The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division yesterday suspended an order of Mareva injunction which froze the accounts of an oil firm, Seplat Petroleum Development Company over an alleged $85.8million legacy debt.
The Appellate Court overturned the decision of Justice Rilwan Aikawa of a Federal High Court in Lagos that granted the Mareva injunction last November 23, in a suit by Access Bank against SEPLAT over the debt.
Other defendants in suit are Cardinal Drilling Services Limited, Mr. Orjiako Ambrosie Bryant and Kalu Nwosu.
Justice Aikawa had granted the Mareva injunction following the bank’s argument canvassed by its counsel, Kunle Ogunba, SAN.
The judge also ordered the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 2, Lagos, the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State and their Deputies and Assistants to assist the Receiver/ Manager in his lawful duties over the assets of SEPLAT pending the hearing and final determination of the suit.
Ogunba had told the court, among others, that the order was necessary to preserve the res from being disposed of before the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
The assets affected by the Mareva order included; 25, Lugard Avenue, Ikoyi, Lagos, 6, Agodogba Avenue, Parkview, Ikoyi, Lagos and the one at 11, Oba Adeyinka Oyekan Street, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Dissatisfied, SEPLAT appealed against ruling and urged the Appeal Court to suspend the order pending the hearing of the appeal.
But in its ruling delivered by Justice Joseph Ikyegh (presiding), supported by Justice Umaru Abubakar Sadiq and Justice Bayero Abdullahi-Mahmud, the appeal court held that there was substance in the appellant’s application adding that the mareva injunction granted by the lower court could cause irreparable damage to the operations of the appellant’s businesses.
Justice Ikyegh held that the fear entertained by Access Bank that lifting the order would amount to treating substantive issues at interlocutory stage was unfounded and not based on facts.
Justice Ikyegh further held that the first defendant (Access Bank) did not challenge or contravene the crippling effect on appellant’s businesses which may lead to a termination of gas supply to electricity generating companies and may cause power blackout in some parts of the country.
Consequently, the court ordered that the company’s sealed offices should be opened with immediate effect.
“I find substance in the application and thereby suspend the order of Mareva injunction granted by the lower court. All the bank accounts operated by the applicant are unblocked for transactions,” Justice Ikyegh held.
The Court however ordered SEPLAT to provide a bank guarantee in the sum of $20 million USD with a reputable bank in the name of the Chief Registrar of the court.
After the ruling, counsel to the appellant, Etigwe Uwa, SAN informed the court that SEPLAT had already complied with the order.
He told the court that SEPLAT on Thursday, January 21, 2021 deposited the sum of $20 million with Zenith bank in anticipation of the decision of the court.