Justice Adamu Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt has discharged and acquitted four Ukrainian citizens and a vessel of illegal oil bunkering brought against them by the federal government.
Justice Mohammed freed the men: Vaskov Andriy, Garchev Mykhaylo, Shulga Vladyslav, Orlovkyi Lyvan and a ship, MT. San Pedro PIO, after finding them not guilty of a six-count charge bordering on the offences.
The judge, in his judgement, held that there was no evidence that the foreigners broke the law and also ordered that the vessel, which was seized by the government, be released forthwith.
The government had arraigned the Ukrainians on March 21, 2019, on a two-count charge.
The charge was amended on May 3, 2019 to six counts of conspiracy to deal in petroleum products, dealing in petroleum products, making false documents and uttering contrary to sections 3(6) and 1(17)(a), 1 (2)(c) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, 2007.
Each defendant had pleaded not guilty.
According to the prosecution, MT San Padre Pio and a 16 all-male crew members were arrested by the Nigerian Navy in September 2018.
They were accused of illegally transporting five million litres of diesel without permit from Nigerian authorities.
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The prosecution claimed that the vessel anchored around Odudu Oil Field, Rivers, and waited to discharge the petroleum product to smaller vessels before it was caught by a naval patrol team.
The government made its allegations through its counsel, Samuel Chime. It also called nine witnesses and tendered several exhibits.
The defendants disputed the allegations through their counsel, Babajide Koku (SAN).
Koku contended that the government’s case was baseless because the defendants had obtained appropriate authorisation for its operations.
Delivering judgment on November 28, 2019, Justice Mohammed upheld Koku’s argument and said the government failed to prove its case.
The judge held: “…and by virtue of the sale agreement between AUGUST A Energy and ANOSYKE Group of Companies, the amended purchase order… together with evidence of PW6 under cross-examination, who admitted that the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) import permit is valid, I have no doubt that the Prosecution has failed to prove that the defendants had no licence or authority to deal in Petroleum Product. I so hold.
“Again, Exhibit A1 has shown that Naval approval was obtained in respect of Exhibit J, while the Department of Petroleum Resources import permit attached to Exhibit 63 has shown that the necessary permit was equally secured in respect of Exhibit J from the DPR.
“It is clear both from Exhibit A1 and the DPR permit, that the company in whose favour the approvals were granted is ANOSYKE Group of Companies.
“Similarly, as I have held above that the Prosecution has failed to prove Count 2 of the charge against the Defendants, I am equally unable to infer, from the entire evidence adduced by the prosecution, how the 1st to 5th Defendants conspired with each other to, without lawful authority or appropriate licence import; distribute or deal in/with Petroleum Product as contained in Count 1, particularly having regard to Exhibit A1 and the DPR permit attached to Exhibit G3. I so hold.
“…Accordingly, therefore, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th defendants are found not guilty as charged and are hereby discharged and acquitted.
“As a consequence, the order made on the 26-9-2018 in respect of Exhibit J is hereby vacated,” the judge concluded.