A Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday refused an application filed by Total E&P Nigeria Plc asking the court to bar journalists from covering and reporting the proceedings in the case of alleged illegal oil export filed by the Federal Government against multinational oil company.
The trial judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun in her ruling dismissed the application, stating that she couldn’t bar journalists from performing their duty in court.
The Federal Government had sued Total E&P Nigeria Plc, alleging that the oil company under-declared the volume of crude oil it shipped out of the country between January 2011 and December 2014.
The Federal Government accused the oil company of short-changing it to the tune of $245,258,640 by allegedly shipping several barrels of crude oil out of the country without making due remittance to the government.
But, Total, through its lawyer, Babatunde Fagbohunlu (SAN), in an application, urging the court to bar journalists from covering and reporting the proceedings.
He had argued that the media reports made it appear as if his client had already been found guilty of the allegations levelled by the Federal Government.
Fagbohunlu had argued that the media reports were pre-judging the case.
But in her short ruling on Tuesday, Justice Olatoregun dismissed the application, stating that she couldn’t bar journalists from performing their duty in court.
She reminded the counsel that the court was a public place, which was open to journalists, she however warned journalists to always report accurately.
The court had on September 30, 2016 dismissed a preliminary objection filed by Total, urging the court to dismiss the Federal Government’s suit for failing to disclose a reasonable cause of action.
Meanwhile, the court also granted an application by the Federal Government to amend its pleadings in the case.
Justice Olatoregun adjourned further proceedings in the case till January 16, 2017.
The Federal Government, through its lawyer, Prof. Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), had said it filed the suit following a forensic analysis linking decline in oil revenue to alleged non-declaration or under-declaration of volume of crude oil shipped out of the country by the Total and other oil companies.
The Federal Government’s statements of claims were backed up with supporting affidavits deposed to by three United States of America-based experts – Prof. David Olowokere, a US citizen and Lead Analyst at Loumos Group LLC, a technology and oil and gas auditing firm based in the US; Jerome Stanley, a counsel in the law firm of Henchy & Hackenberg; and Micheal Kanko, founder and Chief Executive Officer,Trade Data Services Company, State of Arizona, US.
According to the deponents, about 57 million barrels of crude oil were allegedly illegally exported by the defendant and sold to buyers in the US between January 2011 and December 2014 without making due remittance to the Federal Government.
The deponents cited, in the court papers, an instance where Total allegedly shipped out 968,784 barrels of crude oil, valued at $106,566240, using a vessel named, TRIATHLON with a bill of landing numbered, TCVMTRIATIA 1388, and failed to declare same to the relevant government agency.
The deponents claimed that the said crude oil was sold to Tostsa Total oil Trading SA of San Felipe Plaza-Suite 2100,5847SAN FELIPE, 770557-HOUSTON, US at the port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
They cited another instance where about 491,850 barrels of crude oil, valued at $54,103,500, were allegedly shipped out without making remittance to the government.
The Federal Government is also seeking general damages in the sum of $245,258,640 from Total E&P Nigeria Plc.