By Emmanuel Nduka
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike on Thursday appeared at the State High Court in Port Harcourt for a second consecutive day to personally observe the prosecution of Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, its parent organization, Saipem SPA, and its management over alleged fraud against the State Government.
Heritage Times had reported that the company is accused of failing to execute the contract for the construction of a power plant, near the Afam Power Station in Oyigbo Local Government Area of the state, even after receiving full payment of $130million and an additional N70 billion in variation between 2011 and 2014 respectively.
According to the Rivers Government, the failure of the company to execute the project led to the abandonment of a gas turbine generator unit in Holland since 2012 which the state is paying so much on demurrage.
The Wike administration instituted the case in November last year, before Justice Okogbule Gbasam of the 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.
The presiding Judge, Justice Okogbulo Gbasam, on January 11, 2022, remanded the third defendant, Walter Peviani a foreign national who is the Manager of Saipem Contracting Firm, and the fourth defendant, Kelechi Chinakwe, a Nigerian.
Justice Gbasam also issued a warrant of arrest against the fifth and the seventh defendants, both of foreign national, for failing to appear in court after a reasonable adjournment to allow for 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.
Subsequently, when the case came up for hearing yesterday, the court was confronted with an application for a preliminary objection by the counsel to the first, second, third, and sixth defendants, Odein Ajumogobia (SAN), challenging the jurisdiction of the court and accusing it of abuse of processes.
Godwin Obla, the prosecution lawyer, also raised an argument that Saipem Contracting Firm be represented by another person other than its Manager, on grounds that the Manager is equally standing trial for his personal culpability.
The court then ruled that the parent company and its Nigerian subsidiary will be tried in absentia, while the fifth and seventh defendants whose warrant of arrest was issued earlier are also to be tried in absentia.
The court is also 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 the Rivers State seeking the conviction of the defendants for the criminal offence of fraud.