Ogbor Eliot and Kelvin Chris, two businessmen, were acquitted on Friday by an Ikeja Special Offenses Court in Lagos of the N1.8 billion fraud accusation that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had levelled against them (EFCC).
After an almost four-year trial, Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo exonerated Ogbor and Chris on all five counts related to conspiracy, gaining money by deception, plot, and forgery.
The court ruled that the EFCC failed to prove any crime element against the defendants. He or she added that the transaction that gave rise to the accusation was one of a civil character that the complainant and the defendants could have settled on their own.
On October 22, 2018, the defendants were charged alongside Danium Energy Services Limited, which the prosecution claimed was used to trick Sterling Bank Plc into lending them money to finance a local purchase order (LPO) for 20,000 metric tonnes of automotive gas oil (AGO) to be supplied to Total Nigeria Limited.
Each defendant entered a “not guilty” plea, and the trial started.
The court continued its deliberations until Friday, August 5, 2022.
The judge upheld Ogbor and Chris’ argument that the charge shouldn’t have even been filed in the first place during the resumed proceedings.
Justice Taiwo held: “I have examined the evidence of the prosecution and that of the defence. It is clear that the issue here is civil in nature and could have been resolved in a civil matter. There is no criminality in a loan duly guaranteed by a tank farm in Akwa Ibom State owned by the first defendant.
“It is imperative to state that debt recovery should not always be criminalised, going by the evidence of Prosecution Witness (PW)1, who stated that Sterling Bank carried out their due diligence before a loan of N1.8b to finance LPO was granted.
“The witness stated that the bank visited the facility used to secure the loan, which would have been resorted to by the time the defendant defaulted.
“I find and hold that the prosecution have failed to establish any element of criminality against the defendants here. Accordingly they are hereby discharged and acquitted.”