were also copied.
“After the approval and the execution of the deed of assignment between the minister of petroleum, NNPC and NPDC, NPDC then entered into negotiations with the strategic partner and entered into the SAA with the partners. Atlantic Energy by the SAA were supposed to provide funding and technical services to the NPDC over this asset as happened with the other assets.”
But he said sometimes in 2013 and 2014 he received complaints that Atlantic Energy was unable to meet its payment obligations.
Regarding the complicity of NAPIMS in meeting the funding requirements of the assets, Yakubu said, “We got to know later that NAPIMS made a cash call but I also issued instructions for them to stop. I also made sure that whatever fund that NAPIMS had paid was refunded to the federation account by the NNPC.”
At this point, the defence counsel, Rafiu Lawal-Rabana, applied for an adjournment for cross-examination and he was obliged.
Justice Dimgba adjourned till January 20, 2017 for cross-examination of the first prosecution witness by the defence lawyers.