Court Adjourns Suit Against British American Tobacco

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Wale Igbintade

A Federal High Court (FHC) in Lagos has adjourned till February 21, 2023, for hearing in a criminal charge filed against the British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited (BATN), and one of its officials, Mr. Austin Okonji.

Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa fixed the date after Professor Taiwo Osipitan (SAN), counsel to BATN and his official, told the court that parties are still looking for way of settling the matter amicably.

The BATN and Okonji were dragged before the court by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) on a three count-charge of conspiracy and perversion of the cause of justice.

The FCCPC had accused the defendants of allegedly obstructing and impeding the police and its officials from executing a search warrant issued by an Abuja Division of the FHC, in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1662/2020 issued on December 29, 2020 and renewed on January 5, 2021.

They were alleged to have committed the offences at their Lagos office located at 2 Olumegbon Close, Ikoyi.

The offences, according to the prosecution contravened 28(5), 110 of the FCCPC Act 2018 and punishable under the same Act.

The FCCPC also said that the offence contravened Section 32(4) of the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015, and punishable under Section 34 (1) and (2)(b) of the same Act.

When the matter was called yesterday, Osipitan pleaded with the court for a short adjournment, stating that the prosecutor and his clients are exploring means of settling the matter amicably.

Though, there was no legal representation from the prosecutor, Justice Alagoa expressed displeasure over the development but acceded to the Osipitan’s request.

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The judge consequently adjourned the matter till February 21, 2023, for further hearing.

Since 2021, when the charge was before the court, both BATN and its official are yet to take their plea.

The counts charge filed against the BATN and his official read: “That you, British American Tabacco Nigeria Limited and Austin Okonji ‘M,’ on Olumegbon Close Ikoyi, Lagos State, within about the 25th day of January, 2021, at No. 2, Olumegbon Close, Ikoyi, Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did obstruct and impede access to the authorised officers of the FCCPC in the execution of a search warrant issued by an Order of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division made in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1662/2020 on 29th December, 2020, and renewed on 5th January, 2021, which warrant was issued pursuant to Sections 2 and 29 of the FCCPC’s Act 2018 and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 28(5) of the FCCPC Act 2018 and punishable under the same Act.

“That you BATN and Austin Okonji ‘M’ on or about the 25th day of January 2021, at No. 2, Olumegbon Close Ikoyi, Lagos State, within the jurisdiction of this honourable Court did impede und obstruct investigation by the FCCPC when executing a search warrant issued by an Order of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division made in Suit No. FHC/AB/CS/1662/2020 on 23 December 2020 and renewed on 5 January, 2021, which warrant was issued pursuant to Sections 27, 28, and 29 of the FCCPC Act, 2018 and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 110 of the FCCPC and punishable under Section 110 of the Act.

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“That you BATN and Austin Okonji, on or about the 25th day of January, 2021, at No.2 Olumeghon Close Ikoyi, Lagos State, within the Jurisdiction of this Honourable Court having a business and being an employee in the tobacco industry did hinder the police and authorised officers of the FCCPC under Section 20 (1)(a) and (f) of the National Tabacco Regulation, 20 9 in the course of carrying out their duties and thereby committed an offence contrary to Sections 32(4) of the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015, and punishable under Section 34 (1) and (2)(b) of the same Act.”

(Thisday)

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