Justice Olusola Williams of the Ikeja High Court has struck out an alleged fraud suit instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against the Chairman of Innoson Motors Nigeria Limited, Innocent Chukuwuma.
The Judge struck out the case yesterday following failure on the part of EFCC to produce Chukwuma in court to face trial, even after bench warrant was issued against him.
The anti-graft agency had dragged Chukwuma and his company before the court, and was to be arraigned before Justice Mojisola Dada of an Ikeja Special Offences Court on January 17, 2018, on a four-count charge of conspiracy to obtain property by false pretence, stealing and forgery in a transaction with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB).
The EFCC alleged that the defendants had intent to defraud, conspired to obtain by false pretence containers of motorcycles spare parts and raw materials, properties of GTB from Mitsui OSK Lines Limited, Apapa, Lagos.
They were 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.
The prosecution claimed that the defendants, in order to facilitate the fraud, forged a Bill of Laden numbered 598286020 of Maersk Line Limited and 11007950841 of Mutsui O.S.K Lines by knowingly putting a false GTB stamp and signature of the bank staff.
The alleged forgery was in order that the forged documents be used or acted upon as genuine to the prejudice of any person within Lagos or elsewhere.
According to EFCC, the offences contravened 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, Laws of Lagos State 2003.
The defendants, however, failed to appear before the court in all the adjourned dates.
The case was transferred to Justice Williams after counsel to Chukwuma wrote a petition to the NJC against Justice Dada, citing bias and asking her to recuse herself from the trial.
Responding to Chukwuma’s petition dated February 12, the NJC, through a letter signed by its Secretary, Mr. Ahmed Saleh, said the council had in its meeting on March 9, absolved Justice Dada of any wrongdoing and that the matter will be returned to the Chief Judge for re-assignment to another Judge.
While striking out the matter yesterday, Justice Williams, said a criminal matter can always be instituted whenever the prosecution is prepared.
In a short ruling, the Judge pointed out that the EFCC had the responsibility to produce Innoson but they never did.
“The prosecution is well aware that it is its duty to produce a defendant in court.
“This court is not inclined to continue to waste the tax of Lagos taxpayers. This court cannot continue to waste precious time calling a case that is going nowhere.
“It is a criminal matter that can be instituted anytime. I advise that the prosecution gets its acts together before coming to court. I am inclined to strike out this case and I so do,” the Judge held.
Earlier during proceedings, EFCC counsel, Ms Zainab Ettu, informed the court that Innoson has been hiding from the anti-graft agency.
According to her, “My Lord, the defendant has been giving briefs to counsels but has never deemed it fit to appear in court.
“While we continue to pursue the arrest of the defendant, it behooves on the defendant’s counsel as Ministers in the temple of Justice to produce their client.
“They need to perform their duty to the court and ensure that their client comes to court. If they can collect briefs from him, then they should know where he is. We are optimistic about arresting him.
“We already have a warrant for his arrest, as the court has declared him wanted. The counsel to the defendant has brought numerous applications, trying to stall the matter.”
Responding, Chukwuma’s counsel, Professor J.N Mbaduga, told the court that the EFCC filed a similar suit marked FHC/L/565c before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.
“While the suit was still pending, the EFCC went ahead and filed another suit with the same subject matter against the defendants.
“Some of the facts arising from the case have even proceeded before the Supreme Court. We raised a preliminary objection citing abuse of court processes. We also raised objections on the grounds that the defendant has not been served with the charges.
“My Lord until the EFCC can produce the defendant in court, the court cannot exercise any jurisdiction over the defendant,” he said.
The prosecution, however, told the court that “for any application to be treated on behalf of a defendant, he should be present in court, they can then decide if they want to raise an objection before he takes his plea or after.