By Bassey Udo
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Apo, has fixed Tuesday, November 8, 2022, for the formal arraignment of the Chairman of Zinox Group, Leonard Stanley Ekeh; wife, Chioma, and nine other suspects in an alleged N170.3 million contract fraud.
The arraignment by Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), on behalf of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, will be held in Court 32 presided over by Justice C.O. Oba.
The arraignment, which would signal the commencement of the prosecution of the suspects, will lay to rest the contrived confusion by the suspects and their agents that the AGF had rescinded his order on May 10, 2022 for them to be prosecuted for their roles in the fraud that involved a contract by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for the supply of laptop.
On September 9, 2022, Falana, SAN, filed a 17-count charge against the suspects in suit No. FCT/HC/CR/469/2022 before the FCT High Court, Abuja.
The charge was filed on behalf of the AGF following the approval the Minister granted the request by Falana on November 2018 for fiat/powers to prosecute the suspects.
Apart from Ekeh and his wife, other suspects to be arraigned include the Legal Adviser/Company Secretary, Zinox Group and Technologies Distributions Limited (TD), Chris Eze Ozims; a director in TD, Folashade Oyebode, and the Accountant with TD, Charles Adigwe.
Others include the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of both Ad’mas Technologies Limited and Pirovic Engineering Services Limited, Onny Igbokwe, and his accomplice, Princess O. Kama, along with two staff of Access Bank PLC, namely Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ojeabo.
Three companies implicated in the fraud following police investigations, namely Technologies Distributions Limited (TD), Ad’mas Technologies Limited and Pirovic Engineering Services Limited, would be joined as defendants.
In 2013, Joseph petitioned the Police to complain about the fraud uncovered against his company allegedly perpetrated by the suspects.
The businessman said the fraud involved a N170.3 million contract for the supply of computer systems awarded by FIRS to his company in 2012, which was hijacked by suspects and clandestinely executed using his company’s name without his knowledge and consent.
The businessman said the suspects also conspired to forge his signature on a fake Board of Directors resolution used to facilitate the opening of a fictitious account No. 0059202675 with Access Bank PLC for the payment of the proceeds of the fraud.
Although investigations by the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigerian Police Force were concluded in 2014 and a prima-facie case established against the suspects, Joseph said the police refused to prosecute the suspects.
Initial investigations by the SFU of the Federal Criminal Investigations Department (FCID) indicted eight persons. But Falana listed 11 suspects in the charge sheet that accompanied his application before the court.
Joseph had accused the suspects of deploying all sorts of devious means, including the manipulation of the courts, the police, anti-graft agencies and the media to evade trial.
On May 8, 2015, Joseph said he petitioned the then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Solomon Arase, to highlight his company’s frustration to get the police to transfer the case file to the DPP for the prosecution of the suspects.
However, Arase refused to take action against the suspects. Rather he said Arase advised that the civil case he filed against the suspects should be allowed to run its full course before the criminal case to avoid the miscarriage of justice.
Not satisfied, Joseph petitioned Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to look into the matter.
Although the EFCC quizzed the suspects and confirmed their complicity in the crime, the police refused to prosecute them.
On June 16, 2016, prior to Arase’s exit from office, Joseph was charged by the police on a one-count allegation of false petitioning of the IGP against the suspects in a case the suspects were used by the police as prosecution witnesses.
On July 2, 2016, Joseph was formally arraigned before Justice Peter Kekemeke at the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo, Abuja, for allegedly misinforming the former IGP.
The police prosecution counsel, Simon Lough, in a one-count charge No. CR/216/16 of “false petitioning”, through his petition of July 3, 2014, about the Board resolution used by the suspects in opening the fictitious bank account with Access Bank PLC, used in committing the fraud.
For more than six years, the businessman stood trial by the police over alleged false petitioning, while the suspects were being shielded from prosecution for the crime.
But, following a petition requesting the intervention of the AGF, Joseph said the Minister reviewed the entire trial and approved its takeover from the police by the Director of Public Prosecution.
Based on the Minister’s legal advice, representatives of the DPP took over prosecution in the case on November 15, 2021.
On May 10, 2022, AGF Malami approved the request by Falana for powers to prosecute the suspects in court for the crime.
Pursuant to the Minister’s order, Falana, on September 9, 2022, filed at the High Court of the FCT the 17-count charge the suspects would be arraigned for.
On October 6, 2022, the suspects, through their legal counsels, Mathew Burkaa, SAN, Innocent Eremionkhale and seven others, filed a process, No. M/11480/2022, to open their defence for the crime.