15 oil thieves jailed three years

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Robert Egbe

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has sentenced 15 oil thieves to three years imprisonment.

The court also forfeited two vessels used by the convicts and their combined 868.5 metric tones of crude oil to the Federal Government.

The judge, Justice Rilwan Aikawa, further imposed a fine of N600, 000 on each convict aboard the MT Zeebrugge (vessel) and 900,000 on each convict aboard MV Ekpere Amaka (vessel).

Justice Aikawa sentenced the men on Monday, after finding them guilty on all three counts.

He sentenced each man to one year in prison on each count.

The sentence will take effect from the day of their arrest, the judge said.

The convicts are: MT Zeebrugge, Kapilarathana A.J, Yapa, Ramanayaka Appuhamilage Maithripala, Labunu Hewage Udayanga Silva, Shashika Yomal Palipana, Amarasinge Arachchige Dasman Chaml, Kariyawasan Wijewardbana and Joseph Felsianus Fernando.

Others are: MV Ekpere Amaka, Eliaja Agoso, Assayomo Julius, Godwin Ajimosun, Jerome Nwaobi, Ukpe Wisdom, Bayonle-Jude Olawunmi, Vincent Antai and John Zola.

They were arraigned on three counts of illegal dealing in petroleum products on March 4, 2020.

Each defendant pleaded “not guilty”.

During Monday’s proceedings, defence counsel Paul Ejiga told the court that the defendants intended to change their pleas.

The charge was re-read and all defendants pleaded “guilty” to the charge.

EFCC counsel Rotimi Oyedepo, who did not oppose the application, called two witnesses and tendered documents in furtherance of the charge.

One of the witnesses, an EFCC operative Moses AWOLUSI, told the court that last December 23, the Commission was notified by the Nigerian Navy, NNS Beecroft, 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 on board 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.”

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Moses also told the court that the commission wrote a letter to the DPR to ascertain if the vessel had license to deal in petroleum products and a response was received.

Letters were also sent to Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA to confirm if they had a permit to sail on Nigerian Waters and a response was received as well.

Furthermore, he said investigations showed that the convicts did not have a license to deal in petroleum product and that they loaded from a wooden boat around Forcados Terminal without appropriate license.

The other EFCC witness, Seun Ogunduyile, told the court that the commission received a letter of December 30, 2019 from NNS Beecroft on the arrest of eight oil thieves and a vessel, MV Ekpere Amaka.

She said her team alongside DPR officials visited the vessel and found 85 Metric Tons of petroleum products on it.

“The convicts did not have the license to deal in petroleum products,” she added.

One of the counts reads: “That you, MV Ekpere Amaka, Eliaja Agoso, Assayomo Julius, Godwin Ajimosun, Jerome Nwaobi, Ukpe Wisdom, Bayonle-Jude Olawunmi, Vincent Antai and John Zola, on the 25th of December, 2019, in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired amongst yourselves to commit an offence to wit: dealing in 85 metric tons of petroleum products without appropriate licence; and you, thereby, committed an offence contrary to Section 3(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under Section 1(17) of the same Act.”