A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has fixed March 9 to rule on whether to discharge the interim ex-parte order it granted freezing the bank accounts of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in 20 commercial banks.
On the same day, the court will also rule on whether it has the jurisdiction to even entertain the suit and another seeking to commit to prison the banks and its officials who were said to have disobeyed the interim ex-parte order.
Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo had granted the order at the instance of AITEO Eastern E&P Company Ltd. who is seeking to recover the cash value of “more than 16 million barrels of crude oil” allegedly diverted by Shell.
At Tuesday’s proceedings, the judge listened to arguments from lawyers to AITEO Eastern E&P Company Ltd., SPDC, the banks, and lawyer to four Shell subsidiaries all involved in the matter.
Arguing the application for committal, counsel to Aiteo Eastern E&P, Kemi Pinheiro, said 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 the alleged contemnors had been served with the court processes but had not filed a response.
AITEO had specifically said two banks and their officials disobeyed the courts interim ex-parte order.
The banks and its officials were listed as Citi Bank Ltd., its Company Secretary Sola Fagbure, and Chief Financial Officer, Sharaf Mohammed, as well as United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, its Company Secretary, Bill Odum, and Chief Financial Officer, Ebenezer Kolawole.
In opposing the application, counsel to the banks, Olawale Akoni, acknowledged that they were served with the court papers on February 24 and 25, but said they were still within the time limit to file a response.
He indicated that the banks intended to challenge the competence and validity of AITEO’s application.
The lawyer also asked the court to make an order vacating the ex-parte order freezing the accounts because according to him, it lapsed 14 days after it was made.
Adewale Atake, who represented Shell, aligned himself with Akoni’s argument on vacating the ex-parte order.
Chukwuka Ikwuazom, also who represented the Shell subsidiaries, made a similar submission and drew the court’s attention to a pending application before the court challenging its jurisdiction to hear the matter.
He asked the judge to declare that the ex-parte order was spent.
Pinheiro, however, countered by arguing among others that the court made the order to last pending the hearing of the motion and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction filed before it by AITEO.
He described the defendants’ arguments as “premature, unfair, and time-wasting.”
In her response, Justice Oguntoyinbo held, “The avalanche of submissions cannot be wished away. The court owes all parties the duty of careful consideration of all authorities cited.”
She adjourned till next Tuesday for the ruling.
In the case, AITEO Eastern E&P Company Ltd. is the plaintiff/applicants while SPDC Ltd. is the first defendant.
The subsidiaries Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Shell Western Supply and Trading Ltd., Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Ltd., and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd. are listed as second, third, fourth, and fifth defendants.
On January 25, Justice Oguntoyinbo directed the banks to “ring-fence any cash, bonds, deposits, all forms of negotiable instruments to the value of $2.7 billion and pay all standing credits to the Shell companies up to the value into an interest yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar of the court.”
The Chief Registrar was to “hold the funds in trust,” pending the hearing of the motion and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction filed before the court by AITEO.
This followed an application by AITEO Eastern E&P, in its bid to recover the cash value of its “more than 16 million barrels of crude oil” allegedly diverted by Shell.
The defendants subsequently filed an application seeking to discharge the order while AITEO initiated committal proceedings against two banks and their officials for allegedly “interfering, obstructing and/or frustrating compliance with the interim Mareva orders”.
On Thursday last week, the judge adjourned to consider whether to first entertain a motion challenging its jurisdiction or to consider contempt proceedings.