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EFCC intensifies ‘war’ on oil thieves, secures jail terms

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has strengthened its capacity to dislodge criminals who specialise in stealing the oil wealth of the country even as the commission has secured numerous jail terms against the oil thieves many of who are foreigners.
The war against this illicit trade heightened over the years but between 2019 and 2020, the commission has intensified the fight against the criminals vowing to stop them for the obvious sabotage to the Nigerian economy, especially at this critical time of the nation’s history.

The EFCC on Monday, November 23, 2020 secured the conviction and sentencing of six foreigners to seven years in jail for oil theft in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

According to a statement issued by the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, Justice J.K Omotosho of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State convicted and sentenced the six foreigners and a Nigerian after three years of diligent prosecution by the Port Harcourt Zonal Office of the EFCC.

The foreigners are two Pakistanis: Mohammed Ejaz, Nasser Khan; two Ukranians: Oleksandr Nazarenko, Oleksandr Kashernvi; one Ghanaian: Romeo Annang, and one Indonesian: Fredrik Fatin Omenu. Their Nigerian counterpart: David Otuohi bagged same jail term with them.

“The convicts were arraigned on Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, alongside three other foreigners and another Nigerian for oil theft. The other three foreigners Victor Mikpayi (Beninois ), Francis Ahorlu and Kwesi Attah( Ghanaians), and Victor Azebiri( Nigerian) were discharged and acquitted by the court.

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“They were all docked alongside a company: Asztral Shipping Corporation SA, and a Vessel, MT. TECNE( a.k.a MT STAR), on four count charges bordering on conspiracy, dealing in petroleum products without a licence and tampering with oil pipelines,” the statement said.

Count one of the charge read: “that you Victor Azebiri, David Otuhohi, Mohammed Ejaz, Naseer Khan, Oleksandr Nazarenko, Oleksandr Kashernvi, Romeo Annang, Francis Ahorlu, Kwesi Attah, Victor Mikpayi, Frederik Fatin Omenu, Astral Shipping Corporation SA, MT TECNE a.k.a MT STAR (Vessel), Peter Ala (at large), David Ogoma, a.k.a Ambassador (at large) and others now at large, on or about the 20th and/or 25th day of April, 2017 at Escravos within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did conspire among yourselves to commit felony to wit: distribute, deal in, or with petroleum product without appropriate licence and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 3(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act CAP M17 of the Revised Edition (Laws of the Federation of Nigeria) 2007 and Punishable under Section 1(17) of the same Act”.

Another count charge read “that you Victor Azebiri, David Otuhohi, Mohammed Ejaz, Naseer Khan, Oleksandr Nazarenko, Oleksandr Kashernvi, Romeo Annang, Francis Ahorlu, Kwesi Attah, Victor Mikpayi, Frederik Fatin Omenu, Astral Shipping Corporation SA, MT TECNE a.k.a MT STAR (Vessel), Peter Ala (At large), David Ogoma, a.k.a Ambassador (at large) and others now at large, on or about the 25th day of April, 2017 at Escravos within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did without appropriate authority or licence distribute, deal in, or with petroleum product to wit:1905.836 cubic litres of crude oil conveyed in a vessel christened “MT TECNE” (VESSEL) and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(17) (a) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act CAP M17 of the Revised Edition (Laws of the Federation of Nigeria) 2007 and Punishable under Section 1(17) of the same Act”.

The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges when they were read to them and their pleas prepared grounds for their trial by the EFCC, which for three years presented evidence and witnesses that testified against the defendants in court, Uwajaren noted.

In his judgment on Monday, Justice Omotosho found the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 11th defendants guilty of all the four- count charges and sentenced them to seven years imprisonment with an option of fine of N2,000,000( Two Million Naira only) each, while the 1st, 8th, 9th and 10th defendants were discharged and acquitted on the ground that ” they were not linked to the commission of the crime”. The sentences run concurrently from their date of arraignment.

The company involved in the crime: Asztral Shipping Corporation SA was wound up by the court while the vessel carrying the offensive crude oil: MT TECNE , a.k.a MT STAR( Vessel) was forfeited to the Federal Government.

“The suspected oil thieves ran into troubled waters when their ship was intercepted by the NNS DELTA on 25 April, 2017 at Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Afremo ‘A’ Terminal, South East of Escravos in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, for illegal loading of petroleum products suspected to be crude oil. The crew members connived with Victor Azeberi (the 1st defendant); one Peter Ala and David Ogoma (AKA) Ambassador, who are now at large, to siphon about 1905.836 cubic litres of crude oil. The ship had no clearance from relevant Nigerian maritime agencies to navigate in Nigerian waters and all the foreign crew on board the ship had no valid documents to enter Nigeria,” the EFCC statement added.

In a similar development, Justice E.A Obile of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on Tuesday, November 24, 2020 convicted and sentenced Chikezie Nwebor to one year imprisonment for illegal dealing in petroleum product

The offence ran contrary to Section 1(17) (a) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act CAP M17 of the Revised Edition (Laws of the Federation of Nigeria) Act, 2007 and punishable under Section 1(17) of the same Act.

Nwebor was arraigned by the Port Harcourt Zonal Office of the EFCC on November 24, 2020 on one- count charge bordering on illegal dealing in petroleum product.

The charge reads: “that you Chikezie Nwebor on or about the 18th day of December 2019 at Oyigbo Local Government Area within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court without appropriate licence deal in petroleum product to wit: 30 Jericans, two (2) 200 litres drum containing illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) being conveyed in a Mark Truck with registration number XB 331 BND and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(17) (a) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act CAP M17 of the Revised Edition (Laws of the Federation of Nigeria) Act, 2007 and punishable under Section 1(17) of the same Act”.

He pleaded “guilty” to the charge.

In view of the plea of “guilty”, prosecuting counsel, C.Okorie prayed that the defendant be convicted and sentenced accordingly. Counsel to the defendant, Emeka Ilanya did not oppose the prayer of the prosecution.

Justice Obile convicted and sentenced Nwebor to one year imprisonment with an option of fine of One Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N150,000.00). He also ordered that the 30 Jericans, two(2) 200 litres of AGO be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria and destroyed under the supervision of the Chief Deputy Registrar of the court. He further ordered that the Truck confiscated from the convict be released to the owner.

Also on Tuesday, November 24, the Port Harcourt Zonal Office of the EFCC, received four suspected oil thieves from the Nigeria Navy.

The suspects: Ebenezer Afonka( captain); Bernard Umor (engineer), Kingsley Monday, and Ishmael Willy were handed over to the Commission alongside a vessel: MV Captain Samuel.

Commander S. G Muhammed, who handed over the suspects and the vessel, said they were arrested on October 24, 2020 by Nigeria Navy Ship (NNS Pathfinder), for suspected involvement in illegal oil bunkering. At the time of arrest, the vessel was laden with an unspecified quantity of substance suspected to be illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (AGO/diesel).

Representative of the Head, Port Harcourt Zonal Office of the EFCC, and Head, Counter Terrorism and General Investigation (CTGI), Tasui Abubakar, who received the suspects and the vessel on behalf of the Commission, assured the Navy that justice will be served on the matter.

Investigation of the suspects has already begun and they will be charged to court upon conclusion, the EFCC said, adding that operatives of the commission has strategized to expand their dragnets to identify and arrest the criminals and prosecute them to serve as deterrence to others.

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