Business - Business & Economy - Investigations - News - October 18, 2022

N170.3M FIRS contract fraud: You are a compulsive liar, Citadel Oracle MD replies Zinox Chairman

By Bassey Udo

The Managing Director of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, Benjamin Joseph, has described the Chairman, Zinox Group, Leo Stan Ekeh, as a compulsive liar over the years his denial of involvement in a N170.3 million contract fraud.

In widely publicised reports last week, Mr Ekeh had denied he, his wife, Chioma, and nine others were facing prosecution over their roles in the contract fraud. Rather, he claimed it was Mr Joseph whom the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, ordered his police to continue his prosecution continued almost one year after the police was ordered to withdraw and handover to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).

On September 9, 2022, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) filed a 17-count charge against Mr Ekeh and 10 others, including his wife, Chioma, for their alleged involvement in the fraud.

Although the Zinox Group boss on October 6, 2022 filed a legal process at the High Court of the FCT at Maitama signalling the commencement of his defence along with his wife and four other suspects, he continued to vehemently deny knowledge of any ongoing case in court to prosecute them for the crime.

He accused Mr Joseph of embarking on a campaign to discredit and blackmail him for extortion.

But, addressing journalists in Abuja on Monday, Mr Joseph, who for the past eight years battled to get the police and other security agencies to arrest and prosecute Mr Ekeh and other suspects for the crime, accused him and Zinox Group of lying, by denying any knowledge and involvement in the fraud.

The owner of the Ibadan-based ICT retail firm cited several instances in which Mr Ekeh, his wife, Chioma, and some top officials of Zinox Group and its affiliate, Technology Distribution Limited, were directly and indirectly linked with the crime.

He said although he has always resisted the temptation of joining issues with Ekeh over the issue, rather preferring to follow the Court’s due process to get justice, Mr Joseph said he was compelled to respond to recent “series of concocted lies and distorted facts sponsored in the media by the Chairman of Zinox Group, Leo Stan Ekeh, and his agents.

“Ordinarily, I have always resisted the temptation of joining issues with Mr Ekeh and Zinox in the media over this matter that has lingered for over eight years. I chose to allow the wheel of justice, which often grinds slowly, to take its course through the court process, though the experience so far has been terribly frustrating. We will not give up, because of our deep conviction that the triumph of falsehood over truth, or darkness over light, is only temporary. At the fullness of time, we know truth and light will ultimately prevail,” Mr Joseph said.

On how the fraud was uncovered, Mr Joseph said in July 2013, his company’s Auditor was in FIRS office in Ibadan to file the annual audited account when he was confronted with information about possible under-declaration of the company’s turnover to evade tax returns from a contract by FIRS.

“On investigation, we discovered that it was indeed a fraud committed by a syndicate against the company, which involved the transfer of money through a fictitious account in Access Bank Plc, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos using the confidential information used in opening its corporate bank account in 2008.”

He said his lawyers, Afe Babalola, SAN, wrote to the suspects after findings from preliminary investigations, and Mr Ekeh, through a representative of the fraud syndicate, Onny Igbokwe, made monetary offers to settle the issue.

Findings from a detailed investigations, Mr Joseph said, revealed that apart from the syndicate hijacking the contract previously awarded to his company and executing it using his company’s name without his consent and knowledge, they connived with Access Bank officials to use the corporate information, including a Board of Directors resolution dated 18th December 2012 at their disposal, which they forged, including his signature, and used to open the fake account through which the proceeds of the fraud were paid.

He said Mr Ekeh’s wife, Chioma, was the one who presided over the distribution of the funds to members of the syndicate and ran the account into debit, deliberately to ensure the dead account would not be traced.

In October 2013, Mr Joseph said a petition was sent to the Police Special Fraud Unit in Lagos against Access Bank Plc for unlawful opening of the fake account in his company’s name, resulting in the arrest and detention of all the suspects and documents used to open the forged account recovered.

Although he said suspects volunteered written statements owning up to the crime, the police refused to carry out the recommendations contained in its investigation report since 2014 for them to be arraigned and prosecuted.

Mr Joseph accused the former DIG FCIID, Solomon Arase, who later became the IGP, of using his positions to frustrate efforts to get the police to prosecute the suspects.

“The police and other law enforcement agencies complicit in the whole saga to shield the rich connected thief by all means against innocent Nigerians are the reasons Mr Ekeh and other members of the syndicate are so bold to keep dishing out lies to the public with impunity, knowing that nothing will happen,” Mr Joseph said.
Despite a civil suit No. LD/4335/2014 filed by his company at the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere against the suspects since 2014, he said the suspects deployed all sorts of tricks to frustrate the case, which has not been heard more than eight years later.

In October 2016, he said the suspects filed various applications urging the court to dismiss the case against them, But he said then presiding Judge, Justice Femi Adeniyi on May 2, 2017 dismissed all their preliminary objections, insisting they have a case to answer.

On assumption of office as IGP in 2015, Joseph said he petitioned IGP Arase again to remind him of the need to release the case file for the prosecution of the suspects.

But rather than do so, he said Arase, prior to his exit from office in 2016 approved his trial on a one-count charge of false petitioning of the police.

He said the trial has been ongoing against him over the last six years, until the AGF Abubakar Malami intervened and ordered the take over of the prosecution from the police by the DPP in November 2021.

On the N20 million Mr Ekeh said the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Jabi, Abuja presided over by Justice Danlami Senchi imposed on Mr Joseph as fine for refusing to testify in a case filed against the suspects by the EFCC, the businessman described the court process that resulted in the fine as “a deliberate mischief by the EFCC set up to fail,”

He said following his arraignment by the police over the “fanthom charge”, he wrote to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who directed the EFCC to investigate the matter.

Although the anti-graft agency investigated and confirmed the earlier findings of the police investigation indicting all the eight suspects, including Mr Ekeh and his wife, they chose to arraign and try only two of them, Princess Kama and Onny Igbokwe, using a non-existing evidence.

“Rather than arraign and charge all eight suspects, EFCC prosecutor chose to embark on a wild goose chase and a vain journey of non-diligent prosecution of just two of them. The EFCC abandoned volumes of evidence submitted to it, including how the fraud was committed using a Board resolution purportedly issued and signed by me, dated December 18, 2012.

“In charging the two suspects, the EFCC prosecutor charged them based on a non-existing document dated December 14, 2012. All efforts, including at least eight letters to EFCC from my company and lawyers to get the prosecutor to correct the discrepancy failed. Yet, the compromised EFCC officials wanted me to destroy my case by testify over a wrong document concocted to water down the case. I refused, because the charge against the suspects was not based on the evidence submitted in my petition. As such the prosecution was deliberately set up by EFCC to fail.

“As expected, Justice Danlami Senchi of the FCT High Court, Jabi capitalised on the deliberate mischief by the EFCC to dismiss the case and discharge and acquit the suspects after seriously reprimanding the prosecutor for failure to bring the right case before the court, Surprisingly, Justice Senchi also imposed a N20 fine on me for failing to appear and testify, although I was never a party in the case,”he said.

Mr Joseph said he has not only filed an appeal against the judgment, but has also petitioned the National Judicial Council against the conduct of the judge.

Also, Mr Joseph accused Mr Eke of lying after he denied that there was an ongoing prosecution by the Federal Government against him, his wife and senior officials of Zinox Group.

Recalling that Femi Falana, SAN, filed a 17-count charge in September 9, 2022 at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Gwagwalada by Mr Joseph argued that if there was no ongoing prosecution against them over the matter, why did they file an application for their defence on October 6,2022.

“The question is if there was no ongoing prosecution in court anywhere against them for the crime, why are they filing for their defence?

“Again, they claimed the AGF reversed his previous directive to the DPP to takeover my illegal trial by the police. This is another self-serving lie. Why would the AGF give a fiat to a Senior lawyer to prosecute criminals based on my complaint and turn around to approve that the police should prosecute me?

“When the AGF gave the directive to the DPP to take over the case from the police, he did so through a letter he personally signed and addressed to the court.
“But at the last sitting of the court, during which it was expected the AGF will give the legal opinion to terminate the case against me, the court was shocked to find the police prosecutor, ACP Simon Lough, showed up without the Legal advice of the AGF nor the appearance of State Counsel from the office of the AGF. The reaction by the court was surprise, because having handed the case file to the DPP for almost a year, the police had no business defying the subsisting order of the AGF, by allowing its prosecutor to attempt to again continue with the illegal trial.” Mr Joseph said.

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