By Lukman Olabiyi
The Chief Executive Officer of Lionstone Offshore Services Limited, Mr Amaechi Ndili and his wife, Mrs Njide Ndili, have accused the police of illegally interfering in a civil dispute between their firm and an American firm, Hercules Offshore Nigeria Limited.
In the court processes filed by the couple, they lamented that the ongoing trial before the Lagos Special Offences Court in Ikeja, over alleged $4.6 million debt, is in violation of clear pronouncements of superior courts that police has no business interfering in business disputes, or recovering of civil debts. The duo were accused of fraudulently converting the sum of $4.6 million allegedly owned by Hercules Offshore Nigeria Limited to their personal use.
They said the dispute arose from a joint business agreement signed by the two companies to work together on the tender of a specific contract in the oil sector, which could be won from a major oil company. Unfortunately, the two companies were unable to win the contract, which they envisaged and bid for with ADDAX Petroleum, under a Memorandum of Association (MOU). Under the MOU, parties agreed that all disputes that may arise in the course of the contract implementation and interpretation must be submitted to the Arbitration Tribunal in London.
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. The court documents showed that due to the nature of their pre-existing relationship, Lionstone agreed to and worked together with Hercules Offshore on the interim contract, which arose before the main tendered contract. The 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.
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in appeal number CA/LAG/ CV/344/2019. Lionstone rejected the claim, stating that it is not in partnership with Hercules and that Hercules was, indeed, in breach of local content laws in Nigeria. However, while litigation was ongoing in courts, Hercules Offshore petitioned the police, asking it 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 that the only subsisting contract is between it and Addax. Lionstone further claimed that the foundation for Hercules arbitration award was wrong. Consequent upon the petition, policemen from the Special Fraud Unit, Ikoyi clamped down on all Lionstone’s accounts in Nigeria. Lionstone consequently sued the police and Hercules for tortious interference, claiming damages for injuries suffered by the unlawful interference in a civil dispute between parties.
The police later filed a charge against Amaechi Ndili, his wife, Njide Ndili and their company, Lionstone Offshore Services Limited, alleging fraudulent conversion of $4.6 million.
At the last hearing of the matter before Justice Olubunmi Abike-Fadipe, the first prosecution witness, Godwin Okon, while being cross-examined by the defence lawyer, Ebun Shofunde (SAN), admitted that he was not present during contract negotiations between parties. He said Hercules had originally withheld funds due to Lionstone Marine, resulting in Lionstone losing its vessels. The witness also stated that none of the directors of the company was in the country as they had all left Hercules. Further hearing in the matter has been fixed for May 16, 2023.