A Rivers State High Court, Presided over by Justice Okogbule Gbasam, on Tuesday ordered the Managing Director of Saipem Contracting, Walter Peviana and Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe be remanded in Port Harcourt Correctional Centre.
The defendants have allegedly conspired to cheat and defraud the Government of Rivers State of $130million being advanced payment for the construction of the OCGT power plant in Port Harcourt.
The court also issued a bench warrant for the arrest of three expatriates working for 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 lawsuit No. PHC/3106/CR/2021, Justice Gbasam ordered that the third defendant, Walter Peviana and the fourth 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 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 Rivers Police Commissioner and other security agencies on notice to arrest and produce them in court to face their trial having been duly served notice by the Government of Rivers State.
The lead lawyer 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 had been duly served in court processes.
Opposed to that stance, the lead lawyer to 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th defendants, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, SAN, explained that though court processes had 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 14 December 2021, ordered that all parties should be in court since it is a criminal case.
Gbasam, who adjoined the next hearing and taking of pleas to Tuesday, 18th January 2022, said it was to enable the lawyers 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 (N7bn).
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 had been collected with the company still asking for an additional $97m to complete the contract.
He said: “So forensic analysis of the 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 to 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 said the “trial commenced after about two previous delays.”