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N25bn Damages Suit: FIRS, First Bank, Plaintiff To Settle Out Of Court

A Federal High Court, Abuja has granted granted the prayers of the  Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), First Bank of Nigeria Limited and an indigenous company, Biatemp Ventures Ltd, seeking an out of court settlement in a N25 billion damages suit filed against the lender and the FIRS by the firm over alleged account manipulation.

The company had sued both First Bank and FIRS before the Federal High Court, demanding N25 billion special and general damages over alleged manipulation of its domiciliary account and illegal withholding of its tax clearance certificate.

The company had alleged that the bank manipulated its domiciliary account with over-bloated turnover of over $6.8 million (about N2.4 billion) whereas the deposit made to the account within the period was only $22,475 (about N786,000)

When hearing on the case resumed before Justice Binta Murtala Nyako, counsels to the two defendants informed the court that their clients were interested in settling the matter out of court.

The legal teams representing First Bank and FIRS respectively, Messrs S.M. Jimmy and N.J. Kalu, prayed the court to adjourn the matter to allow parties further explore the out of court settlement already set in motion to the fullest.

The counsel to the plaintiff, Lloyd Ekweremadu, confirmed that the respondents had approached his client seeking to settle the case out of court and did not oppose the request for adjournment, pointing out however that though the case was set for the hearing of the motion of the 2nd Respondent’s to amend its Statement of Defence, he would not oppose the request for adjournment of the case.

Justice Nyako commended the parties for exploring the out of court settlement, saying that the court always encourages parties in disputes to explore alternative resolution options.

The court subsequently adjourned the matter till December 2, 2019 for the Report of Settlement.

The plaintiff had alleged in the suit that the manipulation of the account was discovered by the FIRS intelligent findings when it filed its 2018 tax return forms and awaiting issuance if tax clearance certificate .

It alleged further that instead of  issuing the certificate, the revenue agency accused the company of grossly understating its income.

Specifically, FIRS maintained that its intelligent unit discovered that the company had a turnover of over $6.8 million in its corporate account which was withdrawn by its Chief Executive Officer in about four transactions.

It therefore demanded for payment by the company of a revised tax liability of about $439,000 before the tax clearance could be issued.

Expressing shock over the spurious figures, Biatemp Ventures Ltd claimed that the deposit made to its domiciliary account within the period was only $22,475 being consultancy fee paid by its client, Forte Upstream Services Ltd.

It stated further that the said deposit of 22,475 dollar was actually withdrawn by its Chief Executive Officer in about four respective transactions, alleging that the deposit of over $6.8 million discovered by the FIRS intelligence was an enlarged mirror of the $22,475 deposited by its client for consultancy services into its account.

In a statement of defence to the suit, FIRS had indicted First Bank claiming that it received from the lender the purported overbloated turnover of the account of the plaintiff though a compact disc containing evidence that the company received a cash flow of over $6.8 million.

It claimed that it acted based on the information provided by the bank.

On its part, First Bank, denied the allegations that it manipulated the account of the plaintiff, claiming that “the plaintiff’s account was never at any point in time tampered with, let alone manipulated.

It maintained: “There is no time that First Bank, as a well known and reputable bank in Nigeria engage in such irresponsible and scandalous act.”

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