By Abdulwahab Abdulah & Jane Echewedo
LAGOS—CHAIRMAN of Innoson Motors Nigeria, Ltd, Mr Innocent Chukwuma, has failed to appear before an Ikeja Special Offences Court in Lagos for his arraignment for alleged fraud for the third time.
The court presided over by Justice Mojisola Dada had on Feb. 9 issued a bench warrant for Innoson boss’ arrest, when he did not appear in court to take his plea for fraud charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The case took another dimension, yesterday, when the presiding Judge, Justice Dada revealed that the defendant had written a petition against her before the National Judicial Commission, NJC.
According to the Judge, no step will be taken in the case until she finally responds to the query raised in the petition against her.
Justice Dada, who said she will be relieved of the load of cases before her, if the matter is withdrawn said, “I have no personal interest in this case. In fact, I’ll be relieved if this case is taken off me, as it will be a reduction of my work load.”
When the case was called for arraignment, Mr George Uwechue, SAN, who represented Innoson Motors Nigeria Ltd told the court that he had filed four different applications on the suit.
Uwechue said the applications should be heard by the court first before Innoson could be arraigned.
EFCC had just served the defence with an amended charge despite a pending appeal in the higher court over the charges.
“We have just been served with the amended charge by the EFCC, My Lord, there is a Notice of Appeal filed against the order of this Honourable Court.
“There is also at the Court of Appeal, a Notice to Stay Proceedings on this matter, we were not given adequate time to study the charge.
“The charge is an abuse of court processes, there is a charge pending at the Federal High Court filed against the first defendant by the Federal Government.”
Responding, Mr A. B. C Ozioko, the lead prosecuting counsel of the EFCC asked that the arraignment takes place as scheduled, noting that the applications filed by the defence were a ploy to delay proceedings.
“The defence running to the NJC is immaterial, this case should not be treated as special, it is like any other case, I hear the first defendant may be in court.
“The defence filed five applications not four as alleged by the Senior Advocate.
“On Jan. 15, they filed an application challenging the jurisdiction of this court, on Jan.18, they asked for a mandatory injunction that the EFCC not be heard in any of the application.
“On Feb. 5 they filed another application that Your Lordship disqualifies herself, on Feb. 9, they filed an application requesting for the stay of execution of the order of the bench warrant and on Feb. 12, they asked My Lordship to dismiss the bench warrant.
“Prof. J. N Mbadugha, the counsel to the second defendant has abused court processes, it is not meant to harass and intimidate the court,” he said.
The EFCC prosecutor noted that the anti-graft agency had responded to the five applications and is ready to proceed with the case despite Innoson evading arrest by the EFCC.
“The presence of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria cannot change the fact that the defendants must be physically present in court, that is the law.
“We made efforts to approach the second defendant by going to Enugu, Nnewi, Abuja and going through the back gate of the Senate and now we are here,” he said.
After hearing the positions from the counsel, she subsequently adjourned the case till Wednesday April 25, for arraignment.
Chukwuma and his company, Innoson Motors Nigeria Ltd are 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.
The EFCC alleges 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.
They 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.
The prosecution claim that the defendants, in order to facilitate the fraud, forged a bill of lading 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.
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.