Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 sentenced an oil thief, Ekando Meschack, to one year imprisonment and ordered the forfeiture of a vessel, MV Lady Sharon, involved in the crime to the Federal government.
The convict and the vessel were arraigned by the Lagos Zonal Office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission( EFCC) alongside a company, Jefi Jets Aviation Ltd (formerly Swat Links Limited) on three-count charges, bordering on conspiracy and illegal dealing in petroleum products.
One of the charges read: “That you, MV Lady Sharon, Jefi Jets Aviation Ltd (formerly Swat Links Limited), Ekando Meschack and Muyiwa Lukman Ojoye (now at large) on the 9th day of January, 2020 in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, conspired among yourselves to commit an offence to wit: dealing in 120 metric tonnes of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO/diesel) without proper license and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 3(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act; Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under Section 1(7) of the same Act.”
He pleaded guilty to the charges, upon which prosecution counsel, I.A. Mohammed, reviewed the facts of the case and stated that the defendant was arrested and handed over to the EFCC by officers of the Nigerian Navy of NNS Ose on January 9, 2020.
Though the vessel was registered with Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), its license and the company’s permit to deal in petroleum products, he said, expired in April 2018.
The 120 metric tonnes of diesel discovered aboard the vessel, he further disclosed, was sourced from illicit oil bunkering.
Justice Hassan found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to one year imprisonment on each of the three counts, which run concurrently.
In a similar development, the Lagos office of the Commission on the same day, arraigned nine suspected oil thieves, alongside a vessel, MV African Support 3, before Justice O.A. Faji of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, on three-count amended charges bordering on illegal oil trade.
The suspects, Adeniji Nathaniel( the captain), Jagun Michael; Omiyenye Roman; Stephen Imasua; Adeosun Emmanule Dimeji; Francis Williams; Saturday Atube, Uduak Monday Umoh and Egbayelo Tunde were arrested aboard the vessel by the Nigeria Navy and handed over to the Commission for investigation and prosecution.
One of the charges read: “That you, MV African Support 3, Adeniji Nathaniel, Jagun Michael, Omiyenye Roman, Stephen Imasua, Adeosun Emmanule Dimeji, Francis Williams, Saturday Atube, Uduak Monday Umoh and Egbayelo Tunde, on the 13th of February, 2020 within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, conspired among yourselves to commit an offence to wit: dealing in 245, 40 metric tonnes of petroleum products without appropriate licence and you hereby committed an offence contrary to Section 3(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Cap M17 , Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under Section 1(7) of the same Act.”
They pleaded not guilty to the charges, following which prosecution counsel, A. O. Mohammed, asked the court for a trial date, while defence counsel, M.C. Ike, informed the court of pending bail applications for the defendants.
Justice Faji granted the defendants bail in the sum of N10million each, with two sureties in like sum. The sureties for the second to the 10th defendants, he said, must have landed properties within the jurisdiction of the court.
He further directed that the prosecution and the court registrar should engage the services of a valuer to determine the worth of the vessel, stating that the bond for the vessel’s value and the petroleum product on board must be paid into a Nigerian bank, nominated by the prosecution.
He ordered the defendants to be remanded in the custody of Nigerian Correctional Service, (NCS), Ikoyi, and adjourned the case till October 9, 10 and 11, 2020 for commencement of trial.