- I’m not scared of arraignment, says Chukwuma
By kinwale Akintunde in Lagos and Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
Justice Mojisola Dada of a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja has issued an arrest warrant against the Chairman of Innoson Group, Innocent Chukwuma.
The judge made the order following Chukwumaâ€™s failure to appear before the court for the second time for his arraignment on criminal charges preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in his face-off with the Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB.
Justice Dada in her short ruling ordered that Chukwuma should be arrested and kept in custody a day before the next adjourn date,Â March 14, 2018.
â€œA bench warrant is hereby served on Innocent Chukwuma, he will remain in custody till the next adjourned date.
â€œThe case is adjourned tillÂ March 14Â for possible arraignment,â€ Justice Dada said.
The EFCC on January 17, 2018 had attempted to arraign Chukwuma alongside his company Innoson Motors Limited and Charles Chukwuma but he was absent in court.
They were to be arraigned on a four-count charge of conspiracy to obtain property by false pretenses, obtaining property by false pretenses, stealing and forgery.
According to the charge sheet, the defendants committed the offences between 2009 and July 2011 in Lagos.Â
The EFCC alleged that defendants with intent to defraud, conspired to obtain by false pretenses containers of motorcycle, spare parts and raw materials property of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) from Mitsui OSK Lines Limited, Apapa, Lagos.
The defendants are alleged to have fraudulently induced staff of Mitsui OSK and Maersk Line to deliver to them via their clearing agents the goods which were imported from China in the name of GTB by falsely pretending that they were authorised by the bank to clear the goods.Â
The offences according to the EFCC, are in contravention of Sections 1(1)(b), 1(3), and 8(a) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act 2016 and Sections 309(9), 388, 465 and 467(1)(j) of the Criminal Code of Lagos State 2003.
Counsel to the defendants, Mr. U. Onwukwe, had told the court that his clients were absent because they had not been served but that he only learnt of the proposed arraignment after seeing it on social media.Â
Onwukwe also informed the court that he had filed an application challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case.
Responding, EFCC counsel had also accused Chukwuma of evading being served court processes and Justice ordered that the charge sheet be served on the defence counsel.
Meanwhile, earlier during yesterdayâ€™s proceedings, a mild drama ensued before the trial judge and counsel to Chukwuma and Innoson Motors Ltd, Professor J.N Mbadugba, who narrowly escaped being slammed with contempt of court over his rude legal approach to the trail judge.
Mbadugba, rather than giving cogent reasons for his clientsâ€™ absence in court, angrily addressed the court that there were pending applications before her and the Court of Appeal which had to be entertained before further proceedings at the court.
Visibly angry, the defence counsel started out by arguing on point of law, demanding the judge disqualify herself from the trial.
He further accusedÂ Â the judge ofÂ Â overriding the Supreme Courtâ€™s decision.
The judge attempted to calm him down, tactfully reminding him to respect and address the court properly.
Mbadugha in his address, shouted: â€œThis proceeding is a clear abuse of court processes; the EFCC is a reckless arbiter.
â€œMy Lord has refused to be bound by the rule of law and doesnâ€™t want to be bound by the doctrine of Stare Decisis; my Lord wants to override the decision of the Supreme Court.â€
Justice Dada, in response, said: â€œYour whole comportment, conduct, countenance smack of disrespect to the court and rule of law, I will report you to the Nigerian Bar Association. â€œYou are insulting the court, this is clear contempt in the face of the court; you will go to prison from here, if you think the court is defenceless and powerless, youâ€™d be surprised.â€
Mbadugha, who initially said he was ready to be charged for contempt, later tendered an apology to the court, saying: â€œI am sorry My Lord, I hope the court gives me a second opportunity. I want to urge the court to temper justice with mercy; to err is human, but to forgive is divine.â€
After apologising to the court,Â Â he told the courtÂ Â he had withdrawn his earlier statements.
I’m not scared of arraignment in Court, Says Chukwuma
Meanwhile, Chief Chukwuma yesterday in a press statement declared that he was not afraid of arraignment in the court, insisting however that such arraignment must follow the due process of law.
Chukwuma who reacted to the issuance of a bench warrant against him by a High Court in Ikeja, Lagos State said he remained a law abiding citizen of the country.
He said the decision of Justice Dada was done in bad faith as his counsel, Prof J.N Mbadugha Esg was not given a fair hearing.Â
“All the submissions of Prof Mbadugha to the judge were not granted, however the judge granted the plea of the counsel to EFCC who prayed the court to issue a bench warrant against Innoson. The issuance of bench warrant led to a wild jubilation by some staff of GTB and their lawyers who were fully seated in the court.Â
“It must be stated that based on the submission of Prof Mbadugha, counsel to Innoson, the judge erred in law by making an order to issue a bench warrant against Innoson. The court is bound by law to listen and decide the applications submitted rather than making an order to arraign Innoson in a charge that is an abuse of process,” the statement noted.
Chukwuma had earlier insisted that the EFCC charge was instigated by GTB and as such remained a gross abuse of process.Â
“First, an earlier charge which GTB induced the EFCC to file against Innoson was struck out. Innoson appealed against the order striking the charge out on the ground that it ought to be a dismissal and not striking out. The appeal, with Appeal No: CA/L/1328CM/2017 is, till date, still pending when EFCC filed or re-filed, in December 2017, the same charge that was struck out.Â
“Secondly, the charge is on the same subject matter and the same party as Charge No: FHC/L/565C/2015 that is pending at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, in Appeal No: CA/E/249C/2016. Both charges are smear campaign by GTB and EFCC to destroy Innoson,” he noted.