by Alli Mustapha
Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court, Lagos convicted 15 oil thieves and two Vessels.
Justice Aikawa found the convicts guilty on all three-counts charges preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The convicts were sentenced to one year in prison on each count, which will take effect from the day of their arrest.
Besides, the court also ordered the forfeiture of the vessels to the Federal Government and imposed a fine of N600, 000 on each convict aboard MT Zeebrugge and the sum of 900, 000 on each convict aboard MV Ekpere Amaka.
The convicts are MT Zeebrugge (vessel), Kapilarathana A.J, Yapa, Ramanayaka Appuhamilage Maithripala, Labunu Hewage Udayanga Silva, Shashika Yomal Palipana, Amarasinge Arachchige Dasman Champ, Kariyawasan Wijewardbana and Joseph Felsianus Fernando.
Others are MV Ekpere Amaka (vessel), Eliaja Agosto, Assayomo Julius, Godwin Ajimosun, Jerome Nwaobi, Ukpe Wisdom, Bayonle-Jude Olawunmi, Vincent Antai, and John Zola.
They were first arraigned on three counts of illegal oil dealing in petroleum products on March 4, and they pleaded not guilty to the charge. However, at the proceedings, the defence counsel, Paul Ejiga, intimated the court that they had the intention of changing their pleas. The charge was read to them and they pleaded guilty to the charge.
Subsequently, two witnesses were called by Rotimi Oyedepo to give evidence and placed some documents before the court.
Led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Oyedepo, an operative of the EFCC, Moses Awolusi, told the court that on December 23, 2019, the commission received a letter of notification from the Nigerian Navy, NNS Beecroft, notifying them of the arrest of seven oil thieves and a vessel, MT Zeebrugge.
He said: “They were arrested on December 12, 2019, with 838.5 metric tons of crude oil onboard the vessel.
“On the 3rd of January, 2020 we went on board the vessel with officials of Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR to take samples of the products on the vessel in the presence of the convicts and was forwarded for laboratory analysis. On the 9th of January, 2020, their statements were recorded under caution.”
Moses also told the court that the commission wrote a letter to the DPR to ascertain if the vessel had a license to deal with petroleum products and a response was received.