Justice Mojisola Dada of the Special Offences Court sitting in Ikeja, Lagos, on Thursday, May 24, 2018, declared Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman, Innoson Motors Nigeria Limited, wanted.
Chuwuma and his company, Innoson Motors Nigeria Limited, are to be arraigned on a four-count charge of conspiracy to obtain by false pretences, obtaining by false pretence, stealing and forgery.
The defendants allegedly committed the offences between 2009 and July 2011 in Lagos.
The defendants were alleged to have conspired to obtain, by false pretences, containers of motorcycles, spare parts and raw materials, property of Guaranty Trust Bank, from Mitsui OSK Lines Limited, Apapa, Lagos.
They were also alleged to have fraudulently induced staff of Mitsui OSK and Maersk Line to deliver to them, via their clearing agents, the goods that were imported from China in the name of GTB by falsely pretending that they were authorized by the bank to clear the goods.
The defendants were said to have forged a bill of lading numbered 598286020 of Maersk Line Limited and 11007950841 of Mussui O.S.K. Line by knowingly putting a false GTB stamp and signature of the bank staff.
The alleged fraud was in order that the forged documents be used or acted upon as genuine to the prejudice of any person within Lagos or elsewhere.
At Thursday’s proceedings, Justice Mojisola declared the Innoson Motors boss wanted, following an oral application moved by the prosecution counsel, Anslem Ozioko.
The judge had earlier issued a bench warrant against the defendant for not appearing in court for his arraignment, despite several invitations.
Justice Dada also declined to listen to any of the applications from the defence counsel and insisted that Chukwuma must appear before her in court.
While addressing the court, the prosecution counsel, Ozioko, informed that the Commission had not been able to execute the bench warrant against the defendant.
Ozioko also added that it was disrespectful for the defendant to fail to appear in court for the fifth time.
He submitted that the court and the law should not be disrespected by anybody, no matter how highly placed and standing in the society.
“This appears to be the fifth time this matter is coming up before your Lordship.
“The learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria representing the second defendant is still insisting on taking his application without ensuring the defendant is physically present in court
“The question is: where is the second defendant? Is he too big for the court? Is he too big for the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Is he too big because he has money? Where is he?
“What my learned friends, the defence counsel, are doing is contemptuous,” he stated.
In his response, counsel to Chukwuma, Chief George Uwechue, SAN, said that even when the court did not want to listen to the application of a defendant, it was duty bound to do so when it bordered on challenging its jurisdiction to hear the matter under consideration and make a formal ruling on it.
He said, “At the last hearing, this honourable court on the 25th day of April, 2018 maintained its position at the previous hearing that the court could not take any of the first and second defendants’ pending applications on the grounds that the first defendant had not been arraigned.
“We submitted that the court has a duty to take any application, which challenges its jurisdiction…
“To support this position, we cited the case of Igbeke vs. FRN (2015) 3 NWLR (pt.1445) 28 at page 49 D-H (ratio 2).
“It was the interruption by the complainant’s counsel in the course of our reading the case that led to the incident that brought about the sudden end of the proceedings.
“We urge the court to allow us complete our presentation because, indeed, we have another case – a Supreme Court decision in support of our position, which is COP vs. Amuta (2017) 3 NWLR (pt. 1445) 379 at 391-392 paras G-O.
“In that regard, my Lord, we have the following applications directly challenging the jurisdiction of the court and on the grounds of abuse of process.
“The first and second defendants’ notice of preliminary objection dated 15th January, 2018 urges the Court to dismiss the charge and discharge and acquit them for want of jurisdiction and abuse of process.
“This notice of preliminary objection can be taken in the circumstances but because there is an appeal, which has been entered, it will be more appropriate to stay action on that application until the appeal is determined.
“The application dated 12th February, 2018 also challenges the jurisdiction of the court and can be taken. We urge the court to make a formal ruling on this issue after due consideration of the authorities we cited above”, he stated.
Justice Dada adjourned the matter to June 22, 2018.