Judge adjourns case against British American Tobacco company and staff

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Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has adjourned the hearing of a criminal case filed against British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited (BATN) and one of its officers, Austin Okonji, until October 4, 2022.

In a lawsuit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1662/2020, issued on December 29, 2020 and renewed on January 5, 2021, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) had dragged both BATN and Okonji, in court for allegedly obstructing and preventing police and PCCPC officials from executing a search warrant issued by an Abuja Division of the Court.

They allegedly committed the offenses at their Lagos office located at 2, Olumegbon Close Ikoyi, Lagos.

Both BATN and Okonji have been charged with three counts of conspiracy and perversion of justice.

The offenses are contrary to Section 28(5), 110 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2018 and punishable under the same Act. And Section 32(4) of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015, and punishable under Section 34(1) and (2)(b) of the same Act.

During the resumption of the hearing yesterday, the prosecutor, Mr. Abimbola Ojenike, informed the court that the parties were unable to settle the case amicably and therefore requested a short date for the indictment of the company and its manager.

The tobacco company’s lawyer and its manager, Kanmi Adeola, informed the court that the PCCPC had communicated certain terms to its customers and that all parties were still considering a settlement.

He begged the court for an extension to allow all parties to explore the terms of the settlement and reach an amicable resolution to the case.

The prosecutor, while conceding that the parties are still considering settlement terms, urged the court to adjourn the case for a report of settlement and arraignment of the defendants, in case the settlement arrangement does not work out.

Judge Lewis-Allagoa, after hearing submissions from attorneys, adjourned that case until October 4, for a fuller report on the settlement.

The charges against the tobacco company and its manager read: “Whether you British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited and Austin Okonji ‘M’ in Olumegbon Close Ikoyi Lagos State circa 25th January 2021 at No. 2, Olumegbon Close, Ikoyi, Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, obstructed and obstructed the access of authorized officers of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in the execution of a warrant of search warrant issued by order of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, issued 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 Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2018 and has thereby committed an offense contrary to section 28(5) of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2018 and punishable under under the same law.

“Whether you British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited and Austin Okonji ‘M’ on or about 25th January 2021 at No. 2, Olumegbon Close Ikoyi, Lagos State, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, have obstructed and obstructed the investigation by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission while executing a search warrant issued by order of the Federal High Court, Judicial Division of Abuja, issued in the Case No. FHC/AB/CS/1662/2020 on December 23, 2020 and renewed on January 5, 2021, which mandate was issued under Articles 27, 28 and 29 of the Federal Law on Competition and Consumer Protection of 2018 and thereby committed an offense contrary to Section 110 of the Federal Law on Competition and Consumer Protection and punishable under Section 110 of the Act.

“Whether you British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited and Austin Okonji, on or about 25th January 2021, at No. 2 Olumeghon Close Ikoyi, Lagos State, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, having a business and being an employee in the tobacco industry obstructed the police and authorized agents of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission under Section 20(1)(a) and (f) of the National Regulations Tabasco, 20 9 in the performance of their duties and thereby committed an offense contrary to Section 32(4) of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and punishable under Section 34(1) and ( 2) (b) of the same law”.

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