May 7, 2024

Court suspends bench warrant orders against Ibeto

Bench warrant: Lagos govt takes over lbeto’s case

Ibeto Cletus

The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has adjourned till Sept. 19, the hearing of the appeal filed by the Chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company, Cletus Ibeto, challenging the jurisdiction of Lagos State High Court in Ikeja to try him over an alleged N4.8 billion fraud.

The appellate court presided over by Justice Muhammed Mustapha adjourned the appeal to await the report of ongoing negotiations between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the defendant.

Justice Ismail Ijelu had ordered the businessman’s arrest after he failed to appear before the court on many occasions to take his plea over the alleged fraud case despite repeated hearing notices served on him.

The anti-graft agency had charged the defendant alongside his companies, Ibeto Energy Development Company and Odoh Holdings Ltd, on a 10-count charge of conspiracy, fraud, forgery and fraudulent use of documents.

However, dissatisfied with the order and the refusal of the court to hear his preliminary objection, the defendant filed an appeal before the Appeal Court, formulating seven grounds for appeal.

Also, during Tuesday’s proceeding, Justice Mustapha and other panel members, Abdullahi Mahmud Bayero and Paul Bassi suspended the enforcement of the bench warrant issued on November 3, 2023, against the Appellant by Justice Ismail Ijelu.

The justices suspended the warrant after Ibeto’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun and the EFCC’s counsel, Adebisi Adeniyi, informed the court that the parties are in the process of settling the matter and that the appellant has refunded about N1.7 billion to the Commission.

When the case was called, Adeniyi informed the court that the appellant had been making payment in line with the settlement proposal, so the EFCC felt that going ahead with the appeal might not be appropriate.

He also told the court that the matter had started de novo before another lower court judge and the EFCC felt that the appeal had become academic and as such, the anti-graft agency had filed an affidavit showing the settlement and all that has transpired in the case so far.

Responding, Chief Olanipekun confirmed that the parties are settling the matter in line with a Rivers State High Court judgment.

He, however, urged the court to set aside the bench warrant against his client since the Appeal Court is not seized of the matter.

In a short ruling, Justice Mustapha suspended the enforcement of order as the warrant of arrest can not continue to hang over the defendants head since he has started settling the matter out of court.

He, therefore, held, “The bench warrant is now suspended and we encourage parties to continue with the negotiations until the next adjourned date of September 16.

The appellant, through his lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, argued that his appeal raised the issue of constitutional territorial jurisdiction and that it is of such a threshold nature that it demands to be heard and determined before his client can be prosecuted.

He also contended that his client’s presence in court and his arraignment are not mandatory or preconditions for the hearing of a preliminary objection touching on the court’s jurisdiction, which was already ripe for adjudication.

The appellant, therefore, asked the Court Appeal to set aside or vacate the warrant of arrest and also strike out the suit before the lower court.

Recall the judgment, which was decided by the Port-Harcourt high court, that Chief Ibeto should refund the deposit of over N2 billion that was paid to the nominal complainant, Chief Chukwudozie, and that he should have his land and there should be no further encroachment or trespass by anyone was brought to the Lagos state court of appeal where it was said that all bench warrant against Chief Ibeto was suspended.

Speaking with Uche Obi (SAN), he said that the matter was called up and the counsel for EFCC did inform the court that there seems to be progress in the compliance of Chief Ibeto with the judgment of the Port Harcourt High Court.

According to him, Chief Ibeto agreed to comply with the letters of that judgment. Sequealed to this, he has commenced payment/refund of the deposit paid by the nominal complainant and over 2 billion was paid.

He added that since the matter was fixed today, 7th May, for the hearing of the appeal, the court could no longer proceed, after listening to the council, the applicant, and the appellant, who moved that the bench warrant made against chief Ibeto in January be vacated or suspended. Since things are being resolved out of court.

“That was what happened, this court today has suspended the bench warrant orders made against Chief Cletus Ibeto with immediate effect, that’s the position now. There is no bench warrant order on ChiefIbeto. The most important thing now is that the bench warrant made against chief Cletus Ibeto has been suspended by the order of the court of appeal sitting in Lagos today, which is the 7th day of May” he said.