The Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) has maintained that it has the jurisdiction to wade into the dispute between Innoson Group of Companies and Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), as there are components of the tussle bordering on financial crimes.
The Director of Legal at the commission, Mr. Chile Okoroma, while speaking before the Senate Committee on Anti Corruption, wednesday, said it was a misconception that the tussle between both business entities is a civil one, or that the agency waded into the matter based on the dictates of the bank.
This is as the committee summoned the Chief Executive Officer of the bank, Mr. Segun Agbaje, to appear before it at its next sitting.
The Senator Chukwuka Utazi-led committee is investigating the alleged gestapo styled arrest of the Chairman of Innoson Group, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, by EFCC officials and alleged manhandling of his wife in December 2017, and the role of the commission in a transactional dispute between a private entrepreneur and a commercial bank in a matter which is already before the Supreme Court.
Okoroma said the EFCC can also wade into cases of duping between two persons, and can prosecute or play the role of an arbitrator if the accused person agrees to pay a refund.
“If someone goes to take loan from a bank and presents forged documents, are we saying it is a civil matter between them? It is a case of alleged forgery and obtaining money under false pretence. We have a responsibility to investigate, and from our investigations, we can prosecute,” he told the committee.
He told the committee that Chukwuma has already instituted about three suits, with EFCC as party, in different courts over his arrest and alleged abuse.
Okoroma added that the EFCC arrested Chukwuma from his Enugu home after the businessman, who he said was on administrative bail, failed to honour invitations extended to him by the commission.
He further alleged that officials of the EFCC were assaulted by thugs when they tried to arrest the businessman.
“We are not partisan, we do not have anything to do with their civil matter, but if there is anything that has to do with financial crimes, it is our duty to investigate it,” Okoroma added.
But while being questioned by Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi APC), Okoroma was unable to categorically state whether the commission had a warrant of arrest for Chukwuma before invading his home.
As the lawmaker insisted on a “Yes or No” response to the question, Okoroma said the operation was conducted by the Lagos office of the agency.
“I would ask for permission to verify if there was a warrant of arrest and get back to you,” he said.
Melaye also demanded that the agency produce copies of its invitation letters to Chukwuma, and pictorial or video evidence of the assault on its officials by about ‘1,000 miscreants” as claimed in the memorandum submitted by the EFCC.
“We want it because it also falls within the purview of human rights abuses,” Melaye said.
The legal counsel to Chukwuma, Prof. McCarthy Mbadingha, in his submission said the EFCC had no jurisdiction in the transactional disputes between his client and the bank, as the disputes are already before the law courts.
“Under the EFCC Act, in Section 46 which defines what financial crimes are, the issue between Innoson and GTB does not fall under financial crimes,” he argued.
Instructed by the committee members to restrict his presentation to areas that border on human rights abuse in the course of Chukwuma’s arrest, as the transitional disputes are already prejudicial matters, Mbadingha maintained that Mrs. Chukwuma was slapped by an EFCC official for demanding to see the warrant of arrest issued for her husband.
He cited the degrading conditions under which his client was arrested and taken to Lagos, where he was detained until his release about 24 hours later.
GTB’s lawyer, Mr. Adebowale Kamoru, also noted that since the matter was already in court, the bank would not be making any submissions.
The Chairman, Utazi, said the Senate was interested in the matter because of the need to protect the business sector,
“A businessman’s wife of Innoson’s status, with all his connections, we have to look at the implications (of EFCC actions) on foreign investments. If you handle your own like this, how will you handle a foreigner. We must restore confidence in the local business environemnt,” he said.
Ruling, Utazi insisted that the Chief Executive Officer of GTB, Agbaje must appear at the committee’s next sitting instead of sending his legal team, since Chukwuma had personally shown up before the committee at an earlier sitting.
Invitations were extended to both men, Utazi disclosed.