The arraignment of a billionaire businessman, Chief Cletus Ibeto alongside his company, Ibeto Energy Development Company before a Lagos State High Court in Ikeja has suffered another setback for the third time
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, filed 10-count charges against him bordering on allegations of obtaining by pretenses, fraudulent conversion of property, criminal breach of trust, forgery, and deception.
At today’s proceeding, counsel for the EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, noted that the court had on September 28, 2023, adjourned the matter for arraignment following the absence of the defendant on the said day.
“Your lordship had adjourned this matter till today based on the application of the defendants, for them to appear today for arraignment; the senior counsel appeared for them that day and pleaded with your lordship that the first defendant had a medical issue,” Jacobs said.
He further informed the court that the defence counsel had “promised to produce him today, and that’s why we are here”.
Responding, the defendant’s counsel, Dr. Onyeachi Ikpeazu, who noted that “the law is not a respecter of any person”, told the court that “I am of the firm view that this is a matter that can be resolved, and if given some time it can be resolved”.
While admitting that he had no medical report with him in court to explain the absence of the defendant, he stressed further that the issue at stake could be resolved between the complainant and the defendants.
“I pray if we can be accommodated in that regard, and that is my respectful plea,” he said.
Jacobs, who agreed that plea bargain was encouraged even in criminal matters, however, noted that “the EFCC allowed them to go and resolve their differences and those they did not seize the opportunity, even before the charges were filed”.
Jacobs however added that there should be arraignment first the court will assume jurisdiction to do anything.”
After hearing the views of both sides, Justice Ijelu, however, expressed concerns that the defence counsel seemed to be trying to deceive the court.
Justice Ijelu said that the court believes that when counsel, a senior counsel appears before the court and informs the court that an action will be taken, and based on that adjournment was sought, it is the view of the court that the action must be taken.
“The court exists for strict business and does not want to believe that the learned senior counsel deceived the court by taking adjournment at the last date, and pleaded passionately that he would bring the medical report today, and that whatever happens, he will be here today.
“Appearing to now say that the defendant is still healing.
“That should not be; counsel must be seen as taking his words seriously, particularly senior counsel.
“One wonders the type of example you are setting for junior counsel, and this court is not pleased with that.
“This is the third time that this case will be called and nothing has been done about it.
“Even if there will be a plea bargain, he has to come and take his plea before the court can assume jurisdiction.
“The defendant cannot be shielded from coming to court.”
Justice Ijelu, thereafter, further adjourned till the 3rd of November 2023 for arraignment.
Count 1 of the charge says that Chief Cletus Ibeto, Ibeto Energy Development Ltd, and Odoh Holdings Ltd between June 2016 and May 2017 within the jurisdiction of the court by false pretence and with intent to defraud, obtained from Dozzy Oil & Gas Ltd and Sir Daniel Chukwudozie, the sum of N4.8bn purporting same to be a consideration for 22.6536 hectares of land which he claimed to have at the end of Reclamation Road Layout, Port Harcourt, Rivers State by a deed of sublease executed by Odoh Holdings and Ibeto Energy Development Ltd when he only had 7.9 hectares of the said land.
Count 2 states that the defendants obtained N2.5bn from their victim as consideration for a non-existent 14.1 hectares of land while count 3 claims that they forged certain documents.
In Count 3, the defendants on or about January 30, 2018, allegedly with intent to defraud forged a Deed Of Sublease between Odoh Holdings Ltd and Ibeto Development Ltd purportedly, registered as No 47, Page 47, Vol. 280 of the Lands Registry, Rivers State wherein they claimed that Odoh Holdings Ltd acquired the leasehold interest in respect of 22.6536
The offences are contrary to Section 1 of the Advance Fee Fraud Act 2006, Section 365(3d) and (e), and Section 366 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.
The offence carries a punishment of no less than seven years and no more than 20 years imprisonment without the option of a fine.