The Economic and Financial Crimes on Wednesday told the Senate that it had the powers to wade into the dispute between Innoson Group of Companies and the Guaranty Trust Bank.
The Director (Legal), EFCC, Mr. Chile Okoroma, while appearing on behalf of the commission before the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, dismissed the claims that the anti-graft agency was not expected to be involved in the loan crisis between the bank and the Chairman of Innoson, Innonent Chukwuma.
Okoroma stated that although it was a civil matter, it issue had criminal elements as it had to do with forged documents.
Although GTB was represented by its legal team, the committee however insisted on the appearance of the Chief Executive of the bank, Mr. Segun Agbaje, at their next sitting.
The committee is investigating the invasion and arrest of Chukwuma by the EFCC operatives at his Enugu home in December 2017 as well as the alleged assault on his wife in the process.
Chukwuma’s arrest and detention by the commission followed a transactional dispute between the entrepreneur and a commercial bank.
Okoroma however told the panel that EFCC had the powers to play the role of a mediator and arbiter in transactional matters.
He said, “If someone goes to take a 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 pretences. We have the responsibility to investigate and from our investigations, we can prosecute.”
The EFCC official also said Chukwuma had already filed about three suits, with EFCC as a party, in different courts over his arrest and alleged abuse of his fundamental rights.
Okoroma added that the commission arrested the Innoson boss from his home after the businessman, who he said was on administrative bail, failed to honour invitations extended to him by the EFCC.
Reacting to criticisms from members of the panel that the EFCC appeared to be partisan in how it handled the matter, the legal officer said, “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.”
A member of the committee, Dino Melaye, asked Okoroma if the EFCC officials who stormed Chukwuma’s home to effect his arrest had a warrant to do so.
The official was however unable to categorically answered yes or no.
When Melaye insisted on a categorical response from Okoroma, the official said the operation was conducted by the Lagos office of the EFCC.
“I would ask for permission to verify if there was a warrant of arrest and get back to you,” he said.
The legal counsel for Chukwuma, Prof. McCarthy Mbadingha, in his submission, however, argued that the EFCC had no jurisdiction in the transactional disputes between his client and the bank, as the disputes were already before the law courts.
The Chairman of the committee, Chukwuka Utazi, however, noted that the panel was interested in the matter because of the need to protect the business sector and to prevent discouragement of foreign investors.
Continuing, Mbadingha maintained that Mrs. Chukwuma was slapped by an EFCC official for demanding to see the warrant of arrest issued against her husband.
In his submission, GTB’s lawyer, Mr. Adebowale Kamoru, also noted that since the matter was already in court, the bank would not make oral submissions.