Lagos and Enugu — A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday issued a bench warrant for the arrest and production in court of the Chairman of Innoson Nigeria Limited, Innocent Chukwuma, and two others charged with alleged fraud.
But in a swift reaction, Chukwuma has dismissed the bench warrant, describing it "an abuse of process taken too far by the court and made without jurisdiction".
The defendants were charged before Justice Ayokunle Faji.
The police authority had charged them with an alleged N2.4 billion shipping fraud, but the Attorney-General of the Federation later took over the case.
Others named in the charge are Charles Chukwuma, Maximian Chukwura, Mitsui Osk Lines and Anajekwu Sunny.
The prosecutor, Mr. Julius Ajakaiye, had urged the court to order the arrest of Innoson and others, for failing to appear in court to take their plea to the criminal charge.
He had said that 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 that 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.
Delivering his ruling yesterday, Justice Faji first highlighted the various arguments and submissions as canvassed by respective parties.
The court held that it is clear that the first, second and fifth defendant 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 Anajekwe .
The court adjourned the case until June 28 for report.
But in his reaction, Chukwuma has dismissed the bench warrant, saying it is "an abuse of process taken too far by the Court and made without jurisdiction".
He said the order itself is a nullity and does not have grounds on law.
In a statement issued on his behalf by the Head Corporate Communications and Affairs of Innoson Group, Mr. Cornel Osigwe, the Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) boss said there was no prima facie case against me, insisting that the charge was based on suspected or trumped up action against Innoson Nigeria Ltd.
He said the company was a party originally to the charge but was discharged by the Court of Appeal.
"Secondly, 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.
"Thirdly, the said CHARGE NO: FHC/L/565/2015, which is a trumped up was filed by the police in 2015 and was equally withdrawn by the same police through its notice of withdrawal dated 17th February, 2016 duly filed at the Federal High Court Registry Lagos," he said.
He further alleged that GTB 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 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," he explained.