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Groups accuse Shell of blackmail against AITEO over alleged 16m barrel oil theft

Felix Oloyede

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Groups accuse Shell of blackmail against AITEO over alleged 16m barrel oil theft

Lawyers and eight other groups have raised an alarm over what they call, “a smear campaign” against Aiteo Eastern E&P Company Ltd and its executives following oil theft claims made in court against Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

They also accused Shell of using sophisticated unapproved metering systems to steal over 16m barrels of crude oil from AITEO and other indigenous companies thereby denying these companies the revenue to run their operations and meet their financial obligations to their lenders.

The participating organisations are Consortium of lawyers for human rights and justice; African Centre for Human Rights and Justice (ACJHR), National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS), Arewa Consultative Youth Movement; Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo Youth Movement, Niger Delta Youth Council, Oduduwa Youth Assembly, Middle Belt Youth Vanguard and the Africa Youth Council (AYC).

They made the allegations in a statement signed by Tochukwu Ohazuruike Esq and Mallam Kabiru Yusuf during a joint press conference in Abuja.

According to them, the allegations of economic sabotage which the oil major is accused of has not only affected the local oil companies but has drastically affected the oil revenue base of the Federal Government.

A Federal High Court in Lagos on January 25, 2021, granted an interim Mareva injunction directing commercial banks to block SPDC and its subsidiaries’ accounts in a bid to recover the cash value of more than 16 million barrels of crude oil allegedly diverted by the oil giant from AITEO.

Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo had directed the banks to “ring-fence any cash, bonds, deposits, all forms of negotiable instruments to the value of $2.7 billion and pay all standing credits to the Shell companies up to the value into an interest yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar of the court.”

On March 9, the judge turned down Shell’s application to vacate its order and summoned three of the banks’ secretaries and chief financial officers for allegedly disobeying the order.

On Thursday, the groups traced the problem to a complaint by some indigenous oil companies in Nigeria that exported crude oil from the Bonny Oil Terminal which is operated by Shell complained to the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) about the level of unaccounted crude pumped to the terminal through the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL).

The DPR conducted an investigation and discovered that through the unapproved metering system Shell had deployed, it had stolen over two million barrels of oil which the agency asked Shell to refund to the companies that own the oil.

“However, AITEO on its own hired private expert investigators and auditors who discovered that Shell had stolen over 16 million barrels of crude oil from AITEO alone with more emerging discoveries of millions of barrels missing crude.

“The unapproved metering system Shell deployed was such that it gave inaccurate figures of the actual volume of crude pumped from the NCTL to the Terminal. This erroneously made the Federal Government blame it on crude oil theft by third parties and made the Government waste scarce resources in pursuit of oil thieves.”

The groups also asserted that contrary to the smear campaign that AITEO is a serial loan defaulter, the Nigerian firm pays back its Ioans and that even the current facilities obtained from Shell are still being diligently serviced.

They also refuted the claim that properties in the UK belonging to the founder of AITEO, Benedict Peters have been forfeited to the UK government for being used to bribe former petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke for approving OML 29 and other contracts. The groups maintained that it was Shell’s staff that met with Mrs Alison- Madueke and that the witness statement had been invalidated in Suit No. FCT/HC/CV/3060/2019 between Incorporated Trustees of Forum for Accountability and Good Leadership Vs Nigeria Police Force, Inspector General of Police and Benedict Peters.

Other fake news, they said, is that Mr Peters has no reasonable and verifiable means of income and livelihood. But in Suit No. FCT/HC/CV/0093/2017 between Moses Uyah v. Benedict Peters, the Court found and declared that he has reasonable and verifiable means of income and that he legitimately acquired his properties.

“Finally, Shell is releasing to the media information that Mr Peters sometime in 2014 donated the sum of $60 million to a political party in Nigeria ahead of the 2015 general election in violation of the Electoral Act and other extant laws in the country.

“In Suit No. FCT/HC/CV/0091/2017 between one Chief Akimoju Jero v. Benedict Peters & Anor, the High Court found that Mr Peters did not violate any provision of the Electoral Act and the donation did not constitute any offence known to Nigerian law and therefore has not acted illegally in any manner whatsoever but acted in good faith.”

And as the legal wrangling deepens between SPDC and Aiteo, Aiteo is also seeking $2.7 billion over the pipeline deal plus $1.28 billion for lost oil sales, in the latest court documents before the Federal High Court, Lagos.

But, Shell says the allegations are “factually incorrect” and that it is working to secure an expeditious discharge of the freezing injunction, which it maintains Aiteo obtained without any valid basis.”

On February 12, The UK Supreme Court allowed a group of 42,500 Nigerian farmers and fishermen to sue its parent company, Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) in English courts after years of oil spills in the Niger Delta contaminated land and groundwater.

And in late January, a Dutch appeals court ruled that the Nigerian branch of oil giant Shell is responsible for damage caused by leaks in the Niger Delta.

The court ordered Shell Nigeria to pay compensation to Nigerian farmers, while the subsidiary and its Anglo-Dutch parent company were told to install equipment to prevent future damage.

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