The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Wednesday, shed light on the mode of operation of the suspected fuel subsidy fraudsters in an ongoing trial at an Ikeja High court.
Abdulrasheed Bawa, while testifying before the trial judge, Adeniyi Onigbanjo, chronicled the depth of document ‘forgery’ in the trial of Seun Ogunbambo, Habila Theck, and their company, Fargo Petroleum and Gas Limited.
Messrs Ogunbambo and Theck, and their firm, are charged with a ten count of N976.6 million including conspiracy, document forgery, and obtaining money by false pretense.
The EFCC witness revealed a series of well orchestrated document ‘forgery’ by the importers which went undetected by regulatory agencies.
Swinging into action
In the aftermath of last January’s protests, the EFCC said that it received letters of complaints from the Petroleum Minister, Alison Diezani – Madueke; human rights lawyer, Femi Falana; ex-lawmaker, Dino Melaye; amongst others, and swung into action.
The commission said that they began gathering “facts and intelligence” from the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, the implicated oil marketers and importers as well as the banks involved.
“We wrote a letter of investigative activities to the third defendant (Fargo Petroleum and Gas) inviting the managing director of the company to come along with all the necessary documents in relation to the importation of petroleum products carried out under the subsidy scheme,” said Mr. Bawa, a Senior Detective Superintendent at the EFCC.
In response to the EFCC’s letter on April 26, 2012, Mr. Theck, the Deputy Managing Director of Fargo Petroleum and Gas Limited, visited the commission’s office with all the requested documents.
At the EFCC’s office, Mr. Theck told the investigators that their company imported 9,981 metric tons – equivalent of 13 million litres – of fuel through a vessel named MT Diplomat.
Mr. Theck further said that the product was taken from a mother vessel, MT Milleura stationed at offshore Lome, in Togo.
He said the product was bought from Seatac Petroleum Limited while the financial institutions involved were First Bank Nigeria Plc and Sterling Bank Plc.
“He also told us that the said products were discharged at Masters Energy depot in Port Harcourt. That after the said discharge, all the necessary documents in relation to the claimed importation were binded together and sent to the PPPRA for claims of subsidy,” Mr. Bawa, who is currently with the EFCC’s Special Team on Petroleum Subsidy, said.
To buttress his company’s importation claims, Mr. Theck provided various documents to the agency – MT Milleura’s Bill of Laden, Certificate of Quantity, Certificate of Origin, and Cargo Manifest.
He provided the same documents for the daughter vessel, MT Diplomat, as well as the Certificate of Cargo Transfer from MT Milleura to MT Diplomat.
In addition to the shipping documents which were purportedly issued by Inspectorate Marine Services Nigeria Ltd; Mr. Theck also provided Certificate of Marine Insurance from Cornerstone Insurance Plc, Ullages Report, Bonker’s Survey Report, and Certificate of Incorporation.
The anti graft agency said that it began its investigation by writing to Cornerstone Insurance Plc attaching Fargo Petroleum and Gas Limited’s Certificate of Insurance requesting it to authenticate it.
The insurance company responded that the certificate was forged.
Next, the commission wrote a series of letters to the Inspectorate Marine Services Nigeria Ltd attaching the documents that Mr. Theck claimed emanated from them.
In the first letter, the agency attached a Certificate of Quality which signifies that the imported product meets all the country’s requirements.
The Inspectorate responded that the certificate was forged.
In the second letter, the EFCC requested for the authentication of the Certificate of Cargo Transfer from the mother to the daughter vessel of about 9,981 metric tons of fuel on November 19, 2011.
The Inspectorate also responded that it was forged.
The third letter, in which were attached the Ullages Report, Bonker’s Survey Report, and the Cargo Manifest; were also confirmed as fake by the Inspectorate.
Mr. Bawa said that the EFCC uses the Lloyd’s List intelligence, a leading intelligence provider that tracks the movement of vessels around the world, to track down vessels allegedly used by the oil marketers and importers.
According to the documents submitted by Mr. Theck to the commission, MT Milleura, the mother vessel, picked petroleum products from Antwerp, Belgium, on October 14, 2011; and arrived Lome where it transferred its contents to MT Diplomat on November 19, 2011.
“The intelligence provided for us on the two vessels indicates that contrary to the documents submitted to us, the vessel was not at Antwerp on the 14th of October.
“The vessel was in Amsterdam, Netherlands,” said Mr. Bawa.
“Furthermore, the intelligence indicates to us that the said mother vessel was not at Lome on the 19th of November but in Turkey.
“On the daughter vessel,” Mr. Bawa continued, “the intelligence indicates that it was not at Lome at the 19th of November but rather at Apapa, Lagos.
“This confirms to us that, in relation to what the Inspectorate indicated, that the vessels were not there to receive products,” Mr. Bawa added.
In July, when Mr. Ogunbambo visited the commission for questioning, Mr. Bawa said that the agency quickly checked his past records.
“A search on our database indicates that the first defendant (Mr. Ogunbambo) had earlier jumped bail, involved in identity fraud, bank fraud, and two other subsidy related cases.
“So we detained him,” Mr. Bawa said.
Mr. Bawa also stated that investigation further revealed that Mr. Ogunbambo is a director at Seatac Petroleum Ltd, registered at the British Virgin Island, the company they claimed supplied the products to Fargo Petroleum and Gas.
The trial continues on Thursday.