A Lagos Special Offences Court in Ikeja has declared a billionaire businessman, Chief Cletus Ibeto, wanted over his consistent disregard to a court order to appear to answer an N4.8bn fraud charges levelled against him.
The arraignment Chief Cletus Ibeto alongside his company, Ibeto Energy Development Company had suffered a setback for three consecutive adjournments owing to his challenge of the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, filed 10-count charges against him bordering on allegations of obtaining by pretences, fraudulent conversion of property, criminal breach of trust, forgery, and deception.
Justice Ismail Ijelu had noted at the last adjourned date that the court believes that when 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.
Unfortunately at today’s proceeding, Chief Cletus Ibeto did not appear for arraignment, rather he brought another Senior Advocate of Nigeria to forestall the trial.
The third counsel who represents him, Daniel Awosika, SAN, pleaded to the court to entertain the application for jurisdiction before the arraignment.
Awosika requested the court to provide one last chance for the defendant to appear in court, in the interest of justice.
He mentioned that the defendant had an underlying health condition while praying for an opportunity to bring the defendant to court instead of issuing a bench warrant.
A development that doesn’t go down well with the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacob, SAN, who urged the court to issue a bench warrant against him.
“Senior lawyers can not come to court and waste the time of the court.
“We urge the court to grant us a warrant of arrest to enable us to force the defendant to court,” Jacob said.
The court in a ruling held that the defendant should take his plea first before the preliminary objection filed by the defence, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case could be heard.
Justice Ijelu said that the Ibeto’s counsel, Mr Daniel Awosika (SAN) did not adduce any cogent reason for adjournment before the court.
The judge held that the court did not exist for frivolities as it only existed for the dispensation of justice.
“It appears that the defence counsel decided to waste the time of the court.
“The court is the symbol of the state and not an object of ridicule.
“Although the senior counsel just appeared in this case today two senior counsels have previously appeared and promised that the defendant will appear for his arraignment,” he said.
“In the absence of any cogent excuse to produce the defendant for arraignment, a bench warrant is hereby issued against the defendant,” the court ruled.
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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.
Justice Ismail Ijelu adjourned the case until Nov. 15 for the arraignment of the defendant.