N1.7 billion subsidy fraud: Oil magnate slumps in court
Oil magnate Mrs Ada Ugo-Ndali slumped in the dock yesterday shortly before she was convicted of a N1.7 billion subsidy fraud by a Lagos high court sitting in Ikeja.
Justice Lateefat Okunnu of a Lagos high court sitting in Ikeja has found Ugo-Ndali the Managing Director of Ontario Oil and Gas Limited alongside the chairman of the company Mr Walter Wagbatsoma, guilty of the N1.7 billion fuel subsidy fraud charge preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Delivering judgement in the matter yesterday, the trial judge discharged and acquitted the Petroleum Products Price and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) representative, Fakuade Ebenezer of allegations of forgery.
After reading the judgement, Justice Okunnu stood the matter down for a 15- minutes break for allocutus plea by the convicted persons.
When the judge returned after the break to hear the defendant plea for mercy at 1:15pm., the second defendant, Ada Ugo-Ndagi suddenly slumped and fainted in the dock.
When Ugo-Ngadi was finally revived, she was breathing heavily just as counsels were frantically calling for medical assistance and an ambulance.
She was later assisted out of the court by her lawyers into a waiting black jeep which sped out of the court premises.
The development forced Justice Okunnu to adjourned sentencing of the convicts till Monday.
Wagbatsoma, Ugo-Ndagi and the oil company were charged to court on July 7, 2010 for collecting N1,7 billion from the federal government as fuel subsidy payable to Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited.
They were arranged on an eight count charge bordering on obtaining money by false pretence from government, forgery and altering of documents.
Delivering judgement in the matter, Justice Okunnu said that the convicts defrauded the Federal Government of N754million in oil subsidy in a transactions totalling N1.7billion.
According to her, the defendants defrauded the federal government of N340million in the third quarter of 2010 and N414million in the fourth quarter of 2010.
She also noted that the defendants did not remit an excess of N754 million as contained in an audit report by Akintola Williams Delloitte.
The judge held that the first defendant, Wagbatsoma ”knowingly received the sum in excess of what the fourth defendant (Ontario Oil and Gas Limited) was entitled to.
“In my opinion, he contributed to the false pretence.”
In the case Ugo-Ngadi the judge held that “the second defendant as the Managing Director of the company, she is the alter – ego of the fourth defendant and was aware of what was going on in the company”.
She said Fakuade, who was acquitted because “what I see before me is that he only signed the document while acting in his capacity as an PPRA official. It is not right in criminal cases to infer guilt without concrete evidence, there is no proof that he was aware that the documents were false.
“The prosecution have not been able to prove the case of forgery against the third defendant,” Okunnu held.
In holding Wagbatsoma, Ugo-Ngadi and Ontario Oil liable for the offences, Okunnu said, “I find the allegations of obtaining by false pretences in relation to the first, second and fourth defendants to be true. They were all particeps criminis (partners in crime ) and uttered the document, they are therefore guilty of the offences in the amended charge,”Okunnu said.
In their allocutuus, Mr B.A. Ayeni, the counsel to Fakuade, thanked the court for his client’s acquitting his client’s acquittal.
Mr E.A. Onyeke, the counsel to Ugo-Ngadi, on the other hand pleaded with the court to temper justice with mercy and prayed the court to grant her custodial sentence.
“The second defendant has health challenges, in the course of the trial she has had cause to visit doctors abroad to take care of her health issues as the health care system in Nigeria is poor.
“As the MD, she is an employer of labour whose workers depend on her managerial abilities, her workers will suffer more than necessary especially in this period of recession,”Onyeke said.
But in his response, counsel to the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Jacob (SAN) requested for a stiff sentence for the defendants saying the minimum sentence of the offences which the convicts have been convicted is seven years.
“A custodial sentence will be sending a wrong signal to the public that the rich cannot go to prison and will be a hindrance to our fight against corruption.
Meanwhile, the oil magnate was recently arrested in Germany over alleged involvement in money laundering involving a multi-million pound fraud.
His is currently been detained in the UK where he is expected to face another trial.
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