By Prince Okafor
A federal high court in Lagos, yesterday, issued a bench warrant for the arrest of Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Innoson Nigeria Ltd., and two of his employees.
However, in a swift reaction, Mr. Chukwuma, described the bench warrant as an abuse of process taken too far by the court, saying the order itself is a nullity and does not have grounds in law.
Ayokunle Faji, the Presiding Judge, issued the bench warrant, citing Chukwuma’s failure to appear before him over an alleged N2.4 billion fraud case.
Innoson’s CEO is being prosecuted alongside Charles Chukwuma, Maximian Chukwura, Anajekwu Sunny and Mitsui Osk Lines, MOL, a shipping company.
The defendants had been charged to court for their alleged role in conspiring to unlawfully falsify shipping clearance documents and using same as collateral to Guaranty Trust Bank Plc to obtain a loan of N2.4 billion.
The Federal Government claimed that the defendants committed the offence at Apapa Wharf, Lagos, on October 10, 2013.
Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice at the time, had taken over the case.
Julius Ajakaiye, the prosecutor, had said the charge was served on the defendants by an order for substituted service on February 8, 2016 following the AGF’s take-over of the case.
Ajakaiye said since then, the third and fourth defendants had been coming to court, while the first, second and fifth defendants had refused, failed and neglected to appear in court till date.
He had argued that the defendants were yet to take their pleas and so, should be compelled to appear. Ajakaiye had also urged the court to grant his application by ordering their arrest.
The team of defence counsel had, on their part, urged the court to dismiss the application as the defendants were not properly arraigned before the court, adding that the court lacked jurisdiction to do same.
After arguments, the court had then adjourned the case for ruling.
Delivering his ruling, Faji first highlighted the various arguments and submissions as canvassed by respective parties.
He held that it is clear that the first, second and fifth defendants have not appeared in the criminal charge and consequently held that the application by the prosecution has merit.
“I hereby order as follows: warrant of arrest is hereby issued against Innocent Chukwuma, Charles Chukwuma and Sunny Anajekwu,” he held.
He then adjourned the case till June 28.
Reacting to the arrest warrant, Mr. Chukwuma, yesterday, described the bench warrant as an abuse of process taken too far by the court, saying the order itself is a nullity and does not have grounds in law.
Chukwuma, in a statement by Innoson Group’s Head of Corporate Communications, Mr. Cornel Osigwe, said: “The issuance of bench warrant against me by the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, is an abuse of process taken too far by the court and made without jurisdiction. The order itself is a nullity and does not have grounds on law.
“First, there is no prima facie case against me. The charge was based on suspected or trumped up action of Innoson Nigeria Ltd. and Innoson Nigeria Ltd. was a party originally to the charge, but was discharged by the Court of Appeal.
“Second, there was no notice of trial served on me pursuant to the Administration of Criminal Justice Act. The act provides that before the court should issue a bench warrant, there must be proof of service of the charge and the notice of trial on the person involved.
“But there is no notice of trial served on me and the question of whether I, Innocent Chukwuma, has been served with the charge is still pending at the Supreme Court. More importantly, the charge is also an abuse because of earlier similar suit in relation to the charge pending at different Federal High Courts.
“Third, the said CHARGE NO: FHC/L/565/2015, a trumped up one, was filed by the Police in 2015 and was equally withdrawn by the same Police through its notice of withdrawal dated February 17, 2016 duly filed at the Federal High Court Registry, Lagos.”
He continued: “GTB characteristically got the then Director of Public Prosecution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (names withheld) to claim to have taken over the charge/case using the name of the Attorney-General of the Federation. This is after the Police have withdrawn the case.
“Interestingly, that DPP involvement in this matter and his complicities therein led to his removal as the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The argument on whether the Office of the Attorney General is empowered to take over a case that the Police have originally withdrawn is still going on at the Supreme Court.
“The public should be aware that this latest order is being orchestrated by Guaranty Trust Bank in order to force me to negotiate with the bank from a weaker position.
“It will be recalled that in a decision of February 27, in Appeal No:SC.694/2014 between Guaranty Trust Bank Plc v Innoson Nig Ltd, the Supreme Court dismissed GTB’s appeal against the Court of Appeal’s judgment which ordered GTB to pay the judgment debt which with accrued interest is as at today over N9 billion.
“I therefore advise the bank for the benefit of its shareholders to quickly comply with the Supreme Court judgment and pay the over N9 billion judgment debt. Failure to do so within the short period of grace that Innoson Nigeria Ltd granted to the bank will lead to the final execution of the Writ of Fifa against Guaranty Trust Bank.
“Meanwhile, I have appealed against the Order of Bench Warrant to the Court of Appeal and have as well filled a Motion for Stay of Execution of the Order.”