FORMER Minister of Commerce and Tourism, Chief Bola Kuforiji-Olubi, has decried an asset-freezing order issued by a London court against her and some members of her family.
The order was sequel to a dispute between Pheonixtide Offshore Nigeria Limited, a company she chaired in the past, and its estranged foreign partner, Tidewwater Marine International Incorporated.
The former minister said the order issued on account of an ex-parte motion on March 31, 2015 by Justice Eder of the Commercial Court, High Court, Queen’s Bench Division, is “intended to harass her and her family into submission and stop her from further insisting that Tidewater must account for how it ran Pheonixtide, and settle all outstanding tax liabilities to Nigerian government before the termination of both companies’ relationship.”
Kuforiji-Olubi, speaking to reporters in Abuja through her counsel, Ade Adedeji, said steps have been taken to stay the execution of the “wrongly” issued order and have it set aside.
She explained that Tidewater now operates in the country through a local company, T1 Marine Services Limited.
Kuforiji-Olubi said she found it strange for a court to grant an order of such magnitude freezing assets without hearing form the other side when the applicant (Tidewater) has suppressed facts in relation to the pending cases between parties in Nigerian courts and the fact that Tidewater had appealed an earlier order by Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos asking Total to pay its $12.6m debt into an account opened by the court until the determination of pending cases between parties.
Kuforiji-Olubi added that Tidewater did not only hide these facts from the court, it deceived the London court to believe that the Nigerian stakeholders in Pheonixtide, including Kuforiji-Olubi, were blocking its access to the $12.6m yet to be paid by Total in view of the appeal it (Tidewater) filed.
She argued that even when the business done was with PhoenixTide in Nigeria, which is a bona fide limited liability company registered in the country, Tidewater is “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.
“All these moves are calculated by Tidewater and its associates to harass, intimidate and oppress the Kuforiji-Olubi family in defiance of any reaction of the Nigerian public or the Nigeria government.”
According to court documents filed by 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 (SEC) 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.
Kuforiji-Olubi explained that upon realising that Tidewater’s continued sole management of Pheonixtide threatens its future existence, Nigerian stakeholders in Pheonixtide sought restructuring to allow them monitor operations its operations and demanded that Tidewater makes 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, who sought to settle part of its indebtedness for services rendered, approached the Federal High Court for direction.