By Bassey Udo
Hearing continued last week Wednesday at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Nyanya in the case of alleged “false petitioning” over the controversial N170.3million Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) contract fraud.
The petitioner-turned accused, Benjamin Joseph, who is the Managing Director of an Ibadan-based IT retail firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, on Wednesday told the court presided by Justice Peter Kekemeke that neither he, nor his company, was aware, or was part of any decision or arrangement by the suspects in the fraud to obtain a loan in either his name, or that of his company to enable them execute the contract awarded to his company.
In October 2013, Joseph, in a petition to the then Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of Force Criminal Investigation Bureau (FCIB), Solomon Arase, accused some top officials of Zinox Technologies Limited and its subsidiary, Technology Distributions Limited (TD), of conspiring with their allies to commit the fraud.
In the petition, Joseph accused Onny Igbokwe and Princess Kama of conspiring with the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and Technology Distributions Limited (TD), Chris Ozims, and other officials to hijack and illegally execute the contract awarded to his company by the FIRS in 2012.
Igbokwe is the chief executive of a Port Harcourt-based IT company, Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited, as well as Pirovics Engineering Services Limited, while Kama, who was enlisted by Joseph to help submit the bid for the contract at FIRS, opted to work as an ally to facilitate the fraud.
Joseph also accused a director of TD, Folashade Oyebode, and two staff of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu, of involvement in the alleged crime.
He said the suspects committed the fraud by using a fake account they opened at Access Bank with his company’s forged documents, including a fake board resolution dated December 18, 2012, to commit the fraud.
The controversial Board Resolution conferred on Ozims and Oyebode the power of attorney to act as “directors” of the company and as authorised signatories to the account.
To facilitate payment of the proceeds from the contract fraud by the FIRS, Joseph said the suspects approached officials of the Awolowo Road, Ikoyi branch of Access Bank (Onuoha and Ijeabu) to release to them the original copies of documents used by Citadel Oracle to open its corporate account at the bank in Ibadan.
Although the Serious Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police in Lagos said its investigations concluded since 2014 confirmed the suspects were culpable of the offence, their prosecution was stalled as the police refused to release the original case file to the Director of Public Prosecution, despite several requests.
On May 8, 2015, Joseph said he petitioned Arase again, shortly after he was named the new Inspector General of Police, to complain about his company’s frustration to get the suspects prosecuted.
On June 16, 2016, Joseph said three days before the end of IGP Arase’s tenure, the police charged him to court, accusing him of “providing false information in his petition against the suspects.”
On July 2, 2016, Joseph said he was arraigned before the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo, Abuja on a one-count charge of “false petitioning” with the intention of misleading the police over a case of identity theft, impersonation and criminal conversion of contracts against the suspects.
The case was later transferred to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Nyanya presided by Justice Peter Kekemeke.
Joseph commences defence after four years
During the hearing in the case, the suspects in the fraud, which the police prosecution counsel, Simon Lough, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, used as prosecution witnesses, claimed the Board Resolution of December 18, 2012 was issued by the management of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited and signed by Joseph, its Managing Director, as part of the documentation required to secure a loan from Technology Distributions Limited to assist him execute the contract.
One of the suspects, Kama, told the court on several occasions in the course of her hearing appearance that the decision to take the loan from TD was with Joseph’s consent, who told her neither he nor his company, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, had the financial capacity to execute the contract awarded to his company.
Joseph denies involvement in continuation of defence
However, in continuation of his defence last week Wednesday, Joseph told the court neither he, in his personal capacity, nor his company, was aware of any decision to take any loan from anybody or company to execute the contract on behalf of his company.
He said his company did not have any reason to resort to taking any loan to execute the contract, as it more than possessed the requisite financial capacity to handle the contract even if it was valued more than ten times the N170 million contract sum.
By 2012, when the FIRS awarded the contract to his company, Joseph told the court Citadel Oracle Concept Limited recorded a turnover of over N2 billion captured in its company income tax filings with the FIRS at the end of the business that financial year.
He tendered the original copy of the Tax Clearance Certificate from the FIRS for that year showing his company’s turnover for 2012 to buttress his claim.
The document also showed the company’s turnover for 2013.
But, the police prosecution lawyer, Simon Lough, objected to the TCC, saying it had no bearing with the case of false petitioning against him by the police.
The judge, Justice Peter Kekemeke sustained the objection by the prosecution, and the document was consequently rejected.
Also, to show another evidence that his company had the capacity to handle the contract without any recourse to seeking a loan from TD, Joseph made reference to a letter from his company’s bankers, First Bank of Nigeria, guaranteeing to provide funding to the tune of N500million in case the contract was awarded to his company.
He said the letter was included as part of the documentation to support the company’s bid to demonstrate its capacity to handle the contract if awarded to it.
Again, the prosecution lawyer objected to the letter, describing it as a waste of time and an ego trip that did not have any bearing with the case against him.
The judge again sustained the objection by the prosecution and did not even allow Joseph to proceed to present the letter as his evidence.
Defence counsel, Bob James, failed to convince the judge to change his mind despite spirited attempts to show that the rejected documents were relevant to his client’s defence, as he made reference to the kernel of the suspects’ argument that they went to take the loan from TD to execute the contract, because his company did not have the financial capacity to do so.
Again, to convince the court that Kama was never at any time a staff of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, contrary to her claims, Joseph sought to present the staff payroll of his company for the months preceding the period of the contract bid and award between August 2012 and January 2013.
But, the prosecution lawyer promptly objected to the document as not of any value to the case, a position the judge also sustained.
When he opened his hearing in November 2020, Joseph told the court how Kama came to be involved as a representative of his company during the bid for the contract.
Contrary to Kama’s claim that she did everything alone to get the contract awarded to Citadel Oracle as a demonstration of her commitment and determination to help lift a former friend who was facing financial difficulties, Joseph told the court how he came about the contract and only sought Kama’s assistance to submit the bid document at FIRS.
He said his company responded to newspaper advertisements by the FIRS in 2012 inviting tenders from qualified contractors for the contract to supply some computer systems.
Considering that his company possessed the requisite qualifications, including certification from Hewlett Packard (HP), the original equipment manufacturers (OEM), Joseph told the court bid documents were packaged for submission to FIRS.
But, since the FIRS wanted the bid to be submitted by hand in Abuja, Joseph said he sent the sealed envelope containing the completed bid documents to Kama, whom he described as a “trusted family friend and co-church chorister, who was resident in Abuja,” to help submit to the FIRS on behalf of the company.
Weeks later, Joseph told the court, Kama called to inform him of a confidential information she got from her source in FIRS that suggested his company was one of those selected as preferred bidders expected to submit financial bids.
To enable her help monitor further progress on the bid, Joseph said Kama demanded for a letter to the FIRS introducing her as the representative of the company in respect of the bid.
At the hearing on Wednesday, Joseph presented to the court a copy of the letter of introduction he issued and sent to Kama to represent his company in all transactions pertaining to the bid submission. He said the original copy of the letter dated December 14, 2012 and addressed to the Chairman of FIRS was never given to Kama, as he said the copy was still with him till date.
Joseph tendered a copy of the letter to the court as evidence.
Although the prosecution lawyer also objected to the letter on the ground that it was addressed to her employers, Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited, the judge objected and upheld the document in evidence.
Again, Joseph, during his first hearing last year, said Kama had arranged a meeting between him and her managing director, Igbokwe, after informing him about a strange condition that the contracts would be executed solely by TD and Zinox Technologies Limited, both owned by Leonard Stanley Ekeh.
Joseph said Kama told him that Igbokwe described Ekeh as a highly influential person with wide contacts within the top hierarchy of FIRS, who facilitated the award of the contracts.
Joseph said during the meeting, he was given a condition that his company would not execute the contract he submitted bids for, rather he would be given N15 million “to walk away and allow the contract to be executed by Ekeh,” an offer, he said, he immediately rejected.
In his presentation on Wednesday last week, Joseph said he did not only reject the offer, he also issued a letter dated December 17, 2012 to Kama terminating all further relations with her relating to any dealings concerning him, the contract and his company.
A copy of the letter was also accepted by the court in evidence.
Meanwhile, the case was adjourned till November 16 and 17, 2021 for continuation of defence.