The Supreme Court will, Monday, continue its hearing on a case involving the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Union Bank of Nigeria (UBN) and an oil and gas company – Petro Union Oil and Gas Company Limited (Petro Union), over an alleged £2.556 billion fraud attempt.
The hearing at the apex court continues even as Petro Union and some of its officials simultaneously face criminal charges at the Federal High Court in Lagos on the same matter which, according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is an attempt to defraud UBN, the CBN and by extension, the Nigerian government of another mind-boggling sum of money.
The said sum of £2.556 billion plus interest amounts to $15 billion in today’s terms, causing experts who have studied the case to liken it to the infamous $10 billion Process & Industrial Development Limited (P&ID) fraud attempt against Nigeria.
As the Petro Union case resumes, all eyes are on the Supreme Court of Nigeria to deliver a sound decision, especially as the criminal case at the Federal High Court continues to unravel evidence, which indicate that the judgments in favour of Petro Union at the lower courts, were allegedly obtained by fraud.
Some court watchers have however expressed concern that the outcome of the case, which should be unambiguous, remains uncertain.
Petro Union’s antics began in 1994 when the company allegedly procured a cheque from a branch of Barclays Bank in the UK with a value of £2.556 billion and presented it at one of Union Bank’s branches in Lagos, under the pretext that it was meant to construct three petrochemical refinery complexes in Nigeria and establish a bank.
While the required due diligence investigations were being carried out, the Managing Director of Petro Union, one Mr. Isaac Okpala, inundated the CBN and Union Bank with visits and demands for the release of the cheque.
Eventually, both the CBN and Union Bank advised Petro Union that Barclays Bank in the UK had been contacted and it confirmed that the cheque could not be given value to because the company that purportedly issued the cheque dated December 29, 1994 (a company, known as Gazeaft Limited) did not exist on the Register of Companies in the UK. The response similarly affirmed that the account on which the cheque was drawn was closed on 21st September 1989 whereas the cheque was issued on 29 December 1994 – five years after the account was closed.
Despite the foregoing startling discovery and decisive response, Petro Union and Okpala persisted with their demands and this culminated in a petition by the company to the Lagos office of the EFCC, for alleged offences of stealing and criminal conversion against the CBN and Union Bank.
Following the petition, the EFCC investigated the allegation and exonerating the banks from any wrongdoing.
However, in its desperation to use the allegedly forged cheque to perpetrate the fraud on CBN and Union Bank, Petro Union in February 2012 instituted an action at a Federal High Court, Abuja in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/M/104/2012: PETRO UNION OIL & GAS CO. LTD .V. CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA AND ORS., seeking sundry reliefs against (1) CBN, (2) Union Bank, (3) Hon. Minister of Finance and (4) The Attorney-General of the Federation, and alleged that Union Bank received the sum of £2,556,000,000.00 on behalf of Petro Union and transferred the sum of £2,159,221,318.54 to the CBN, while retaining the sum of £396,778,681.46 as commission.
In support of this startling claim, Petro Union alleged that the money is kept in an account in the name of a company called Goldmatic Limited at the CBN and tendered a purported CBN Statement of Account of Goldmatic Limited.
The company won the case at the Federal High Court, Abuja, before Justice Abdu Kafarati. On appeal, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the lower court prompting the respondents to further appeal to the apex court, praying her to set aside the decision of the lower courts.
The appellants stated that the judgments were obtained by falsehood, warning that the apex court’s decision may occasion a miscarried justice capable of ruining the nation’s fledgling economy, if the facts of the case are not properly dissected.
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