18 March 2016, Lagos – Justice Ibrahim Buba of a Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday convicted 14 foreigners of dealing in petroleum products in Nigeria without lawful authority.
The judge found them guilty of dealing in 1,738.087 metric tons of petroleum product in Nigeria without lawful authority or licence as alleged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Justice Buba sentenced 11 out of the 14 convicted foreigners to two years imprisonment with an option to a pay a fine of N2m each.
The judge said the sentence would run from last year March when they were apprehended by the Nigerian Navy and handed over to the EFCC.
Justice Buba, however, sentenced the remaining three convicts who had jumped bail and absconded to five years imprisonment without an option of fine.
The three convicts who jumped bail are Russians.
The judge convicted and sentenced them in absentia and issued a warrant for their arrest, emphasising that their jail term would commence on whatever day they are re-arrested.
The judge ordered the forfeiture of the petroleum products and the vessel into which they were loaded to the Federal Government.
He ordered the two companies convicted alongside with the foreigners to pay N5m fine on each of the five counts levelled against them.
The EFCC had on June 10, 2015 arraigned the 14 convicts on four counts before Justice Buba.
The charge was later amended with the counts increased to five.
The convicts were arraigned alongside their vessel – MT Anukt Emerald, and two companies – Monjasa DMCC, and Glencore Energy UK Ltd.
Their names, as listed on the charge sheet, are Artur Pakhladzhian, Sergo Abbgarian, Vasily Shkundich, vitaliy Bilours, Hlarion Regipor, Laguta Oleksiy and Cadavis Gerarado.
Others are Kretov Andry, Badurian Benjamin, Chepikov Olksan, Naranjo Antero, Patro Christian, Alcayde Joel and Caratiquit Beyan.
They were identified as citizens of Russia, Ukraine, Philippine and Japan.
The prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, had told the court that the men were handed over to the EFCC 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 pleaded not guilty and were granted a bail of N50m each, which was guaranteed by Zenith Bank Plc.
Upon the disappearance of the three Russians, the court had subsequently ordered Zenith Bank to forfeit N150m to the Federal Government.
To prove the allegations against the convicts, Oyedepo called seven witnesses, while the defendants, through their lawyer, Mr. Babajide Koku (SAN), called three witnesses.
In his judgment on Friday, Justice Buba said he was satisfied that the prosecution proved its case against the defendants beyond reasonable doubts, adding that had no difficulty in convicting them on all the five counts preferred against them.
Upon their conviction, the defence counsel, Koku, urged the court to temper justice with mercy, saying the convicts were young men in their prime, who had no previous records of conviction.
Koku said the 11 convicts who were in court were only employees carrying out the instruction of their employer and were not privy to the deal.
“We plead for mercy, My Lord. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.’ The convicts are young men in the prime of their lives. They have no family ties in Nigeria. In fact, the convicts here are not the ones in control of the ship. They can at best be described as the laymen of the crew,” Koku said.
Quoting James 2:3 from the Bible and making reference to the Quran, Koku urged the judge to allow mercy to triumph over judgment.
On his own part, Oyedepo said the EFCC had found no previous conviction record on the convicts.
He urged the judge to “invoke the spirit behind Section 1(17) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act,” in sentencing them.