Lawyers and eight other groups on Thursday alerted the public to 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 described it as “well-financed and well lubricated” and “aimed at diverting attention from the crude theft allegation and sabotaging the efforts of President Buhari to raise Nigeria’s oil revenue.”
They made the allegations in a statement signed by Tochukwu Ohazuruike Esq and Mallam Kabiru Yusuf during a joint press conference in Abuja.
The joint conveners/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).
A Federal High Court in Lagos on January 25 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 Oguntoyinbo had, on January 25, 2021, 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 Mareva and summoned three of the banks’ secretaries and chief financial officers for allegedly disobeying the order.
The groups said they had intercepted credible intelligence that Shell had now resorted to procure, conduct, coordinate and supervise the smear campaign.
They traced the problem to a complaint by some indigenous oil companies in Nigeria that export 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).
They 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 to blame it on crude oil theft by third parties and made Government to waste scarce resources in pursuit of oil thieves,” the groups alleged.
They said part of the smear campaign will include raising questions on the following:
“That AITEO is a serial loan defaulter that fails in its obligations to its lenders hence to portray the company in bad light before credible lenders…”
It said the information was false and that “AITEO pays back its loans. Records of repayment of loans to other entities abound even the current facilities obtained from Shell is still being diligently serviced…
“Noticing that there are unauthorised deductions and charges to its accounts, AITEO called for an account reconciliation meeting. Rather than respond to the call, Shell mobilized the other lenders to threaten to take over the assets and businesses of AITEO if the company does not part with over US$900 million.
“This action warranted AITEO to approach the Federal High Court in Abuja which granted it the orders prayed restraining Shell and the other lenders from taking over the business of AITEO pending the hearing of the matter. Shell and the lenders appealed against this ruling and have since abandoned their appeal.”
They also alleged that Shell is also spreading the false information that AITEO could not have produced as much as it was claiming it lost while tweaking the data for more reliance to be placed on the NNPC data.
“However…the difference in the figures only represents the stolen crude by Shell and the total figures are consistent with what AITEO claims is missing.”
It said other planned fake news is that properties in the UK belonging to the founder of AITEO, Mr. Benedict Peters have been forfeited to the UK government for being properties used to bribe former petrol minister Diezani Alison-Madueke for granting approval for OML 29 and other contracts.
Refuting the claim, they said it was Shell staff that met with 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.”