Oil bunkering: Court orders Zenith bank to forfeit N150m for escaped Russians

Oil bunkering: Court orders Zenith  bank to forfeit N150m for escaped Russians

A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday ordered Zenith Bank Plc to forfeit a sum of N150m to the Federal Government, following the disappearance of three Russians, who are being tried for allegedly dealing in 1,738.087 metric tons of crude oil in Nigeria without lawful authority.

Justice Ibrahim Buba had on February 8 summoned the bank to show cause why it should not forfeit the N150m, being the bond issued by the bank to guarantee the bail granted the missing foreigners by the court.

At the resumed proceedings yesterday, the Russians had still not being found and the bank could not account for their whereabouts, following which Justice Buba ordered the bank to forfeit the sum.

The three Russians had since June last year been standing trial along with 11 other foreigners before Justice Buba since June last year.

The names of all the accused were given as Artur Pakhladzhian, Sergo Abbgarian, Vasily Shkundich, vitaliy Bilours, Hlarion Regipor, Laguta Oleksiy and Cadavis Gerarado.

Other are Kretov Andry, Badurian Benjamin, Chepikov Olksan, Naranjo Antero, Patro Christian, Alcayde Joel and Caratiquit Beyan.

They were said to have been handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission by the Nigerian Navy, which on March 27, 2015 intercepted them with their vessel, MT Anukpet Emerald, loaded with crude oil estimated at 1,738.087 metric tons.

The foreigners were equally said to have been found in unlawful possession of 1,500 metric tons of Automated Gas Oil as well as 3,035 metric tons of Low Pour Fuel Oil.

They had after their arraignment last year been granted a N50m bail each, which was guaranteed by Zenith Bank.

At February 8 proceedings, their lawyer, Mr. Babajide Koku (SAN), had told the court that the 4th, 6th and 11th accused persons, who are Russians, had gone missing, adding that all his efforts to ascertain their whereabouts had proved abortive.

He told the court how he had contacted the Russian embassy to ask whether the accused had obtained alternative documents to leave Nigeria after the court ordered them to drop their passport pending trial.

In response, the EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, had said he was shocked at the news that the three Russians were nowhere to be found.

Oyedepo moved applications for the judge to issue a bench warrant against the missing Russians and for the court to revoke the bail of the rest of the accused foreigners.

But Koku, while describing the application seeking a bench warrant against the missing Russians as meritorious, urged the court to allow the other foreigners to continue to enjoy their bail.

Justice Buba, in a bench ruling, granted Oyedepo’s applications and issued a bench warrant against the missing Russians.

The judge also revoked the bail of the 11 other defendants.

The case has been adjourned till March 15 for judgment.

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