Promoted Content - Viewpoint - October 18, 2022

N170.3m FIRS fraud: Case of thieves’ hands caught in a cookies jar, not blackmail

By Benjamin Joseph

We are compelled to call this briefing following a 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.

We will not bore you with all the details, but we will present to you as much clarifications on the wicked insinuations by Mr Ekeh and Zinox against my person, so far as it would not be considered prejudicial to the ongoing prosecution and judicial process in court.

I will now proceed to address a few of these issues point by point.

A CASE OF THIEVES’ HANDS IN COOKIES JAR, IMPUNITY, NOT BLACKMAIL

Mr Ekeh and Zinox have laboured hard to hoodwink the public through misinformation in the media into believing that my case against them is false and an attempt to blackmail for extortion. Nothing can be farther from the truth than these lies from the pit of hell.

In July 2013, my Auditor Mr A B Agbaje was in FIRS office in Ibadan to file my company’s annual audited account when he was confronted with information about possible under declaration of the company’s filed turnover to evade payment of tax returns from a contract they claimed FIRS awarded our company.

On investigation, we discovered that it was indeed a fraud committed by a syndicate against our company, which involved the transfer of money through a fictitious account No 0059202675 opened in December 2012 by the syndicate in Access Bank Plc, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos using our company’s confidential information used in opening our corporate account with the bank in 2008. We sent out letters dated 2nd August, 2013, having in mind their previous conducts, the letter of introduction, acceptance and authority to the chairman, FIRS on 13th December, 2012 and the withdrawal of the said letter dated 17th December, 2012 to members of the syndicate and they responded in writing denying any knowledge of the contract from FIRS executed in our name. We therefore engaged the services of Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, to demand from the syndicate what they did. Rather than respond positively, they made monetary offers and sought for settlement without revealing the identity of their perpetrators and how they received payment from the contract. 

Findings showed that, apart from the syndicate hijacking the contract previously awarded to our company and executing using our company name without our consent and knowledge, they connived with Access Bank officials to remove our corporate information, including a Board of Directors resolution. They forged my signature on the Board resolution dated 18th December 2012 used to open the fake account through which FIRS remitted the proceeds of the fraud for them to share. Mrs Chioma Ekeh was the one who presided over the distribution of the fund to members of the syndicate and ran the account into debit, deliberately to ensure the dead account will not be traced.

In October 2013 we petitioned the Police Special Fraud Unit in Lagos against Access Bank Plc for unlawful opening of account No 0059202675 in our company’s name without following due process and conditions. All the suspects were arrested and detained, documents used to open the forged account with Access Bank were recovered. The suspects volunteered written statements in their handwriting. They owned up to the crime. At the end of investigations by the police SFU Lagos, the police, on 15th August 2014, wrote the DPP Federal Ministry of Justice, Marina, Lagos, to request for Legal Advice with criminal record No CR827/2013 with administrative file No CB:3514/X/PSFU/LEG/SDPP/VOL 1. A report of the DPP signed by one Mr Salawu K A Esq dated 26th September 2014 with file No DPPF/ADV/L/128/2014 indicted the suspects and recommended their immediate prosecution

We found it curious to note that the bank account was secretly and fraudulently opened in Access Bank on December 2012, not until our discovery of the forged account and the letter sent by our counsel Chief Afe Babalola SAN in August 2013, that Mr Ekeh’s directors who he used to operate the account wrote the access bank stating their intention to withdraw from owners of the account. 

Mr Ekeh attempted to upturn the report, but met a brick wall. He petitioned the Attorney General of the Federation against the Legal advice of Mr Salawu Esq.

The then Director Public Prosecution of the Federation, Mr Mohammed Diri Esq after a careful review of the case file No DPP/ADV: 1009/14 dated 9th of March 2015 said he found convincing evidence to prosecute the suspects for conspiracy, forgery and fraud. He demanded for the case file from the police to commence the prosecution.

The DIG FCID Police investigation report No CR:3000/X/FHQ/ABJ/SEB/VOL41 dated 7th April 2015 signed by one CSP Olayinka Ajeigbe indicted all the suspects and recommended their prosecution without further delay.

But the DIG of police, Mr Solomon Arase refused to forward the request sent to him by the CP Admin, Mr Olufemi Olaleye dated 16th April 2015

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.

When DIG Arase’s body language was not favourable to comply with the request and directive of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Olufemi Oyeleye, the then CP Admin FCIID concocted a letter dated 5th June 2015 addressed to the AGF to misinform him that the Police had arraigned all the suspects and were already facing criminal charges in a Lagos high court, The Commissioner of Police even quoted a false court record No LD/4335 to confuse the AGF and deny us justice.

My company filed a civil suit No. LD/4335/2014 at the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere against the suspects. The suspects deployed all sorts of tricks to frustrate the case. In October 2016 they filed an application urging the court to dismiss the case against them, But then presiding Judge, Justice Femi Adeniyi on May 2, 2017 dismissed all their preliminary objections, insisting they have a case to answer.

A N100,000 cost each was imposed against the suspects, and N50,000 against Access Bank. Formal hearing has not commenced in the case eight years after, despite claims by the suspects of not having any case pending against them anywhere.

I wrote several petitions to various government agencies to demand the prosecution of the suspects. One of such letters was dated 8th May 2015, to the DIG, Solomon Arase, who was at the time in charge of FCIID, Abuja. He was deceived by the suspects to seek for settlement as he advised me through his letter of 14th May 2015 that the civil case I filed should be allowed to run its course before the criminal prosecution can commence. 

I wrote another letter to IGP Arase after his appointment. Yet he refused to ask the police to release the case file for the prosecution of the suspects. 

Curiously, few days to his exit from office in 2016, the police filed a one-count charge against me, after accusing me of false petitioning with the letter I wrote to the DIG dated 3rd July 2014.

With the conclusion and the recommendation of the Police investigation report that upheld my petition of 3rd July 2014 to the DIG Arase, the Police should have complied with their own recommendations. Why criminalize the instrument of complain that empowered the indictment of eight persons?

I am only in court because a rich criminal suspect, Mr Ekeh influenced the Police Prosecutor, DCP Simon Lough to use me as a shield to his fraud and criminality.

Following my arraignment by the police over the “charge”, I wrote to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and requested for his directive to the Police to comply with the directive of the AGF to send the requested case file for the prosecution of the suspects. The VP directed the EFCC to investigate the matter.

The EFCC request to the AGF dated 14th June 2016 and the response of the DPPF dated 17th June 2016 confirmed that the investigation has been concluded and some persons indicted and therefore another investigation of the suspects will be unnecessary duplication.

The EFCC still went ahead to invite the suspects, including the Chairman of Zinox, Leo Stan Ekeh, and wife, Chioma Ekeh for interrogation over the matter. At the end of its investigation, the EFCC confirmed the facts in my petition and corroborated the findings contained in the police investigation report.

On the basis of that all eight suspects were expected to have been arraigned and charged for the crime.

Surprisingly, 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. The judgment seriously indicted the EFCC as the Judge reprimanded the prosecutor for failure to bring the right case before the court.

The scenario that played out in court was like when a victim makes a complaint to the law enforcement agency alleging that Mr A stole his table and after investigation it turned out that indeed Mr A stole the table, but the officer, in a deliberate attempt to obstruct justice, charged and arraigned the suspected thief for stealing a handset. Again on getting to the court instead of tendering the said handset as evidence the concocted charge was based on, the officer turned around to tender the table which he never included in the concocted charge to deceive the judge. What a confusion!

Interestingly, even though the judge indicted the EFCC for  failing to bringh~ the right charge, he said because I refused to testify in the case, I should pay a fine of N20 million in a case I was neither a party nor was I invited by the judge to testify. 

Although an appeal against the judgment is pending at the Appeal Court in Abuja, we have since filed a petition against the Judge to the National Judiciary Council with our letter dated 21st April 2021. The NJC’s response was dated 19th January 2022. We are following up and await the final decision of the NJC.

I am of the firm conviction that my case against all the suspects, based on the evidence of December 18, 2012, is alive and still pending against them. 

ANOTHER LIE ABOUT NO PROSECUTION AGAINST SUSPECTS

Another fat lie being bandied about by Mr Ekeh and Zinox is that there is no ongoing prosecution against them by the Attorney-General, and that the prosecution is against me. 

Following my illegal trumped up trial by the police over the last six years, and the attempt by the suspects to influence the Judiciary, I petitioned the AGF to demand a review of the case.

In 2018, he intervened and asked the DPP to take over the prosecution of the case from the police. Although the DPP actually took over the case, but the suspects exploited their connections with top officials of the Ministry of Justice and the Director of Comparative and International Law, one Mrs Stella Anukam, to mislead the DPP and reverse AGF’s directive. Mrs Anukam not only influenced the EFCC officials in the case but later stood surety in EFCC for Mrs Chioma Ekeh and other suspects.

Following the confusion, Femi Falana, SAN, in November 2018, requested for a fiat from the AGF to prosecute the suspects.

The DIG police forensic investigation report dated 11th June 2015 earlier carried out by FCID signed by one ASP Reginald Udunze, with ref No Dsx 111/06/15 confirmed that my signature on the December 18,2012 Board resolution of my company used by the suspects to commit the fraud was ‘simulated.’ 

In 2020, the police recommended in their reports dated 27th February 2020 and 19th October 2020 that the suspects should be arrested immediately and prosecuted for the crime. The DIG approved the discontinuation of my prosecution and ordered for withdrawal of the CHARGE. But police prosecutor, ACP Simon Lough, who has now been rewarded with the position of senior advocate of Nigeria SAN, disregarded the DIG’s directive.

We petitioned the Police Service Commission and the Legal Practitioners Privilege Commission and have received letters of invitation for the commencement of hearing from the LPPC dated 4th October 2022.

To forestall their arrest and prosecution by the police, the suspects filed an application at the Federal High Court in Lagos for the enforcement of their fundamental rights to secure an injunction against the police not to arrest, detain, question and prosecute them over the matter.

But, on December 19, 2020, the court, presided over by Justice T G Ringim dismissed the application on the ground that suspects in a criminal case cannot stop the police from performing its lawful duty

Later, I petitioned the AGF and the Vice President dated 16th April 2021 stating the malicious charge of the police, which was in conflict with the legal advice of the DPPF and the police report. I also raised the glaring compromise by the EFCC and the incompetent judgement delivered by Justice Senchi.

The AGF, after a thorough review of the evidence in the case file, gave a legal opinion that my trial was indeed a persecution by the police. He therefore ordered the DPP again to take over the case, while also directing the police to hands off and transfer the case file to the DPP.

In November 2021, the DPP actually took over the case after the police prosecutor handed over the case file. 

While awaiting AGF’s legal opinion to finally terminate the case against me, the AGF, on May 10,2022, gave approval to the request made in 2018 by Mr Femi Falana SAN for a fiat to prosecute the suspects.

On September 9, 2022, Mr Femi Falana, SAN after four months of diligent study of the case and documented evidence proceeded to file a 17-count charge No.FCT/HC/CR/469/2022 at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Maitama against 11 suspects involved in the fraud, including Zinox Chairman, Leo Stan Ekeh and wife, Chioma.

The Zinox Group Group Chairman, wife and four others on October 6, 2022 filed an application No. M/11480/2022 to defend themselves.

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, Simon Lough, show 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. Consequently, the Judge adjourned sitting till November 3, 2022. That is the situation the suspects are using to misinform the public through their media that the government ordered the police to continue the criminal prosecution against me. 

BASELESS CLAIM OF CREDIT EXTENDED TO CITADEL ORACLE  

Leo Stan Ekeh claimed my company was among 13 others TD Africa extended credits to finance the supply of laptops to the FIRS, and that I attempted to divert TD’s money, but was resisted by Princess Kama. 

This is a lie only capable of being told by a compulsive liar with serious character deficiency. Mr Ekeh has always claimed that he entered agreement with my company, but cannot produce the said agreement, except an unexecuted agreement with a letter sent to his foot soldier and member of the syndicate, Chief Onny Igbokwe dated 17th January, 2013.

I knew Princess Kama as a member of the church I worship in Ibadan, but who was doing business in Abuja. My company had prepared and sealed the bids for the supply of the laptops. As the deadline for the submission of the bid was fast approaching, I asked her to help deliver the sealed bid envelopes at the FIRS as she was traveling back that period to Abuja. 

After the submission and payment of the bid, Kama called to inform me that she had a privilege information that my company has been listed as successful bidder and that the FIRS would not allow her to confirm the authenticity of the information’s, unless they were from a recognized representative. To meet the deadline, I sent the scanned copy of an introduction, acceptance letter dated 13th December 2012 through an email to facilitate the process.

The original copy of that letter is still with me till today. 

Kama called to invite me to a meeting in Lagos with her boss. I refused. But she insisted, though she refused to reveal the agenda of the meeting. Grudgingly I followed up to a meeting with a man I later knew to be Chief Onny Igbokwe. At the meeting, Igbokwe said he had already used his connections with Leo Stan Ekeh at the FIRS to facilitate the approval of the award of the contract to my company. He said all he wanted me to do was to walk away with N15 million and allow them execute the contract. 

At that point I vehemently rejected the offer and instantly terminated all business relations with Kama, including the revocation of the introduction letter authorizing her representation of my company dated 17th December 2012.

It was a year after that incident when our Accountant went to the FIRS to file my company’s tax returns that he was confronted with the fraud by the syndicate.

So, when next Leo Stan Ekeh comes around the media to say he did not know anything about the fraud, tell him he is a big liar. 

Again, Chris Eze Ozims, legal adviser/company secretary, Zinox Group, and Folashade Oyebode, a a director in TD, who signed their names as members of the Board of Citadel Oracle, in the forged document of December 18,2012 used in opening the fake account in Access Bank, said the decision to open the fake account was approved by the Board of Zinox, which Leo Stan Ekeh is Chairman. Then how would he not have known about the decision of a Board he presided over? Is it possible for his wife, Chioma, who presided over the sharing of the proceeds from the fraud to have done so without briefing her husband and Chairman of the Board? Yet, the Chairman has been sponsoring series media publications to defend the fraud.

Again, when he says my company took credit from TD to execute the contract, then it is clear he is economical with the truth about the fraud.

How can Mr Ekeh( talk about credit to a company that had no business relationship whatsoever with him? There was no request by Citadel Oracle for credit to his company or its affiliate. There was also no letter introducing any person to Ekeh’s company or Access Bank. All such business relationships are always approved by the Board of Citadel Oracle. If Mr Ekeh has any of those documents, we challenge him to make public. 

First, at the time my company bidded for the FIRS contract, among the documents submitted to FIRS was a letter from our bank, First Bank Plc, dated 25th May 2012 guaranteeing us to FIRS its readiness to fund the contract to the tune of N500 million should the need arose.

Second, at the time my company bidded for the contract, our company’s audited financial statement published the following year in 2013 showed we had a turnover of over N2 billion. So, there is no way a cost amount for the procurement of the laptops from HP with less than N80 million could have been a problem.

During the bid pre-qualification, HP wrote from Switzerland to recommend our company to FIRS as a certified preferred Partner in Nigeria. So, how did TD matter in the contract execution?

CHIEF AFE BABALOLA, SAN’S REPRESENTATION 

After the fraud was uncovered, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, was hired by our company to sue all the parties involved in the fraud. But Leo Stan Ekeh sent emissaries to plead for a settlement out of court. I was outside the country on vacation, when those sent to attend the peace meeting said they offered Chief Afe Babalola N5.6million and another N10 million to give to Citaldel Oracle to show their goodwill in the matter. But I flatly rejected the offer in my letter and insisted on an apology and a letter to indemnify me and my company of any liabilities that would arise in connection with the wrongful use of the name of my company to commit fraud. 

That is the closest one can get to Leo Stan Ekeh’s claim that the current matter has anything to do with giving money, which I rejected. 

If there was any sharing of profits in which Mr Ekeh claimed I attempted to claim the lion’s share, which resulted in the current crisis, it was presided over by Leo Stan Ekeh’s wife, Chioma, who supervised the distribution of the proceeds of the fraud after it was paid into the fake account in Access Bank. The statement of the fake account showed that they overdrawn the account and forced it into debit after the transaction. So, where is the the sharing of money claim by Me Ekeh coming from? 

HIGH COST OF A CHEAP LIES

Leo Stan Ekeh says it costs him big money to sustain the lie against me and my company. Yes, he should know lying is a costly and capital intensive business. So, to lie successfully costs big money, because when one tells one lie, he would need to tell about 99 other lies to successfully dress it to look like the truth. 

Truth suppressed will always rise again. That is why, despite all the desperate efforts to sustain the lie in the police, Ministry of Justice, EFCC, ICPC, the courts and the media, my case still merits the attention of men of conscience, like the AGF who desire to know the truth.

That my businesses is still standing today is the grace of God and the hard work, based on the strong foundation laid in the past 37 years.  But the high toll that the wickedness of these evil men has afflicted on my business is enormous and unimaginable.

Before this case, we operated about 11 outlets across Oshogbo, Ekiti, Ibadan, Lagos and Ilorin, with over 100 staff. Today, we have folded up in nine outlets, with less than 30 staff on our payroll.

To defend myself in the fanthom case by the police, I have so far made almost 400 trips from Ibadan to Abuja for the past 75 months. Some of the trips, I had to stay for days in a hotel at my personal and company expenses. I cannot quantify, in terms of monetary value, how much I have lost personally and the company. I have not been able to do any business with Citadel Oracle Concept Limited since 2013, because the FIRS has refused to issue us with the tax clearance certificate. Not to mention the threat to my life and family by agents of the suspects who have continue to harass us with guns at every turn. My wife was even beaten and stripped naked in the streets of Ibadan. All my outlets in Ibadan were locked up at a point by their gun-wielding uniformed agents, to harass me into giving up on my case.

Despite all these, my believe is that in his due time, God will vindicate the just and reward the evil one.

On behalf of our company, let me thank you, gentlemen of the press, for giving us the privilege to address you, not only to set the records straight, but also to solicit your support to escalate the matter in all the media both national and international and continue to stand on the side of truth till this battle is won. God bless.

Mr Joseph, MD/CEO, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited made the presentation in Abuja on Monday as a response to media attacks on him by Zinox Group Chairman, Leo Stan Ekeh.  

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