Alleged tax evasion: Court refuses to stop FIRS, EFCC from arresting SAN

The Federal High Court in Abuja has refused to restrain the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from arresting a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Godwin Obla over alleged failure to pay tax.

Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo refused Obla’s prayer for an order of injunction restraining the respondents “from harassing, intimidating or humiliating” him “by arresting and/or detaining him or by otherwise preferring a criminal charge against him”.

Obla had prayed the court to hold that the respondents could not arrest him without undertaking a revision of his objection to a notice of tax assessment issued him by FIRS.

The judge also refused the applicant’s prayer to restrain the respondents or their agents from investigating or extending any summons to him “in respect of anything to do with the notice of tax assessment dated 31st May 2018 issued by the first respondent (FIRS) until the final determination of the applicant’s objection”.

Justice Taiwo, however, granted Obla’s prayer for a declaration that the relevant tax authority with the power and mandate to assess or collect Personal Income Tax from Abuja residents is the Federal Capital Territory Inland Revenue Service (FCT IRS).

The court also granted Obla’s prayer for an order declaring that the issuance of Tax Clearance Certificates by the FCT IRS in favour of the applicant is conclusive proof of assessment and payment of income tax for the years covered by the certificates.

The SAN, a former EFCC prosecutor who owns the firm Obla & Company, in a July 31, 2018 originating summons, prayed the court to determine whether, in view of relevant laws, the FIRS has the jurisdiction to assess and collect Personal Income Tax from him, being an Abuja resident and whose business is within the FCT.

Obla argued that the proper agency to request for tax assessment in his regard is the FCT IRS and not the respondents.

But, FIRS contended that the SAN did not pay tax from 2010 to 2014, which was prior to the establishment of the FCT IRS. As such, FIRS said it was the right agency to assess the plaintiff for the years.

The first defendant also pointed out that it is empowered by law to co-opt any government agency, such as EFCC, for purposes of tax recovery from defaulters.

The EFCC told the court that it is a statutory body charged with investigating all reported cases of economic and financial crimes in the country.

The Commission said it can collaborate with other government bodies within and outside Nigeria to fight economic and financial crimes, of which tax evasion and tax fraud are part and parcel.

Justice Taiwo, after considering the relevant laws, upheld FIR and EFCC’s powers to investigate tax evasion, tax fraud and other tax related crimes.

He held: “I am of the view that I have covered all the salient issues raised as issues for determination even by the sole issue proffered by the court. I hereby grant prayer one in whole.

“I grant prayer two only to the extent that the issuance of Tax Certificate by the Federal Capital Territory Inland Revenue Service is proof of assessment and payment of income tax for the years covered by the said certificates before the operation of the Federal Capital Territory Inland Revenue Service Act.

“I grant prayer three. Prayers four, five and six are refused. The parties before the court are advised to respect the provisions of the law and conform with the laws in this matter. This is my judgment.”



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