Fuel Subsidy: Court Stops Marketers’ Move to Quash Charge

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Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of Ikeja High Court yesterday dismissed the application filed by two oil marketers, Mahmud Tukur and Alex Ochonogor, seeking to quash the N1.8 billion fuel subsidy fraud charge preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The judge ruled that the application was premature.
Tukur and Ochonogor had in a preliminary objection, filed through their lawyer, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), asked the court to quash the charge on the ground that the proof of evidence did not support the offences alleged against them.

The oil marketers were arraigned alongside their company, Eterna Oil and Gas Plc and another marketer, Abdullahi Alao, son of an Ibadan-based businessman, Alhaji Abdullazeez Arikesola-Alao on a nine-count charge of conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretences, forgery and use of false documents.

The EFCC accused the oil marketers of obtaining N1.8 billion from the Federal Government for a purported importation of 80.3 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit.

Ruling on the application yesterday, Justice Lawal-Akapo said some of the issues raised by Oyetibo, particularly the sufficiency of evidence in the charge against the defendants could be raised after the prosecution closes its case.
"It is the law that the court cannot delve into substantive issues at the interlocutory stage.

"Section 260 (2) of the ACJL provides that an objection to the sufficiency of the proof of evidence shall not be raised until the closure of the prosecution's case.
"The provision is a mandatory requirement which renders the application premature," Lawal-Akapo said.

Moving the application then, Oyetibo had argued that the proof of evidence did not support the offences alleged against the oil marketers, adding that the criminal charge against his clients was an abuse of court process and they should be discharged.

According to him, the charge before the court arose from a joint venture agreement between Eterna Plc, Axenergy Ltd., Sahara Energy Resources and Ontario Oil for the importation of fuel.

He had further argued that Section 10 of the Advance Fee Fraud Act did not empower the EFCC to charge the defendants to court for transactions carried out by Eterna Plc.

Responding, the EFCC counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), had said Section 260 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State prohibited the court from entertaining such applications.

The matter was adjourned till September15 for commencement of trial.

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