Court remands Saipem MD in custody over $130m gas turbine


Port Harcourt — A State High Court in Port Harcourt has remanded the Managing Director of Saipem Contracting, Mr. Walter Peviana, in Port Harcourt Correctional Centre, over alleged conspiracy to cheat and with intent to defraud the Rivers State government of $130 million, being advance payment for the construction of the OCGT power plant in the state.
The court, presided over by Justice Okogbule Gbasam, also issued a bench warrant for the arrest of three expatriates staffers of Saipem, namely Giandomenico Zingali, Vitto Testaguzza and Davide Anelli.
At the resumed hearing of the case to take pleas, after the case was adjourned last December, in the law suit No. PHC/3106/CR/2021, Justice Gbasam ordered that the 3rd defendant, Walter Peviana, and the 4th defendant, Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe, be remanded at the Port Harcourt Correctional Service until next week Tuesday.
The judge, who observed with dismay the continual absence from court of three defendants, Giandomenico Zingali, Vitto Testaguzza and Davide Anelli, issued a bench warrant and placed the State Police Commissioner and other security agencies on notice to arrest and produce the aforementioned persons in court to face their trial having been duly served notice by the government of Rivers State.
The lead counsel to the Rivers State Government, Chief Godwin Obla, SAN, relied on section 195 of the Rivers State Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2015 to pray that those absent be tried in absentia since they have been duly served court processes.
Opposed to that stance, the lead counsel to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th defendants, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, SAN, explained that though court processes have been served on his clients, the 6th defendant was absent in court on health grounds.
Addressing the issue of absenteeism of defendants in court, Justice Gbasam noted that at the preliminary hearing stages, the court, on 14 December 2021, ordered that all parties should be in court since it is a criminal case.
Justice Gbasam, who adjourned the next hearing and taking of pleas to Tuesday, 18th January 2022, said this will enable the counsels to the defendants, including Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, SAN, and K. Akinwole for the 4th defendant, time to study the charges, other affidavits and complementary documents properly
Speaking to journalists after the court session, Obla explained that some years ago, the Rivers State Government had a contract with Saipem SPA and Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd in respect of gas turbines and their being built in Afam 11 in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State.
According to him, the Rivers State Government had paid Saipem a total of $130 million and N7 billion for that purpose.
He explained that despite such payment, the work did not progress beyond about 40 percent of the contract sum even when the total contract sum has been collected with the company still asking for additional $97 million to be able to complete the contract.
Obla further said the 5th, 6th and 7th defendants are non-Nigerians who have all been served with the court processes in accordance with the order of court.
According to him, because they have refused to be present, the court has exercised its power under sections 195 Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of Rivers State to try them in absentia.