A Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria, has granted an interim mareva injunction directing commercial banks to block Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited accounts for alleged oil theft.

The court granted the injunction in order to recover the cash value of 16 million barrels of crude oil allegedly diverted from AITEO Eastern E & P Company Limited, The Cable reported.

AITEO and some other indigenous oil producers including Belemaoil, Eroton and Newcross had raised a dispute with Shell over allegations of unapproved methodology used in calculating the volume of crude it lifts on their behalf from the terminal.

The companies argued that Shell deploys underhand practices including using unapproved meters to facilitate crude theft.

After an investigation by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Shell, in a letter with reference number SPDC-COM-2021-00951, Shell admitted that it had installed unapproved metering systems and agreed to refund more than two million barrels of crude it had illegally taken from the producers between 2016 and 2018.

AITEO Eastern E & P Company Limited, led by its counsels, Kemi Pinheiro and Dapo Olanipekun (SANs), filed an ex parte application in suit no FHC/L/CS/52/202.

On Monday, Oluremi Omowunmi Oguntoyinbo, the judge, ordered commercial banks to block Shell’s bank accounts.

She directed the 20 banks to “ring-fence any cash, bonds, deposits, all forms of negotiable instruments to the value of $2.7 billion and pay all standing credits to the Shell companies up to the value into an interest-yielding account in the name of the chief registrar of the court”.

Oguntoyibo said the chief registrar is to “hold the funds in trust” pending the hearing of the motion and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.

The court restrained the defendants or their agents/privies from presenting to the banks any mandate or instrument for the withdrawal of any money and/or funds standing to the credit of any of the accounts “of the defendants kept/maintained at any of the named respondent banks… without first preserving/ring-fencing the sum of $1,251,305.5 or its equivalent in any other official currency, including but not limited to the naira and/or pound sterling being the value of the plaintiff’s 1,022,029 barrels of crude oil (at the rate of $79.50 per barrel as stated in the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) letter dated 8th day of July, 2020”.

“Pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction, the respondent banks are directed to sequestrate and/or ring-fence any cash, bonds, deposits, all forms of negotiable instruments or chose(s) in the action due to or standing to the credit sum/value of the amounts stated in prayer 1,2,2 and/or 4 above,” the court ruled.

“That pending the hearing and determination of the motion for interlocutory injunction, the named banks are directed to file within 48 hours of service of the order of this honourable court on them returns of the statement of account of the all the five defendants maintained with them as at the date of the order of this honourable court, such returns to be verified by affidavits.”

The judge adjourned proceedings till February 24.