Diezani’s $300m loot: Court reserves judgement in Aiteo’s fundamental right suit

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A Federal High Court in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria has adjourned till 27 September, 2018 for judgement in fundamental rights suit filed by a limited liability company, Aiteo Energy Resources Limited and three officials of the company as a result of Economic and Financial Crime Commission’s, EFCC’s allegation that the company laundered $300 million for former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.

The three other applicants in the suit are Tunde Akinpelu, Ewariezi Useh, Barrister Oladele Awonuga,while EFCC Deputy Director of Operations Iliyasu kwarbi and Attorney General, of the Federation are respondents in the suit.

The presiding judge, Oluremi Oguntoyinbo on Wednesday adjourned for judgement after the counsel for the two parties adopted their written addresses.

In an affidavit sworn to by a staff of Aiteo company, Mr Oladele Awonuga and filed before the court, he averred that a letter dated 9th May, 2016 and signed by Illiyasu kwarbi, EFCC informed Tunde Akinpelu that it was investigating a case in which Benedict Peters featured, and requested Akinpelu to release the said Benedict Peters for interview him.

Oladele said at that material point in time, Peters was on medical vacation overseas and that the officer who brought the letter was so informed.

He said the anti-graft agency was told via a letter that Peters would make himself available when he returned.

However on the 2nd of June, 2016, he said the EFCC invaded the business premises of Aiteo company at 5/7 Dockyard Road Apapa, Lagos State without any prior notice with armed men, as the business of the company was disrupted.

He said thereafter, Tunde Akinpelu and Ewariez were arrested without any warrant of arrest, but that they were later told that they would be released if and when Peters showed up at their, 15A Awolowo Road Ikoyi, Lagos, but that they were latter released

He said in view of this dehumanizing manner they were disgraced and treated like a common criminal, the applicants were now demanding the sum of N10 billion only being general damages they sustained as a result of breach of their fundamental rights.

They are also urging the court not only to declare that the invasion of their office and physical abuse and harassment they suffered in the hands of EFCC agents were unconstitutional and gross violation of their right, but to also restrain them and their agents from further arresting or detaining them.

However, in a counter affidavit in opposition to the suit sworn to by one of the EFCC’s operatives, Usman Zakari, and filed before the court, the deponent averred that sometimes in 2016, the EFCC received an intelligent report relating to allegation of conspiracy, stealing and money laundering involving the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke and other persons, including one Benedict Peters of Aiteo Energy Resources Limited which his team was detailed to investigate.

He said investigation was carried out by writing letters of investigations activities to various banks, the Nigeria National Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, Ministry of Finance, Nigerian Ports Authority and the Corporate Affairs Commission.

According to him, the investigation conducted so far revealed that Alison-Madueke, Bennard Otto, Benedict Peters, Aiteo Energy Limited, Northern Oil and Gas Company Limited and other serving and retired public servants in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and its subsidiaries were suspected to be involved in conspiracy, stealing, money laundering and other sundry offences to the tune of over $300 million, saying that Benedict Peters is the Chairman of Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer of Aiteo Energy Limited and Northern Belt Oil and Gas Company Limited.

The EFCC denied never to have invaded the premises of Aiteo company, and that their officers were never detained or harassed, but rather, to carry out holistic investigation and get Benedict Peters’ response to the findings aforesaid.

The commission said it wrote a letter to the Managing Director of Aiteo Energy Resources Limited to release Benedict Peters to assist investigation, but that Benedict Peters wrote several letters to the commission through his counsel pleading to come at various times which he never honoured till date.

When it was apparent that Benedict Peters was not willing and ready to honour the EFCC invitation, the commission approached a Chief Magistrate Court in Ikeja Lagos who duly issued warrant arrest for his arrest.

Consequently, Mr Zakari contended that the applicants were using this suit as a decoy to frustrate the investigation of Benedict Peters by EFCC, as the commission was carrying out its statutory responsibilities in line with her extant establishment laws.