Ex-chief justice quizzed over $9.6b contract verdict

DETECTIVES of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Tuesday grilled a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, in connection with the $9.6 billion judgment debt against the Federal Government.

The Process and Industrial Developments (P&ID) is the beneficiary of the judgment.

Also quizzed are the Deputy Manager, Mechanical/Facilities of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), Mr. Gbolahan Okesanya and 10 others.

Investigation by The Nation showed that Belgore was invited for his alleged roles before the Arbitration Panel.

The ex-CJN was alleged to have testified against the Federal Government in London on the controversial contract.

It was not clear last night if the ex-CJN was detained.

He did not respond to text messages sent to him last night.

EFCC’s detectives have debriefed three senior lawyers, who are part of the country’s defence in the controversial deal.

A source, who spoke in confidence, said “the former CJN was invited for a friendly chat.”

The source added: “In some of the proceedings of the arbitration panel, Justice Alfa Belgore was alleged to have made a representation to the Arbitration Panel. Based on his submission, the investigative panel decided to interact with him.

“We are working on clues that his alleged submission was against the Federal Government. We want to establish the veracity of this.”

The source added: “The EFCC has interrogated more than 10 others connected with the Gas Supply and Processing Agreement (GSPA) with P&ID, including the Deputy Manager, Mechanical/ Facilities of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), Mr. Gbolahan Okesanya.

“I can conveniently tell you that we have gone far in probing the circumstances which led to the award of the contract.”

It was also learnt that the delay in constituting President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term cabinet appeared to have made it difficult to arrest the $6.9billion judgment in 2016.

Also, non-presentation of proper documentation to the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division (Commercial Court) accounted for the legal mess the nation is facing.

The trial judge, Justice Phillips, who dismissed an application by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources on February 10, 2016, gave these reasons in his order.

The ministry of Petroleum Resources had approached the court to challenge the Part Final Award.

He said Nigeria did not present compelling reasons to halt the award over four times the statutory limit.

The P&ID has given conditions for an amicable settlement of the case.

It said although during the arbitration, Nigeria claimed to be interested in reaching an amicable settlement with P&ID, it never made a serious offer.

It said apart from the judgment debt, Nigeria lost the opportunity to add 2,000 megawatts of power to its generation capacity through the Gas Supply and Processing Agreement (GSPA).

According to a document, exclusively obtained by The Nation, Nigeria is in a dilemma because of alleged tardiness in handling the matter.

The court document revealed that  the Ministry of Petroleum Resources  filed  an application under Part 62.9 of the Civil Procedure Rules to extend the 28-day time period in which to apply to challenge the Part Final Award by the Arbitration Tribunal of 17 July 2015.

Those on the arbitration panel were Lord Leonard Hoffman, Chief Bayo Ojo and Sir Anthony Evans.

The proceedings at the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division confirmed that Nigeria took things for granted by wasting time.

In his order, Justice Phillips said Nigeria’s move to arrest the award outside the statutory time limit was unacceptable.

The order reads in part: “The application under S. 68 of the Arbitration Act is made more than four months after the expiry of the 28-day time limit. Compelling reasons would have to be shown to justify an extension of over four times the statutory time limit.

“In this case, the delay is said to have been caused by the fact that the new President of the Federation of Nigeria, sworn in on 29 May 2015 did not appoint an Attorney-General until 11 November 2015 with the result that London solicitors were instructed in relation to the application until 13 November 2015.

“Even if the absence of an Attorney-General was an insuperable obstacle to instructing London solicitors (which is far from clear view of the evidence filed by the defendant), the claimant could and should have prepared all documentation in readiness so as to proceed with expedition once London solicitors were instructed, not least in view of the fact that the claimant continued to participate in the arbitration proceedings throughout the period with the benefit of external counsel.

“In the event documentation was not provided to London solicitors until 25 November and the application under S.68 was not issued until 40 days after London solicitors were first instructed, a period in excess of the statutory time limit.

“No good explanation is given for that further excessive period of delay. In those circumstances, it is not appropriate to extend time.

“In refusing to extend time, I further take into account that the grounds of appeal have no merit.

“As to ground A, it is incorrect to say that the Tribunal found that the claimant was not in breach of Article 6(a): the finding was that the claimant had put itself in a position where it was impossible for it to comply with Article 6(a) by virtue of its own breach of Article 6(b). There was no internal inconsistency in the Tribunal’s reasons.

“As to ground (B), the Tribunal clearly addressed the actual authority of claimant to enter and perform the GSPA, holding that that was the prima facie position and rejecting the claimant’s arguments to displace that starting point. There was no ambiguity or confusion in its findings between the concepts of capacity and authority.

“As to ground (C), there was a clear and sufficient finding that the breach of Article 6(b), rending it impossible to perform Article 6(a), was a repudiatory breach. The contention that separate consideration should have been given to a breach of Article 6(b) alone is misconceived.”

The Irish firm gave synopsis of how the contract was conceived and how things went wrong.

In a statement, the P&ID said it is left for Buhari administration to come to terms with the award and decide whether to continue with delaying tactics to postpone the inevitable.

It also asked the Federal Government to “atone for its previous mistakes and reach a settlement that will allow the country to move forward.”

The company’s position was made known by Brendan Cahill, who is a co-founder of P&ID.

The statement said in part: “Process and Industrial Developments Limited (P&ID) is an engineering and project management company founded and led by Michael Quinn and Brendan Cahill who had over 30 years’ experience of project management and execution in Nigeria.

“P&ID conceived and planned a project that would deliver much-needed power generation to millions of Nigerians, and create profitable by-products for sale on the international market.  Under an agreement with Nigeria, P&ID would build a state-of-the-art gas processing plant to refine natural gas (“wet gas”) into “lean gas” that Nigeria would receive free of charge to power its national electric grid. ”

“The Buhari administration continues to incur costs in fighting this battle in the UK and US courts, and due to its failure to comply with court procedures, has been forced to pay some costs of P&ID’s counsel.

“The re-elected Buhari administration must come to terms with the award and decide whether to continue with delaying tactics to postpone the inevitable, or if the new government has the courage to atone for its previous mistakes and reach a settlement that will allow the country to move forward.”  (The Nation)

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