27th October, 2011
Three officers of Clarion Bonded Terminal Limited, a limited liability company, Innocent Eloka, Bernadine Eloka and Francis Okocha, Managing Director, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager, respectively, have been arraigned in a Lagos high court by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC.
According to the criminal charge number ID/232c/2011 filed before the court by the EFCC, prosecuting counsel, Gbolahan Latona, it was alleged that the three accused executives of the company, with intent to defraud, converted the sum of N250,349,904.31 to their personal use.
The arraignment of the three accused persons, was sequel to a petition written by a Lagos lawyer, Barrister Ada Mbama, on behalf of two other shareholders of Clarion Bonded Terminal Limited, Jude Igboanugo and Chizube Igboanugo to the anti- graft agency.
In the said petition, it was alleged that Mr. and Mrs. Jude Igboanugo, Emeka Izuchukwu and Mr. and Mrs. Innocent Eloka invested in a company called Clarion Bonded Terminal, after which Igboanugo was made the chairman, Eloka was appointed the managing director while his wife, Bernadine Eloka was appointed the Chief Operating Officer. They were said to have started ignoring board resolutions after sometime and for transparency and easy accounting, it was resolved that the mandate with the bankers should be one Igbuanugo and one Eloka should be signatories to the bank accounts.
However, Mr. and Mrs. Eloka were alleged to have started collecting cash and diverting same to their personal accounts, and sometimes instructed clearing agents to pay directly into their accounts at different banks for which they issued clearing agents who are customers of the bank with Clarion Shipping receipts instead of receipts of Clarion Bonded Terminal.
An accounting firm was thereafter engaged to conduct a forensic audit and in its report it was discovered that Mr. Innocent Eloka and Mrs. Bernadine Eloka had misappropriated N288,59,102.23, as this money was not accounted for. It was also discovered that there was no accounting records despite the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Eloka are both chartered accountants.
The petitioners alleged further that Mr. and Mrs. Eloka opened an account in the name of Clarion Shipping West Africa Limited where they signed alone whereas the company they were operating is Clarion Bonded Terminal and no funds were being deposited into the accounts of the company anymore as funds meant for Clarion Bonded Terminal account were diverted to Clarion Shipping West Africa Limited.
The third accused, Francis Okocha, was alleged to have been tampering with the manifests which are usually sent by shipping agents electronically by altering them in his office and manually presenting same as true copies.
Consequent upon these discoveries, at the extra ordinary general meeting held on 7 June, 2011, the petitioners passed a special resolution removing the accused persons as directors of the company.
In view of the alleged anomaly, the petitioners urged the anti-graft agency chairman to use her good offices to investigate their complaint with the aim of recovering their money.
UPDATE: Meanwhile, the Lagos State High Court has discharged and acquitted Mr. and Mrs Innocent Eloka, alleged to have misappropriated about N285 million by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), seven years ago.
Former chairman of Clarion Bonded Terminal Limited, Mr. Jude lgbanugo, had petitioned the EFCC alleging that the couple, who are part owners of the firm, defrauded it but the court declared them innocent of all the charges.
The trial judge, Adeniyi Onigbanjo while delivering judgment held that the couple is not culpable of any fraudulent allegations leveled against them by the prosecution.
The judge who took over the case from Justice Habeeb Abiru who had been elevated to the appellate court, discharged and acquitted the couple who had consistently proved ownership of the bonded terminal known as Clarion Off-Dock Terminal.
lgbanugo had alleged that the couple fraudulently misappropriated the sum of N285 million as directors while working in the company between March 2011 and April 2011, while acting as Managing Director, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager of the company, respectively.
The trial judge in his judgment held that the prosecution failed to proof that the petitioners had any such monies capable of being stolen or to show that any such fund was traceable to the defendants in any way.
On the three-count charge of conspiracy and stealing filed against the couple, the court ruled that to prove a case of stealing, three key elements must be established. They are the ownership of the thing stolen, the act of taking or diverting the property and the fraudulent intent.
He concluded that the prosecution failed to establish its case and prove the critical element of fraudulent intent and therefore discharged and acquitted them.
The Court reasoned that the 1st and 2nd defendants were Directors of Clarion Bonded Terminal Limited and thus had the authority to expend the company’s money for the business of the company.
He further said that the prosecution failed to show that the money that they spent were for fraudulent purposes or purposes other than the fulfilment of the objects of the company.
However, counsel to the defendant (couple), Mr. Okanga Okanga had asked the court to make two consequential orders, to wit: an order discharging the freezing order made against the defendants’ bank accounts since the commencement of the proceedings;
An order compelling the payment of financial compensation to the defendants by the petitioners in reliance on section 286 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of Lagos State 2011 (ACJL).
The EFCC opposed the second prayer made by the defendants’ counsel but claimed not to be aware of the accounts purportedly frozen.
Justice Onigbanjo however declined the prayers and asked the defendant’s counsel to file the necessary applications.