By Abdulwahab Abdulah & Bartholomew Madukwe
A LAGOS State High Court sitting in Igbosere, yesterday, dismissed the objections raised by FinBank Plc (formerly First Inland Bank Plc) in a N670 million fraud charge instituted against the bank, by Lagos State.
In his ruling, Justice Christopher Balogun said, “In conclusion, the preliminary objection, motion on notice of the defendant dated 27 February, 2012 fails in its entirety and it is consequently hereby dismissed. This shall be the Order of the court.”
The court held that a company can be regarded if the persons can be identified as a natural person, adding that the bank must come for arraignment since the objections raised by FinBank’s counsel, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN, has been quashed.
“I think what is important here is that ability of the prosecution to identify the officer or employee in the company as stated in Section 20 of the law. And as stated earlier, whether Nnezi Kalu and Otobong Asuquo legal practitioners are officers of the employee of formerly FinBank Plc. However this must be led in evidence at the trial” the judge said.
Justice Balogun explained that until the decision of preliminary objection is dealt with, the defendant (FinBank) can then be compelled for the arraignment.
, saying “however, now that issue of preliminary objection has been dealt with, then it is now ripe to compel the defendant to be in court.
FinBank, through their counsel, had prayed the court to quash the charge of stealing, fraud and perjury brought against it, on the ground that the charge was incompetent, as it was based on the repealed Criminal Code Law Cap C17, Laws of Lagos State 2003.
He argued that the bank, as a corporate entity, cannot be convicted for a crime, where the punishment is imprisonment; adding that the guilty act and requisite mental element constituting the offences cannot be attributed to any identified natural person in the bank.
But the Prosecutor, Mr. Tani Molajo, SAN, had opposed the application, urging the court to disregard the issue raised by the defendant over trying and convicting FinBank (as a corporate body).
Molajo had argued that FinBank, through its officers, allegedly mounted sustained pressures on Zumax to concede to terms, accepting that it remained indebted to the bank, knowing that in reality that IMB owed Zumax large sums of money.
According to the charge marked as LCD/168/2011, FinBank had on divers dates between 6th December 2002 and 31st December 2009 at No.1, Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos fraudulently converted to its own use, sums of money belonging to Zumax Nigeria Limited (“ZumaX’), received under a receivership, in excess of the sum of N465,635,070.16 (Four Hundred and Sixty Five Million, Six Hundred and Thirty Five Thousand, Seventy Naira, Sixteen Kobo), an offence contrary to Section 390(8) of the Criminal Code Law Cap C.17, Laws of Lagos State 2003.
FinBank is now facing a three-count-charge of stealing, fraud and perjury, which Count 2 of the Charge reads: “FINBANK (FORMERLY FIRST INLAND BANK PLC) on divers date between 6th December 2002 and 31st December 2009 at No.1, Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos in the Lagos Judicial Division made a false statement of account in respect of a Current Account belonging to Zumax Nigeria Limited (“Zumax”) knowing it to be false in that it concealed and omitted to disclose sums belonging to Zumax with the intent that it may be used and acted upon as genuine to the prejudice of Zumax, or another in the belief that it is genuine.