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EFCC defends bench warrant as Ibeto seeks nullification

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has implored the Court of Appeal in Lagos to dismiss an appeal lodged by Cletus Ibeto, the Chairman of Ibeto Energy Development Company. Ibeto is seeking to annul the bench warrant issued against him by the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja.

The EFCC argued before the appellate court that the lower court possessed the authority to order the arrest of the defendant, notwithstanding his filing of a preliminary objection challenging the court’s jurisdiction to try him.

Justice Ismail Ijelu of the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja had issued the arrest order on November 3, 2023, as Ibeto repeatedly failed to appear before the court on four separate occasions to respond to charges of an alleged N4.8 billion fraud. The charges brought by the anti-graft agency include conspiracy, fraud, forgery, and fraudulent use of documents, targeting Ibeto and his companies, Ibeto Energy Development Company and Odoh Holdings Ltd.

Expressing dissatisfaction with the arrest order and the court’s refusal to hear his preliminary objection, Ibeto filed a comprehensive seven-ground appeal before the Court of Appeal. His counsel, Wole Olanipekun, argued that the preliminary objection raised constitutional territorial issues, demanding adjudication before arraignment.

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Olanipekun contended that Ibeto’s presence in court and his arraignment were not mandatory prerequisites for hearing a preliminary objection on the court’s jurisdiction. The appellant urged the appeal court to set aside the arrest warrant and strike out the suit before the lower court.

Contrarily, EFCC’s counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, countered that the court could only obtain jurisdiction to hear the case when Ibeto appeared before it and entered a plea. Jacobs emphasized that the lower court had shown patience with the appellant, who deliberately refused to attend court proceedings.

“The appellant and the other defendants delayed the proceedings by their deliberate refusal to attend the court’s proceedings,” Jacobs stated.

The legal battle between Ibeto and the EFCC continues as the Court of Appeal deliberates on the crucial issues raised by both parties. The outcome of this case will undoubtedly have significant implications for the prosecution of alleged financial crimes and the exercise of jurisdiction in similar cases.

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