•Bank’s customers have nothing to worry about — Lawyer
By OBINNA EZUGWU
A gale of controversy is trailing the unfolding drama surrounding the lingering case between Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing Company Limited and Guaranty Trust Bank Plc.
Towards close of work last Friday, news broke that the Supreme Court had ratified a Garnishee order for Innoson to appropriate properties of the bank in lieu of payment for judgement debts amounting to about N8.8 billion it had obtained against the bank.
Innoson Group had in a statement earlier on Friday, claimed that it is taking over GTBank’s properties following the dismissal of the bank’s appeal against an earlier decision of a Federal High Court compelling it to pay N2.4 Billion to Innoson with a 22% interest, per annum, now totalling about N8.8 billion, by the Supreme Court.
A statement by Cornel Osigwe, Head of Corporate Communications Innoson Group on Friday read:
“The Chairman of Innoson Group, Chief Dr Innocent Chukwuma, OFR has through a Writ of FiFa taken over Guaranty Trust Bank PLC for and on behalf of Innoson Nigeria Ltd as a result of the Bank’s indebtedness to Innoson Nigeria Ltd.
“In a landmark decision on February 27th 2019, the Supreme Court of Nigeria dismissed GTB’s appeal – SC. 694/2014- against the judgment of Court of Appeal, Ibadan Division.
“The Court of Appeal, Ibadan division had in its decision of 6th February 2014 dismissed GTB’s appeal against the Federal High Court, Ibadan Division. Thus, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the Federal High Court, Ibadan Division which ordered GTB by way of Garnishee order absolute – to pay N2.4 Billion to Innoson with a 22% interest, per annum, on the judgment sum until the final liquidation of the judgment debt.
“Rather than obey the judgment of the Court of Appeal, GTB approached the Supreme Court to challenge the Court of Appeal’s decision.
“However in an ruling delivered by Honourable Olabode Rhodes-Vivour JSC on Wednesday, February 27th, 2019, the Lord Justices of the Supreme Court (JSC) dismissed GTB’s appeal and thus affirmed the concurrent judgment of both the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court, Ibadan Division which ordered GTB by way of Garnishee order absolute – to pay N2.4 Billion to Innoson with a 22% interest, per annum, on the judgment until the final liquidation of the judgment. The Judgment debt of N2.4B has an accrued interest as at today of about N6,717,909,849.96 which results to about N8.8 Billion.
“Based on the Supreme Court’s decision of 27th February 2019 the counsel to Innoson, Prof McCarthy Mbadugha ESQ, had approached the Federal High Court, Awka Division for leave to enforce the judgment having obtained Certificates of Judgment from the Ibadan Division of the Federal High Court.
“Having obtained the requisite leave, the Federal High Court issued the necessary process for levying execution – the Writ of Fifa.”
However, GTBank reacted swiftly, denying Innoson’s claims. The bank said it had resolved to take all necessary legal steps to ensure that “no illegal or fraudulent execution is carried out against the Bank”.
In a notice made available to Business Hallmark on Saturday morning, the Bank explained that as a law-abiding corporate citizen, is taking all necessary legal steps to address the situation.
According to the notice: Re: Purported Enforcement of a Judgment Against GTBank, the bank said: “It is important to state that the Judgment allegedly in issue is in respect of Garrishee Proceeding against the account of the Nigerian Customs Service Board domiciled with the Bank and not against the Bank as an entity”.
“The Bank remain committed to providing best-in-class customer experience to all its valued customers” Gt added
GT’s statement prompted yet another response from Innoson dismissing as false, the bank’s assertion that the judgement is not against it as an entity.
“The Garnishee order absolute issued issued by the Federal High Court Ibadan in Suit No: FHC/L/603/2006 ordered GTB to pay Innoson Nigeria Ltd the judgement sum of N2.4 Billion with 22% interest per annum, on the judgement sum until the final liquidation of the judgement,” Osigwe maintained in a statement on Saturday.
While the controversy has created a bit of panic, analysts say customers of GTBank have nothing to worry about since, according to them, their funds are safe.
A Writ of Fieri Facias, which Innoson obtained, they say, is only a legal instrument issued after judgment and it is used to seize the assets of a judgment debtor till the debt in question is settled. Hence, in this respect, only the debtor’s property that can satisfy the judgment is held. GTBank has assets in trillions, therefore only a portion of assets identified by the court would be held.
Depositors funds remain safe as they have been insured by the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Company (NDIC) and every bank has a deposit with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which it can get in desperate times to stay afloat. And in any case, a legal expertsm, Bar Anthony Chidi Ezugwu says the case is not Innoson versus GTB, but Innoson versus Nigerian Customs Service.
“The case is a simple case but a lot of media people who don’t have information are misinterpreting it,” Chidi who is based in Abuja explained.
“The award is not even to the credit of GTB, it is to the credit of Nigeria Customs. It is the Nigerian Customs that have to pay Innoson, not GTB. The Custom Service is the debtor here, they only happen to have an account with GTB. So, what ought to be done is to take money from Customs account to pay Innoson.”
Indeed, case between the car manufacturer and the bank has its roots from when the Nigerian Customs Service seized and auctioned some goods imported by Innoson in 2003 despite him showing evidence that he duly paid all necessary import duties and taxes.
The series of back and forth with the Customs Service caused him to incur huge costs for which he sought redress in a Federal High Court sitting in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital and presided over by Justice Shakarho, J.
The court would eventually, in 2011, ordered GTBank to pay him a sum of N2.4 billion from Customs account. GT Bank, however, appealed the judgement before a Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan. But the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the Federal High Court.
In his judgement, Justice Chidi Nwaoma Uwa of the Court of Appeal noted: “I cannot see any reason to fault the order of the learned trial judge. In the final analysis, the order absolute is hereby affirmed. The appeal is without merit; I dismiss same. The Ruling of the trial judge Shakarho, J. of the Federal High Court, delivered on 29th July, 2011 in Suit FHC/L/CS/603/2006 is hereby affirmed.”
In a similar submission, Justice Monica Bolna’an Dongban-Mensem stated: “I have nothing useful to add to the lead judgment prepared by my learned brother Chidi Nwaoma Uwa JCA. The decision of the Federal High Court holden in Ibadan pronounced by Hon Justice J. E. Shakarho (J) on the 29th day of July, 2011 is hereby affirmed and the consequential orders are as made in the lead judgment.”
A third judge, Justice Obietonbara Daniel-Kalio toed same line, noting that: “I have had the privilege of reading, in draft, the lead judgment delivered by my Lord Chidi Nwaoma Uwa J.C.A. My Lord covered all the salient questions that arose under the issue for the determination and came to a conclusion that I entirely agree with. I am also of the view that the appeal lacks merit. It is accordingly dismissed.”
GT Bank subsequently proceeded to the Supreme Court which last week took the decision that is now riddled with controversy.
However, before the whole legal tussle began, Dr. Chukwuma had in 2010, through his company, Innoson Nigeria Limited, obtained a N1.3 billion loan facility from GTB to partly finance the importation of motorcycle spare parts, agricultural equipment plastic manufacturing equipment as well as new motorcycles for a period of one year. Nonetheless, In 2011 the loan was said to have been restructured to a three-year-term, and was said to have stood at N1.5 billion as at July 31, 2011.
In 2012, Dr. Chukwuma, who said he had completed payment of the loan, claimed that there were illegal deductions from his account with GTB. Both himself and GTB were said to have agreed to engage an independent auditor, Multi-Wings Consulting to audit the account. The auditing firm was said to have discovered that a sum of N786 million was illegally deducted from the account as charges.
GTB, however insisted on having its own in house auditors audit the account. The bank’s auditors were said to have come up with N559 million as the amount deducted instead of N786 million. Dr Chukwuma, it was said, agreed but insisted that the bank must pay 22 percent interest rate which he claimed was the rate GTB charged him on the loan he took. GTB refused and instead offered to pay seven percent.
Chukwuma sued the bank at a Federal High Court sitting in Awka, the Anambra State capital. The court in its judgement, asked the bank to pay 22 percent interest on the admitted sum of N559 million, to be paid from March 1, 2004 and at the same rate of 22 percent till satisfaction of the judgment debt.
The court further held that the bank is to pay a penalty of 100 percent of the amount as provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria Monetary, Credit, Foreign Trade and Exchange Policy Guideline for Fiscal Year 2012/2013, as well as granted an order of garnishee of N4.7 billion against GTB to be paid to Innoson.
GTB went to appeal the judgment at the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, but the Appeal Court in a ruling ordered GTB to pay the Judgement debt of N6 billion, inclusive of the accrued interest and any interest that would subsequently accrue thereon into an interest yielding account in the Name of the Chief Registrar of the Court .However, the bank, in various affidavits, at the Court of Appeal in suit no: CA/E/288/2013, deposed that if it pays the outstanding Judgement debt of N6billion, much more the N8.5billion , it could go bankrupt and be out of business.
The bank proceeded to secure an ex parte order through Justice Okon Abang then of Federal High Court in Lagos on Innoson Nigeria Limited, dated September 1, 2014 with suit number FHC/L/CS/1119/2014, ordering that “pending the hearing and the determination of the substantive suit, all commercial banks in Nigeria were restrained from accepting, honouring, or giving effect in any manner whatsoever to any mandate or instruction presented to them by Innoson companies or any of its agents or nominees for withdrawal of any sum of money standing to the credit of any account maintained by the company in all the banks.”
On June 10, 2015, Justice Salihu Saidu of the Lagos Federal High Court struck out the ex parte order freezing the bank accounts of the companies in Innoson Group.
Chukwuma filled N30 billion suit at the Federal High Court against the bank for damages he claimed he suffered in monetary terms and reputational terms during the months when the accounts of its companies in Nigerian banks were frozen.
GTB, however, proceeded to the Supreme Court, having lost two cases at the High Court and same two cases at the Appeal Court. The bank claimed in a motion in suit no: Sc /694/2014, that the Court of Appeal Judgement in Ibadan (CA/I/258/2011) was procured by suspicious means.
On May 12, 2017, the Supreme Court dismissed as unfounded and exasperating the bank’s claim against Chukwuma.
Meanwhile, while the case dragged in court, GTB said it discovered that Dr. Chukwuma had cooked the books, giving wrong information on his imports. The bank consequently filed a petition against him, alleging forgery which led to the suit No: FHC /L/565C/2015 by Police .
But on February 17, 2016, the Police withdraw the charges against him, saying it needed to properly investigate the bank’s complaints first and see if they had merits.
It was perhaps, based on this premise that the EFCC, in 2017, invaded Chukwuma’s home in Enugu on allegations that he jumped an administrative bail given to him and failed to honour invitation.
“His arrest followed his refusal to honour invitation by the commission, having earlier jumped administrative bail granted him in a case being investigated by capital market and insurance fraud unit of the commission’s Lagos office,” EFCC’s spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren had said.
“Chukwuma rather than honouring the invitation mobilized three truck loads of things pretending to be staff of his company to his residence where they manhandled EFCC operatives.”
But Osigwe in a statement same dismissed the EFCC’s claim as an attempt to mislead the public and bring the character of the car manufacturer to disrepute.
“This claim by the commission is not factual and it tends to mislead the public and bring the personality and character of Dr Innocent Chukwuma to disrepute,” Obigwe said.
“Hence we want to state the true position so as to inform the general public the truth about this matter.
“EFCC never at any time invited Dr Innocent Chukwuma either in writting or through any other means. We are aware that EFCC investigated GTB complaint against Innoson in 2012.
“During the investigation he was invited and he honoured the invitation. After the investigation EFCC filed a charge against him at Lagos State High Court.
“The charge was subsequently struck out. However Dr Innocent Chukwuma and Innoson Nigeria Ltd appealed against the order striking out the case on the basis that it ought to be dismissed and not struck out.
“The appeal – appeal no. Ca/l/1330cm/2017 Is till date still pending at the Court of Appeal Lagos division. Till date, EFCC never invited Dr Innocent Chukwuma again,” he had concluded.