Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, is at a high court in Port Harcourt, the state capital, for a second consecutive day to personally observe the prosecution of a foreign company, Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, its parent organisation, Saipem SPA, and its management over alleged fraud against the state government.
The company is accused of failing to execute the contract for the construction of a power plant near Afam Power Station in Oyigbo Local Government Area of the state after receiving full payment of $130 million and an additional N70 billion in variation between 2011 and 2014, according to thenigerialawyer.com.
According to the state government, the failure of the company to execute the project led to the abandonment of a gas turbine generator unit in Holland since 2012, for which the state was paying so much on demurrage.
The case was instituted by Wike’s administration in November 2021 before Justice Okogbule Gbasam of the Rivers State High Court 25.
The defendants in the matter are Saipem SPA; Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited; Walter Peviana; Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe; Giandomenico Zingali; Vitto Testaguzza and Davide Anelli.
On January 11, 2022, the presiding judge, Justice Gbasam remanded the third defendant, Walter Peviani, a foreign national, who is manager of Saipem Contracting Firm, and the fourth defendant, Kelechi Chinakwe, a Nigerian.
The judge also issued a warrant of arrest against the fifth and the seventh defendants, both foreign nationals, for failing to appear in court after a reasonable adjournment to allow constituted service of notice, which he said was duly carried out.
Those remanded were, however, granted bail less than a week after they were remanded.
When the case came up for hearing on Wednesday, the court was confronted with an application for a preliminary objection by the counsel for the first, second, third, and sixth defendants, Odein Ajumogobia (SAN), challenging the jurisdiction of the court and accusing it of abuse of processes.
The prosecution lawyer, Godwin Obla, also raised an argument that the company, Saipem Contracting Firm, should be represented by another person other than its manager because he was equally standing trial for his personal culpability.
The court then ruled that the parent company and its Nigerian subsidiary would be tried in absentia.
The fifth and seventh defendants whose warrant of arrest was issued earlier were also to be tried in absentia.
The court is expected to hear the arguments on the preliminary objection raised by the defence counsel, as well as begin hearing on the substantive suit brought by Rivers State seeking the conviction of the defendants for the criminal offence of fraud.
Governor Wike is in court with the National Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in the South-South, Dan Obih; Rivers State Chairman of the PDP, Desmond Akawor; former senator, Olaka Wogu, and a state lawmaker, Smart Adoki.