For the Chief Executive Officer of Lionstone Offshore Services Limited, Mr. Amaechi Ndili and his wife, Mrs. Njide Chizoba Ndili, currently being tried at the Special Offences Court in Lagos for alledged debt of $4.6m, there is a clear violation of a pronouncement by superior courts, that the Nigerian Police has no reason to meddle in business disputes, or recovering of civil debts.
The duo are being prosecuted over a civil business dispute between their company and Hercules Offshore Nigeria Limited.
They stated that despite the clear stand of the law and judgements of superior courts that the Nigerian Police has no business in adjudicating on business disputes, or recovering of civil debts, the police again and again interfere in civil cases.
The defendants were said to have fraudulently converted the sum of $4.6 million for their personal use, said to belong to Hercules Offshore Nigeria Limited.
But the matter was adjudicated on by an Arbitration Tribunal in London and granted an award to Hercules Offshore Nigeria Limited.
The dispute resulted from a joint business agreement signed by the two companies: Lionstone, a Nigerian company and Hercules Offshore Limited an American company decided to work together on the tender of a specific contract in the oil sector as a servicing that could be won from a major Oil Company. Lionstone with the assistance of Hercules bid on this contract, which they did not eventually win.
Under the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, parties agreed that all disputes that may come up in the course of the contract implementation and interpretation under the MOU must be submitted to the Arbitration Tribunal in London.
Unfortunately, the parties were unable to win the contract, which they envisaged and bid for with Addax Petroleum under the MOU.
Prior to the contract submission date, and well before the tenders closed, Lionstone (being an indigenous company) was solely awarded an interim contract by Addax in October 2010.
According to court documents, due to the nature of their pre-existing relationship, Lionstone agreed to and worked together with Hercules Offshore on this interim contract, which arose before the main tendered contract. This interim contract made no mention of Hercules at all and was dated October 2010, while the Hercules/Lionstone MOU and its amendments were dated December 2011.
Under the new deal, and as a result of the potential strategic nature of their relationship both parties agreed to share the proceeds from the interim contract solely awarded to Lionstone by Addax.
However, while the business was going on, Lionstone alleged breach of contract and good faith on the side of Hercules and insisted that Hercules remedy its breach.
The disagreement led both parties to submit themselves before the Arbitration Tribunal in London as contained in their MOU and at the end of its sitting, the Tribunal made its findings and granted the award to Hercules.
In a bid to enforce the arbitral award, Hercules Offshore Nigeria Limited approached the Federal High Court, Lagos in suit number FHC/L/CS/1461/2017 and the matter is currently before the Court of Appeal in appeal number CA/LAG/CV/344/2019. Lionstone rejected the claim stating that the Hercules and Lionstone were not in a partnership, nor an agency relationship (their contract affirms this point), and that Hercules was indeed in breach of local content laws in Nigeria.
While the litigation was ongoing in Nigeria Courts, Hercules Offshore petitioned the Nigerian police, asking the police to compel Lionstone to pay the contested sum, while alleging fraudulent conversion of money paid to Lionstone under the interim contract signed solely between Addax and Lionstone.
Lionstone denied the claim adding that the tender was in any case lost, and the only subsisting contract is between Lionstone and Addax solely. Further claiming that the foundation for the Hercules arbitration award was wrong.
Lionstone added that the only other existing contract is between Lionstone and Hercules, which is subject to arbitration at the time due to an alleged breach of MOU terms by Hercules.
Consequent upon the petition, Police from the Special Fraud Unit, SFU, Ikoyi clamped down on all Lionstone’s accounts in Nigeria, while Lionstone on the other hand sued the Police and Hercules for tortious interference, claiming damages for injuries suffered by the unlawful interference in a civil dispute between parties.
Consequently, the Police filed a charge against Amaechi Ndili, his wife Njide Chizoba Ndili and their company, Lionstone Offshore Services Limited alleging fraudulent conversation of $4.6million.
When the matter came up, before Justice Olubunmi Abike-Fadipe the first prosecution witness, Godwin Okon, who was business analyst manager of the company, said that the first defendant agreed to the indebtedness of Lionstone Offshore Services to Hercules Offshore Nigeria in the statement he made at the Special Fraud Unit, SFU, of the Nigeria Police Force.
Led in evidence by the prosecutor who is an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Simon Lough (SAN), Mr. Okon the first prosecution witness said the defendant agreed to withholding money belonging to Hercules Offshore Nigeria Limited.
The witness said the defendant promised to pay back by instalments and first instalment to be remitted in the sum of $600,000.
The witness told the court that it was when he failed to remit the amount owed Hercules Offshore Services that they decided to use the Police to prosecute him in order to recover the money owed Hercules Offshore Services.
Okon added that Hercules Offshore Services had earlier taken the Lionstone Offshore Services Limited before an arbitration court in London in line with the provisions of the joint bidding agreement in the event of a dispute.
He said that the London arbitration court decided in favour of Hercules Offshore Nigeria Limited.
Okon stated that the first defendant agreed that Lionstone was in dispute with Hercules over contractual sums and arbitration award was in favour of Hercules.
Okon said the defendants agreed to withholding money belonging to Hercules.
Okon said it was when he failed to remit the amount adjudged owed to Hercules Offshore Services that they decided to use the Police to first seek to recover the money failing which they should prosecute him in order to recover the money adjudged as owed Hercules.
During cross-examination by the Defence Counsel, Ebun Shofunde SAN, the witness admitted that he was not aware or present during contract negotiations.
He said that Hercules had originally withheld funds due to Lionstone Marine resulting in Lionstone loosing its vessels.
The witness also stated that none of the directors of the company are in the country as they have all left Hercules.