By Francis IWUCHUKWU
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, hearing on the application seeking to quash the $32m fraud charge filed against a businessman and socialite, Princess Toyin Kolade and 10 others, for allegedly defrauding Access bank of the said sum, will come up on January 14, 2022.
The date was arrived at by a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, presided over by Justice Peter Lifu.
It would be recalled that the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, had dragged 11 defendants before the court on charges bordering on conspiracy, obtaining by false pretence and fraud to the tune of $32m.
Other defendants in the charge are four Indian Nationals, Prem Garg, Devashish Garg, Bhagwan Simgh Rawat and Mukul Tyagi and two Britons, Marcus Wade and Andrew Fairie, said to be at large.
Also, four companies: Metal Africa Steel Products Limited, Wilben Trade Limited, Fisolak Global Resources Limited and Kannu Aditya India Limited, were equally charged before the court on the alleged offences.
But Princess Kolade’s lawyer, Dele Adesina (SAN) had on Friday (yesterday) filed a motion before the court wherein he had prayed the judge to throw out the charge preferred, against the 7th and 10th Defendants/Applicants.
The SAN in the alternative urged Justice Lifu to strike out the names of the 7th and 10th defendants from the charge for the following reasons:
“The Charge and the Proof of Evidence failed to disclose any prima facie case and/or link or connect the 7th and 10th Defendants/Applicants to the commission of the alleged offences charged.
“The Police Investigation Report issued by the Commissioner of Police, Police Special Fraud Unit (PSFU), Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department, Annex, Lagos, which formed the basis of the criminal prosecution did not implicate the 7th and 10th Defendants/Applicants in any way or form.
“The Police Investigation Report sufficiently cleared the 7th and 10th Defendants/Applicants from the commission of the alleged offences.
“The 7th Defendant/Applicant is a clean, clear and responsible personality in the Society, and it will be unfair and unjust to drag her name and that of her Company (the 10th Defendant/Applicant) doing a lawful business into a criminal trial for offences they know nothing about.
“The essence of this objection is to terminate the proceedings without this Honourable Court dissipating unnecessary energies to consider this unworthy and fruitless matter as it relates to the 7th and 10th Defendants/Applicants.
“The justice of this case demands that the names of the 7th and 10th Defendants/Applicants be struck out from the charge.
“The 7th and 10th Defendants/Applicants shall rely on the charge together with all other processes, Statements, Reports and documents filed by the prosecution in this case for the hearing of this application.”
According to a 24 paragraph affidavit deposed to by Abdul-Malik Abdul-Mutalib, a lawyer in Adesina’s law firm, the defendants have been doing clearing business at the NPA for many years without any blemish or stain whatsoever.
“The Defendants/Applicants are natural and corporate citizens doing honest, lawful and responsible clearing business with sustained credibility in Nigeria.
“In this particular case, the defendants averred that they were never privy or parties to the loan application, negotiation and agreement as they were not the parties that applied for the facility granted by either the Access Bank or the FCMB, neither were they beneficiaries at any point in time of the said facilities,” Abdul-Mutalib said.
The lawyer went further to aver that the defendants were contacted by the eighth defendant, Metal Africa Steel Products to clear the goods it imported.
According to the deponent, the consignment bears the name of Metal Africa Steel Products Limited (the 8th Defendant) as the Consignee of the goods to be cleared, and by the ordinary course of business, the name of the consignee must be processed in the Prearrival Reassessment Report, PAAR.
The deponent argued: “Form C 16 titled “The Combined Certificate of Value and Origin” (CCVO), which is invoice number CF/96954 of 7th April 2016 confirms the name of the 8th Defendant as the Consignee of the Steel Billets.
“The consignment did not bear the name of Access Bank Plc or any bank at all. The usual trade practice in clearing business at the Port Authority is that if a consignment is in the name of a bank, no clearing agent or person has the right/power to clear such consignment without express order or authorization of such bank as the consignee.
“Since the documents were not in the name of the bank, there is no way the 7th and 10th Defendants could have known. Indeed, there is no way any clearing agent would have known it belonged to a bank.”
Abdul-Mutalib consequently prayed the judge to grant the prayers, saying that “the whole essence of the Administration of Criminal Justice System is to prosecute genuine suspects and or offenders and not to persecute the Innocent such as the 7th and 10th Defendants/Applicants.
He added: “The purpose of justice would be defeated if the 7th and 10th Defendants/Applicants are compelled to stand trial in this case for offences that the 7th and 10th Defendants/Applicants knew nothing about and for which indeed there are no links connecting the 7th and the 10th Defendants/Applicants to the commission of the alleged offences.”
When the matter came up on November 9, 2021, Justice Lifu had ordered the prosecutor, Pius Akutah, and Dele Belgore (SAN), counsel to the 3rd, 4th and 9th defendants to address the court on Section 396(2) of ACJA 2015.
Justice Lifu’s order was consequent upon a similar application to strike out or quash the charge brought by Belgore (SAN) but countered by the prosecutor.
Another counsel, Dada Awosika (SAN) who represented the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 6th defendants, had also brought similar applications.
Meanwhile, last Friday, Akutah told the judge that the business of the day was the arraignment of the defendants. But this was made impossible, as Adesina (SAN) notified the court about the application he had filed and served on the other parties and the court.
When the court asked about the counsel to the 4th defendant, Awosika said that the nominal complainant, Access Bank, is in the position to tell the court as it is the receiver-manager of the 4th defendant.
As a result of the request made by both Awosika and Adesina, the court asked the prosecutor what he intended to do with the defendant, Princess Akolade, who was in court.
Responding, the prosecutor asked the court to remand her in custody, and in the alternative order her counsel to undertake to produce her at every adjourned date.
Based on the submissions of counsel to the parties, Justice Lifu, while adjourning the matter till January 14 for the adoption of addresses on section 396(2) of ACJA, 2015, released Princess Akolade to her counsel, Adesina (SAN) who undertook to produce her at the next adjourned date.
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