A second prosecution witness in the on-going trial of Walter Wagbatsoma and four others implicated in a N1.9billion subsidy scam, on Tuesday, shed more light into how the accused persons fraudulently obtained the sum from the Petroleum Support Fund.
The witness, Muhammed Ala Shehu who was cross examined by the three defence counsels, told a Lagos State High Court sitting in Ikeja that all information contained in his testimony before the court were derived from documents sent to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and interviews conducted with various parties at the inception of the investigation of the case.
Wole Olanipekun, SAN, asked the witness if he went through the Revised Guidelines for the Administration of Petroleum Support Fund (PSF), the document which outlines the modalities for fuel importation by oil marketing firms. Shehu responded that he did and a copy of the Revised Guideline was handed to him for identification before it was tendered and admitted as exhibit.
Olanipekun went further to ask if Shehu, in the course of investigations, invited any expert to check the amount of litres discharged by Ontario Oil and Gas, a company belonging to Wagbatsoma, before arriving at the notion that the company discharged less than it claimed subsidy for. The witness responded that he relied on documents submitted to the EFCC and the information derived from officials of the Integrated Oil and Gas Tank Farm and that of Obat Oil and Gas. He said that letters were written to the two Tank farms to furnish the Commission with detailed record of products discharged by Ontario Oil and Gas and the amount of money paid by the company to the farms for storage. He explained that all documents provided showed that the volume of products discharged was different from the volume for which subsidy was paid.
Regarding an earlier testimony made by Shehu on Monday, July 29, 2013 that the PPPRA Guidelines for importation were not properly adhered to, Olanipekun asked Shehu how he arrived at that notion. In response, the witness said that “the PPPRA visited the EFCC in the course of investigations and the Revised Guidelines were given to us by one Ndaliman Mohammed Ama, a staff of the PPPRA.”
J. A Badejo (SAN), counsel to Babatunde Fakuade, a third defendant in the suit who is also a staff of the PPPRA, asked the witness if his team received any information in form of a petition from Integrated Oil and Gas alleging a suspicious discrepancy in the products discharged. He also asked if the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR issued any Certificate of Discharge showing that the volume of products discharged was lower than what was claimed. Shehu responded that the EFCC did not receive any petition from Integrated Oil and Gas Tank Farm but petitions came from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and some Civil Society Organisations. He added that the DPR didn’t give the EFCC any certificate. He also explained that the DPR did not even look into the quantity of the products but the quality which they took for laboratory tests to ascertain that the product met Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON)’s criteria for importation into the country.
Shehu had alleged in his earlier testimony before the court that one Danjuma Adegbo, who is also a staff of the PPPRA was at the product discharge point. According to the witness, Danjuma told the EFCC during interview that he was called by Fakuade to leave the discharge point before the product was discharged. When the EFCC contacted PPPRA over the issue, Fakuade was sent to answer questions relating to the query at that time. “And from interviews conducted with the third defendant, he said he was not at the point of discharge.”
Taiwo Osipitan (SAN) also cross examined the witness about his earlier testimony where he alleged that the government-approved auditing firm, Akintola Williams Delloite, which was supposed to be the eyes of the government, did not do its job before recommending payment for subsidy to Ontario Oil and Gas. Shehu clarified the issue by saying that the fourth defendant, Mr. Ezekiel Ejidele, the managing partner at Akintola Williams Delloite, when invited by the EFCC said he didn’t witness the discharge. Osipitan then put it to Shehu if his earlier testimony suggested a conspiracy between the first, second and fourth defendants or a mere negligence. Shehu responded that, “I wouldn’t know, we have a shore tank carrying various numbers of litres, we have one for 19 million litres and another one for 12 million litres. The audit firm was suppose to advise the Federal Government based on their audit since it served as the eyes of the Government, but it never did. Its officials were not present at the discharge point and they went ahead to make recommendations to the government for subsidy to be paid”
Justice Lateefa Okunnu, after listening to all the submissions, discharged the witness and adjourned the case to July 31, 2013 for continuation of trial.