Court discharges, acquits Origin Oil Gas Ltd, directors of subsidy scandal allegation

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Orders EFCC to return N124m recovered from them before Dec. 31

A Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court sitting in Abuja has discharged and acquitted Origin Oil & Gas Limited and its directors; Abiodun Ponnle and Adetoye Adegbite, of the allegations bordering on fuel subsidy scam preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC).

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Justice S.C. Oriji, in a judgment, held that the EFCC failed to establish the allegation that the defendants discharged 6,784.921 metric tons of premium motor spirit (PMS) as opposed to the 14,208.908 metric tons over which subsidy was paid.

Justice Oriji held further that rather, evidence abound before the court establishing that the volume of PMS discharged by Mr Ponnle and Mr Adegbite, through their company, Origin Oil & Gas Ltd, at the Lister Jetty Terminal was 14,208.908 metric tons.

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The anti-corruption graft had moved against some oil marketers, including the defendants, for allegedly claiming and processing excess subsidy payment far more than what they are legitimately due for.

The EFCC, in its pursuit to recover the excess payment of subsidy allegedly claimed by the oil marketers, filed a criminal charge against the defendants sometimes in 2016.

In a suit marked: CR/50/2016 filed by the Federal Republic of Nigeria as complainant, Adegbite Adetoye, Ponnle Abiodun and Origin Oil & Gas Limited are 1st to 3rd defendants respectively.

The EFCC, on March 24, 2017, amended the charge and the defendants were arraigned before Justice Oriji on 11-count charge on March 30, 2017.

They, however, pleaded not guilty to all the counts bordering on criminal conspiracy, conspiracy to obtain money under false pretence and obtaining money under false pretence all contrary to Section 1(i) (a) and 1(3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, 2006, and Section 97 of the Penal Code Act; and the offence of forgery and using of forged document as genuine all contrary to Sections 364 and 366 of the Penal Code Act.

In proving its case, the prosecution called five witnesses and closed its case on February 19, 2020.

Upon the close of the prosecutorial case and in defence of the amended charge, the defendants made a plea of no case to answer.

The defendants predicated the plea on the perceived failure of the EFCC to establish a prima facie case against them.

However, the Judge, in a ruling on November 10, 2020, overruled the defendants’ plea and ordered them to enter their defence.

The defendants called four witnesses, including the 1st defendant who testified as DW3 and a forensic expert that gave evidence as DW4, in establishing the failure of the prosecution to prove its case against them, and on March 10, 2022, they closed their case.

Upon conclusion of trial, parties filed and adopted their respective final written addresses on September 20, 2022 and the court, thereafter, fixed December  7, 2022 (Wednesday) for Judgment.

Delivering judgment on Wednesday, Justice Oriji disagreed with the EFCC.

The judge, who held that the anti-corruption commission failed to prove the offences levelled against the defendants beyond reasonable doubt, consequently discharged and acquitted them of all the 11 counts.

The judge also directed that the sum of N124, million recovered from the defendants during the course of investigation be returned to them on/before December 31, 2022; the defendants, having not been found guilty of any of the offences contained in the amended charge.

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