By Omoh Gabriel, Business Editor
A Revenue Court in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State has ordered the immediate arrest of five directors and officers of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited for contempt in a case of tax evasion before the court. The officials of the company to be arrested are Cyril Odu, Udom Inoyo, Isaac Komolafe, Etta Amba and Patrick Effiong. Revenue Court judge Bennett Umo said he issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the oil company workers because they ignored criminal summons of the court to appear before it and answer to charges of evading payment of N4.1 billion tax to the government of Akwa Ibom State.
When the case brought by the state government came up for hearing at the weekend, counsel for Mobil, Paul Usoro, SAN, who was represented in court by a junior counsel, filed an application seeking to set aside the warrant of arrest. But the court struck out the application after Mrs Ekaette Henry, counsel for the complainant, successfully argued that the application was not properly filed before the court. The judge subsequently restated the validity of the bench warrant as a subsisting order of court for the arrest of the Mobil officials.
For the third time since the case began on November 6, 2006 the defendants were not in court. They are said to be in hiding for fear of arrest.The case against the five Mobil officials was adjourned to December 6, 2006.
The substantive case of Board of Internal Revenue of Akwa Ibom State vs. Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited was adjourned to December 6, 2006.
In another case-Board of Internal Revenue of Akwa Ibom State vs. Global Pipeline Plus (Nig.) Limited-the chief accountant of the oil servicing company, Mr Joseph Adekunle was arraigned on a contempt charge. Mr Adekunle was arrested early last week in Lagos by the police following a bench warrant issued for his arrest and that of other officials of the company for disobeying summons to appear before the court on November 6, 2006 in the case of more than N3 billion tax evasion brought by the state government against the oil servicing company. Mr Adekunle pleaded not guilty to the charge of contempt and was granted bail in the sum of N1 million and one surety who must live and have landed properties within the jurisdiction of the court. The case was adjourned to December 7, 2006.
Adekunle was also admitted to bail in like sum and conditions in the substantive case against him and other officers of the company. The substantive cases against Global Pipeline and its officers were adjourned to December 7, 2006.
Akwa Ibom State government on October 31 filed actions against Mobil Producing and Global Pipeline in the state’s Revenue Court, accusing both companies of evading payment of taxes totaling more than N7 billion for abouts 15 years. The companies allegedly used tricks of concealment of information and misrepresentation to evade their tax obligations to the state.
Mr Inyang Etuk, chairman of the state’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS), said at the end of the hearing on the case at the weekend that tax evasion is widespread in the country, suggesting that corporate organizations are not taking the issue of good corporate governance seriously. Etuk blamed the situation partly on the lack of resolve by government to enforce payment of taxes by individuals and businesses. He gave notice that the state IRS is stepping up its tax drive and will not give breathing space to tax dodgers.