Finance

Supreme Court reserves ruling in Union Bank’s battle against $15 billion judgment debt

The supreme court, on Friday, dismissed a suit filed by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), seeking the review of a judgment ordering it to pay N17 billion to some Ogoni communities in Rivers state.

The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved ruling on a motion by Union Bank Plc seeking leave to appeal against a June 5, 2018 judgment of the Court of Appeal in which the bank and three others were ordered to pay an oil and gas firm – Petro Union Limited – about $15biliion.

Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad, who led a five-member panel had after listening to arguments by lawyers to parties, announced that they would be informed when the ruling was ready.

Counsel to Union Bank, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) had while arguing the motion, said it contains nine reliefs, among which was an order for leave for extension of time to file an appeal and another order for leave to appeal under Order 6 Rule 2(1) of the Supreme Court’s Rules.

Awomolo said his clients seek to raise fresh grounds of appeal and introduce new evidence necessary for a fair and just determination of the court.

He noted that it was strange that, while the judgments of the Federal High Court, Abuja (delivered on March 11, 2014) and the subsequent one by the Court of Appeal (which affirmed the Federal High Court judgment) were based on a £2.556b cheque alleged lodged in Union Bank by Petro Union, the said cheque was never tendered in court.

Awomolo said his client intends to show that Petro Union obtained both judgments by fraud. He noted that Petro Union’s lawyer, Joe Gadzama (SAN) was only opposed to the grant of reliefs four and six out of the nine reliefs.

He urged the court to disregard the objection raised by Petro Union against his motion and prayed the court to grant his motion on merit.

Olabisisi Soyebo (SAN) for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Tijani Gazali (SAN) for the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Finance did not object to Union Bank’s motion.

Soyebo and Gazali, who said they did not file any process in relation to the motion, urged the court to grant it in view of the colossal amount involved and its possible implication on the nation’s economy.

Gadzama, in his response, said he vehemently opposed the motion factually and in law.

He urged the court to uphold the objection he raised and dismissed the motion on the grounds that Union Bank has not given valid and cogent reasons why leave should be granted it.

Earlier, the court finally resolved the dispute over who should represent Petro Union between Gazama and Onyechi Egwuonwu.

The court said, by its earlier ruling on July 6, 2021, it had found that Gadzama was the actual lawyer for Petro Union. It then barred Egwuonwu from further participating in the proceedings.

Petro Union had, in 1994 allegedly procured a cheque from a branch of Barclays Bank in the United Kingdom with a value of £2.556b which it lodged in a Union Bank branch in Lagos under the pretext that the funds were to be used to construct three petrochemical refinery complexes and a bank in Nigeria.

On March 22, 2012, Petro Union sued at the Federal High Court, Abuja and sought among others, an order of mandamus compelling the CBN, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, Minister of Finance and the Attorney-General of the Federation to pay it £2,556,000,000.00 to it.

In the suit, marked FHC/ABJ/M/104/2012 Petro Union claimed that the money was deposited with Union Bank in 1994n adding that Union Bank received £2,556,000,000.00 on its behalf and transferred £2,159,221,318.54 to the CBN while it retained £396,778,681.46 as commission.

The defendants – Union Bank, CBN, Minister of Finance and AGF – in their separate counter-affidavits, denied Petro Union’s claims.

But, in the March 11, 2014 judgment, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati of the Federal High Court, Abuja (now late) held in favour of Petro Union and their directors against the defendants.

Justice Kafarati held, among others, that Union Bank was liable to Petro Union in the sum of £396,778,681.46 being the balance of Petro Union’s foreign capital which it supposedly deposited with the Bank in 1994 and that the CBN was liable to the oil firm for the sum of £2,159,221,318.54.

The liabilities were held by the court to be joint and several against all the four defendants – CBN, Union Bank, Minister of Finance and AGF.

Out of the four defendants, only Union Bank and the CBN appealed the judgment of the Federal High Court.

On June 5, 2018, the Court of Appeal, Abuja gave judgment in the appeal by Union Bank and upheld the judgment by Justice Kafarati. It is yet to determine the appeal by the CBN.

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