By Moji Eniola
Ikeja – Two foreigners — Mr Paul Piche, a Norwegian and Ms Charlene Cross, a Briton, revealed how Mr John Abebe, the brother of the late Stella Obasanjo, a former First Lady of Nigeria, allegedly forged documents to perpetrate a four million dollars fraud.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Abebe is facing a four-count charge of forgery, fabricating evidence, using fabricated evidence and attempt to pervert the cause of justice at an Ikeja Special Offences Court in Lagos.
He, however, denied the charges which were proffered against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
During Tuesday’s proceedings which started at 9.23 am and ended at 3.48 pm, Piche who was led on evidence by Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, the lead prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, at the start of his testimony, provided a background of his career.
Piche, describing himself as the Country Manager of Equinor, Turkey revealed that he was the Managing Director of Statoil Nigeria Ltd from 2016 to 2017.
“Equinor is an international oil and gas company it was formerly known as Statoil, its currently engages in activities in 36 countries of the world.
“I was responsible for the overall activities of Statoil in Nigeria, I know the defendant in this case and I know BP Exploration Ltd.”
Explaining Statoil’s business dealings in Nigeria he said:”In 1991, Statoil Nigeria entered into a consultancy agreement with Inducon Nigeria Ltd (Abebe’s company) that continued till 1997 when the agreement was terminated.
“During the same period, specifically in 1993, Statoil entered into a Net Profit Interest Agreement (NPIA) and in 1995, the agreement ended.
“Statoil had further dealings with Inducon and in 2010, Inducon took out claims against Statoil at the Federal High Court.
“When I became Managing Director of Statoil Nigeria, my knowledge of Inducon was related to the ongoing court case.”
The Norwegian revealed to the court how the alleged forgery of the NPIA by Abebe was unravelled by Statoil.
“In 2010, Dr Abebe tendered a copy of the amendment letter between themselves (Inducon) and BP Exploration dated 1995.
“At that point, Statoil made enquiries from BP Exploration about the original amendment letter from 1995, such amendment letter was provided to Statoil from BP Exploration.
“When we made comparisons of the letter we received and the one that was tendered at the Federal High Court by Inducon and Dr Abebe we saw that there were a number of inconsistencies between the two versions,” he said.
Piche who was presented with the original and the allegedly forged NPIA revealed the discrepancies in the two documents.
“Annexure Two is the forged amendment letter tendered by Inducon and Annexure Three is the genuine version of the amendment letter that we received.
“In Annexure Three, the paragraph for the $4Million dollar buyout for production of oil does not exist but it exist in Annexure two.”
He said: “In Annexure Two the address of thw National Westminster Bank which is in 2A Charing Cross Road is all on one line where as if you look at Annexure Three, the same address is in two lines.
“The postcode of the address of the of National Westminster is WCTUH0PE with a Zero while on the Annexure Two the postcode is WCTHUHOPE with the letter `O’ which is a wrong postcode.
“In Annexure Two at the parenthesis, instead of i.e, capital L and a lower case e whereas in Annexure Three, in the parenthesis you will see a lower case i and a lower case.”
Piche also pointed out to the court that the paragraphs of page two of the forged document were not justified compared to the original where all the paragraphs were justified.
He informed the court that following the discovery, Statoil petitioned the EFCC and laid a complaint at the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
“On Dec. 14, 2016 we laid a complaint at the State House office of the Vice President because it was obvious to us that the amendment letter has been forged.
“The fabrication of the letter at the Federal High Court to pervert the course of justice and we had no option but to petition the EFCC and ask the to investigate the matter.
“We sent copies of the letter to the Honourable Office of the Vice President as well as the Honourable Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation,” he said.
While being cross-examined by Mr E.D, Onyeke, a member of Abebe’s defence team, Piche admitted to have no knowledge of forensics.
“I have a B.Sc. in Economics from the University of Warwick and a Masters degree in Economics from the London School of Economics.
“I’m not a forensic document examiner, I cannot tell the type of font used in the document,” he said.
He admitted to the court that his company did not take any legal action on the alleged forgery until 2016 after judgments were given at Federal High Court and Court of Appeal in favour of Inducon, Abebe’s company against Statoil.
“I’m aware of the judgment against my company at the Court of Appeal on June 5, 2012 and I’m aware of my company’s appeal at the Supreme Court,” Piche said.
Testifying, Ms Cross, the second prosecution witness, described herself as a legal practitioner and provided to the court her knowledge of the business contract.
“I’m the in-house lawyer, Assistant General Manager Dispute Resolution Projects and I’m a Solicitor working for BP Exploration on London. I manage all BP dispute globally with the exception of the U.S
“I know Inducon Ltd and Statoil Nigeria Ltd, I’m aware of rhe fact that there was a relationship between Inducon Ltd from 1990 to approximately 1992 onwards.
“I’m aware that there were two aspects to the relationship, the first consisted of a consultancy agreement and the second consisted of a NPIA which was signed on Nov. 12, 1993,” she said.
Cross told the court that the original NPIA signed by Inducon and BP Exploration in 1993 was available because it was archived by BP over the years.
“The original was contained in BP Archive System which is a very organised system in place which consists of documents finally executed and sent for safekeeping.
“The NPIA was sent to the BP Archiving System on Nov. 16, 1993 and it shows on the upper sheer that the Records Managing Unit received this document for safekeeping.
“There is a barcode in the document which identifies the BP Archive System,” she said.
Cross told the court that alleged $4Million buy out option could not be inserted by BP into the NPIA.
“It makes no sense whatsoever for BP to have inserted such language in the document, in 1993, the NPIA makes clear that the buy-out option is in force as long as the 1993 NPIA is in force.
“There is no reason for BP to have inserted this provision on this letter of intent at this stage. BP’s provision is that it never agreed to those wordings.
“The statement that it applied to a pre-production stage of the buy-out is incorrect. I don’t know how the document was put together but this is not a BP document.
“In the months prior to March 2018, BP was approached by the EFCC to ascertain the authencity of some documents and thus culminated in me writing a statement to the EFCC on March 26,” she said.
Cross in her testimony, also corroborated the evidence of Piche by describing details of the document that revealed the alleged forgery.
On cross-examination by Onyeke, Cross admitted to not being trained forensic document examination, she also revealed that she made her statement to the EFCC while in London.
Earlier during the trial a member of Abebe’s defence team, Mr Uche Nwokedi (SAN) via a Motion on Notice brought pursuant to Section 36 of the 1999 constitution sought to strike out the charge against Abebe.
Nwokedi said the allegations raised by the EFCC in the charges were allegations which were previously raised in suits at the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal.
Opposing the application, Oyedepo urged the court to strike out the application because it lacked merit.
“There were two judgments at the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal, however there were no pronouncements freeing the defendant from the allegations before the court,” Oyedepo said.
In her ruling, Justice Mojisola Dada dismissed the application of the defence, saying :”Nothing can be gleaned by ousting the jurisdiction of this court, the application is hereby wanting and is hereby dismissed.”
NAN reports that according to Oyedepo, Abebe committed the offence on June 22, 2010 in Lagos.
“Abebe knowingly forged BP Exploration Nigeria Ltd’s letter dated Nov. 30,1995 to Inducon (Nigeria) Ltd.
“He committed the forgery by inserting in page two of the said letter the following words: “Also note that the ‘Buy-Out Option’ only applies to the pre-production stage of the NPIA. The $4million buy-out is thus irrelevant from production of oil in any of our fields.
“He purported same to have been issued by BP Exploration Nigeria Limited,” the EFCC prosecutor said.
The prosecution claims that the defendant used the allegedly forged letter as evidence in suit No. FHC/L/CS/224/2010 between Abebe, Inducon Nigeria Ltd and Statoil Nigeria Ltd. at the Federal High Court.
The evidence was admitted and marked exhibit BB in the suit.
According to the EFCC, the defendant through his actions attempted to pervert the course of justice.
The offences violated Sections 120(1), 120(2), 126(2) of the Criminal Code Law of 2003.
The case was adjourned till Oct. 24 for continuation of trial. (NAN)