A Rivers State High Court has remanded the Managing Director of Saipem Contracting, Mr. Walter Peviana and Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe in Port Harcourt Correctional Centre over an alleged conspiracy to cheat and with intent to defraud the Government of Rivers State of the sum of $130 million USD, being advanced payment for the construction of the OCGT power plant in Port Harcourt.
The court, presided over by Justice Okogbule Gbasam, has also issued a bench warrant for the arrest of three expatriates staff of Saipem namely, Giandomenico Zingali, Vitto Testaguzza and Davide Anelli.
At the resumed hearing in court to take pleas, after the case was adjoined last December 2021 in the lawsuit No. PHC/3106/CR/2021, Justice Gbasam ordered that the 3rd defendant, Walter Peviana and the 4th defendant, Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe be remanded at the Port Harcourt Correctional Service until the next hearing date.
The prosecution is the Government of Rivers State, while the defendants are: Saipem SPA (1st defendant), Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited (2nd defendant), Mr. Walter Peviana (3rd defendant), Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe (4th defendant), Giandomenico Zingali (5th defendant), Vitto Testaguzza (6th defendant) and Davide Anelli (7th defendant).
The judge, who was observed with dismay the continual absence from court of three defendants, Giandomenico Zingali, Vitto Testaguzza and Davide Anelli, issued a bench warrant and placed the State Police Commissioner and other security agencies on notice to arrest and produce the aforementioned persons in court to face their trial having been duly served notice by the Government of Rivers State.
The lead counsel to the Rivers State Government, Chief Godwin Obla, SAN, relied on section 195 of the Rivers State Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2015 to pray that those absent be tried in absentia since they have been duly served court processes.
Opposed to that stance, the lead counsel to 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th defendants, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, SAN, explained that though court processes have been served on his clients, the 6th defendant was absent in court on health grounds.
Addressing the issue of absenteeism of defendants in court, Justice Gbasam noted that at the preliminary hearing stages, the court, on December 14, 2021, ordered that all parties should be in court since it is a criminal case.
Justice Gbasam, who adjourned the next hearing and taking of pleas to Tuesday, 18th January 2022 said this will enable the counsels to the defendants including Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, SAN, and K. Akinwole (for the 4th defendant) to study the charges, other affidavits and complementary documents properly.
Speaking to journalists after the court session, Obla explained that some years ago, the Rivers State Government had a contract with Saipem SPA and Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd in respect of Turbines and their building in Afam 11 in Oyigbo local government area of Rivers State.
According to him, the Rivers State Government had paid Saipem a total of $130m (One Hundred and Thirty million Dollars) and N7 billion (Seven billion Naira.)
He explained that despite such payment, the work did not progress beyond about 40 percent of the contract sum even when the total contract sum has been collected with the company still asking for additional $97m (Ninety-Seven billion Dollars) to be able to complete the contract.
“So forensic analysis of entire contractual agreement as done and the amount spent so far revealed that there were criminal infractions in respect of this contract.
“It is in relation of the criminal infractions that charges have now been brought against the company and individuals working with the company who were complicit in all those activities.”
Obla spoke further saying that “trial has commenced after about two previous delays.”
“The defendants asked for an adjournment, the state was ready to proceed, the matter has now been adjourned to Tuesday next week and the managing director of the 2nd defendant in Nigeria and the other accused person have been remanded in prison custody till Tuesday next week.
“They are Mr. Walter Peviana and one Nigerian employee with the company, Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe, the 3rd and 4th defendants respectively on the charge sheet.”
Expatiating further, Obla said the 5th, 6th and 7th defendants are non- Nigerians who have all been served with the court processes in accordance with the order of court.
According to him, because they have refused not to be present, the court has exercised its power under sections 195 Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of Rivers State to try them in absentia.
““Under the criminal laws of Lagos State, criminal infractions are penal offence. In addition to the penal offences, there are provisions in the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of Rivers State that provides for restitution.
“So, after the trial, persons will serve their terms and restitutions will be made in respect of this monies. The total monies requested for restitution is about $59m (Fifty-Nine million U.S. dollars) and about N7.4 billion (Seven-Point-Four billion Naira)” he added.