Court fixes April 13 for further hearing on Aiteo against Shell suit

Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of a Lagos Federal High Court, on Monday, further  adjourned the hearing of a suit instituted by an indigenous oil firm, Aiteo Eastern E&P Company Limited against Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited, over alleged undercounted its oil exports, till April 13, 2021.

Justice Oguntoyinbo had fixed yesterday for hearing of contempt application against alleged contemnors and other applications in the suit, when the matter came up for hearing of March 9. 

The court had ordered the appearance of officials of First Bank Limited, United  Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc and Citi Bank Limited, for disregarding her order made on January 25, 2021.

Justice Oguntoyinbo had on January 25, 2021, directed all banks in Nigeria to freeze Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited (SPDC) and it’s subsdiaries’ bank accounts, while granting a Mareva injunction filed against the oil company by a Nigeria oil company, Aiteo Eastern E&P Company Limited.

While 17 banks complied with the orders, the alleged contemnors, First Bank Limited, United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc and Citi Bank Limited were said to have disregard the order.

Consequently, Aiteo’s Counsel who includes; Mr. Kemi Pinheiro, Emeka Ozoani, Dr. Oladapo Olanipekun, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) filed a Contempt application against that alleged contemnors.

Upon hearing all processes in the Contempt application, Justice Oguntoyinbo ordered the officials of the alleged contemnor banks, to appear before the court, to defend themselves against the allegations.

The banks’ Officials ordered by the court are: Citi Bank’s Company Secretary Sola Fagbure and Chief Financial Officer, Sharaf Mohammed; Irene Netimah and  Patrick Iyamabo; both First bank’s Chief Financial Officer and Company Secretary and UBA Plc’s Company Secretary, Bill Andrew Odum and Chief Financial Officer, Ebenezer Kolawole.

Justice Oguntoyinbo had also ordered that failure of the alleged contemnors to be in court yesterday, a warrant of arrest shall be issued against them.

Apart from summoning the banks’ officials for contempt, the judge also declined to vacate its interim Mareva injunction directing 20 banks to freeze Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) and its subsidiaries’ bank accounts. 

However, at the resumed hearing of the matter of Monday, none of the alleged contempnors were in court.

Consequently, the matter was adjourned till April 13, for further hearing. 

Aiteo in a suit marked FHC/L/CS/52/2021, is claiming about $2.7 billion against SPDC over alleged problems with the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) pipeline it bought from the Anglo-Dutch group in 2015 and over claims that Shell undercounted its oil exports.

SPDC’s subsdiaries joined as respondents in the suit are Royal Dutch Shell Plc; Shell Western Supply and Trading Limited; Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Limited; and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited.

The order was sequel to AITEO’s bid to recover from Shell, the cash equivalent of more than 16 million barrels of crude oil allegedly diverted by the oil giant. 

At the last hearing on March 9, the court faced three applications by the Plaintiff AITEO and the Defendants SPDC and Others relating to its jurisdiction, motion to discharge its ex-parte order and committal proceedings against the three banks.

AITEO’s counsel Mr Kemi Pinheiro SAN, leading Emeka Ozoani (SAN) prayed the court to hear the committal proceedings first. 

Pinheiro reasoned that it was “necessary that the named persons in committal proceedings (the bank officials) be present in court” because the proceedings “attached to their person”.

He said alleged contemnors had been served “and there’s proof of service,” adding that the quasi-criminal nature of committal proceedings made their appearance a necessity. He noted that they had not filed a response.

Adewale Atake (SAN) for SPDC, Olawale Akoni (SAN) for the banks and Chukwuka Ikwuazom (SAN), for four Shell subsidiaries opposed them, praying the court to instead hear applications questioning its jurisdiction and another motion to discharge the order blocking the accounts. 

When the case was called, the judge upheld Pinheiro’s application and gave primacy to the application for committal proceedings. 

“The committal proceedings is the appropriate application to consider…I therefore hold that the first application to be heard is the committal proceedings,” she said. 

The judge further ruled that the presence of the named bank officials was necessary. 

She said: “The alleged contemnors must be present in court at the next hearing, otherwise a warrant of arrest shall be issued against them”.

Ruling on the defendants’ application to vacate the Mareva injunction and unfreeze the bank accounts, the judge held that the ex parte order subists pending the determination of Aiteo’s motion on notice.

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