Law News
Ex-minister wants British court’s order on assets voided

A former Minister of Commerce and Tourism, Chief Bola Kuforiji-Olubi, has faulted an order of a British court freezing some assets in which she and some members of her family had interest.

The London court had issued the order following a dispute between a company where she was the chairman – Pheonixtide Offshore Nigeria Limited – and its estranged foreign partner, Tidewater Marine International Incorporated.

The ex-minister said the order issued ex parte on March 31 by Justice Eder of the Commercial Court, High Court, Queen’s Bench Division, was targeted at frustrating her and her family to stop demanding the settlement of all outstanding tax liabilities to Nigerian government before the termination of both companies’ relationship.

She also alleged that the order was intended to harass her into abandoning her demand for Tidewater to account for how it managed Pheonixtide.

Kuforiji-Olubi, who spoke through her lawyer, Ade Adedeji, said steps had been taken to stay the execution of the allegedly wrongly-issued order and have it set aside.

Tidewater now operates in the country through a local company, T1 Marine Services Limited.

Adedeji accused Tidewater of suppressing facts in relation to the pending cases between parties in Nigerian courts.

He further said that Tidewater had instituted an appeal against an earlier order made by Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos, asking Total to pay its $12.6m debt into an account opened by the court until the determination of pending cases between parties.

According to Adedeji, Tidewater hid these facts from the London court and deceived it to believe that the Nigerian stakeholders in Pheonixtide were blocking its access to the $12.6m yet to be paid by Total.

Meanwhile, Total had not paid the debt because of the subsisting order of the Federal High Court in Lagos.

Adedeji said Tidewater was “surreptitiously demanding payment of the outstanding amount from Total from Kuforiji-Olubi and her family when they have never had access individually and severally to those funds”.

He said, “All these moves are calculated by Tidewater and its associates to harass, intimidate and oppress the Kuforiji-Olubi family in defiance to any reaction of the Nigerian public or the Nigeria government.”

According to court documents filed by the parties, Pheonixtide, upon its creation in 2004, entered into some agreements with Tidewater (an American company), which allows the foreign company to manage and control Pheonixtide’s operations, which include the provision of maritime services to international oil companies.

In 2010, the United State’s Department of Justice found Tidewater wanting for engaging in unethical practices in its operations in Nigeria and Azerbaijan.

The US’ Security and Exchange Commission equally indicted the company for allegedly falsifying its accounts and returns. It was made to pay penalties of about $14.8million to both agencies.

Tidewater, in 2011, was also made to pay a fine of $6m to the Nigerian Government for similar offences.

It was learnt that, on realising that Tidewater’s continued sole management of Pheonixtide threatened its future existence, the Nigerian stakeholders in Pheonixtide sought restructuring to allow them to monitor its operations. They had demanded that Tidewater should make full disclosure and provide necessary information for the assessment of its tax liabilities.

Rather than “open up its operations,” as sought by the Nigerian shareholders, Tidewater, in 2012, sought to exit the relationship, a move Kuforiji-Olubi and others objected to, insisting that Tidewater must first account for its running of Pheonixtide and settle all outstanding tax liabilities to relevant Nigerian agencies before the relationship could be terminated.

The disagreement led parties to approach the court, with Nigerian directors of Pheonixtide suing before the Federal High Court, while Tidewater headed for court in England. But while parties were still in court, a client to Pheonixtide, Total, which sought to settle part of its indebtedness for services rendered, approached the Federal High Court for direction.

In a judgment on November 8, 2013, Justice Ibrahim Buba ordered Total to pay what it owed “into an interest-yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar pending when it is decided by a competent court, who is entitled to the funds between the respondents (Tidewater and Pheonixtide,” a decision Tidewater promptly appealed against.

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