• Fri. Jun 9th, 2023

    N170m FIRS contract fraud: Businessman petitions EFCC Chairman; accuses officials of non-diligent prosecution of suspects  


    An Ibadan-based businessman, Joseph Benjamin, has petitioned the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, asking him to investigate two of the agency’s prosecutors and others in the legal department for alleged official misconduct and corruption.
    The businessman wants the officials, namely Chile Okoroma, Jude Obozuwa and Princewill Egbe Omagbitse, investigated for alleged deliberate withholding or distortion of critical evidence, and failing to ensure diligent prosecution of suspects in a N170 million fraud case.
    Benjamin, who is the Managing Director of an ICT retailing firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, said the alleged misconduct by the officials resulted in the anti-graft agency losing in court, while the Federal Capital Territory High Court acquitted and discharged all eight of the culprits indicted by both the police and the Commission’s investigations.
    Okoroma was the Head of the Legal Department when the then Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, directed the EFCC to investigate the petition filed by the businessman in 2016. Omagbitse was the Investigating Prosecuting Officer (IPO), while Obozuwa was detailed to charge and prosecute the suspects in court.
    However, despite his being aware of the forensic analysis report, which confirmed the controversial Board Resolution of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited used in committing the fraud was forged by the suspects, Omagbitse concealed the information from court, after he was alleged to have been recruited later by Obozuwa to give what the petitioner’s lawyers described as “false evidence in court.” His evidence created a controversy that invalidated previous report.
    At the end of the trial, the suspects were discharged and acquitted, while the businessman, who, ironically, was not a party to the case, was fined N20 million by the court for allegedly refusing to appear to give evidence throughout the proceedings.
    In the petition dated April 16, 2021, Benjamin asked Bawa to investigate alleged “Prosecutorial malpractice, misconduct and unlawful concealment of evidence in court and physical assault by the prosecutor in his case, Jude Obozuwa.
    Also, Benjamin requested the EFCC Chairman to call for a fresh charge to be filed in court by the anti-graft agency to reflect the complaint, investigation and evidence contained in his petition against all suspects in the case of identity theft, illegal hijack, execution of contract and sharing of proceeds from a fraud.
    Also, he asked the EFCC boss to direct the Legal Department to effect a change of prosecutor in the case.
    Describing as “strange” charge No. CR/244/2018 between Federal Republic of Nigeria versus Princess Kama and Chief Onny Igbokwe prepared by Obozuwa, the businessman gave Bawa seven days to meet his requests, by ordering a thorough investigation into the allegations, while ensuring adequate sanctions are metted out to the offending officials as well as direct the legal department to file fresh charge that represents his complaint and investigation or risk legal action against the EFCC for “perversion of justice.” The notice has since expired.
    Spokesperson refuses to respond to enquiries
    MEDIATRACNET learnt the petition was received in the EFCC Chairman’s office since April 19, 2021.
    However, at the time of this report, no information was available about the response from either the anti-graft agency or its chairman over the petition.
    On May 17, 2021, our reporter contacted the EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, on telephone to seek information on the petition.
    He requested that a formal email be sent to him, which was done. Uwajaren confirmed to our reporter the following day he received the mail and assured his enquiry was receiving attention.
    The third day, he asked for time to revert on his findings. Since then, subsequent communications have not received any response.
    Several calls to his telephone have not been answered, neither has he responded to text messages sent to him. A follow-up mail has not been responded to either.
    In October 2013, Benjamin in a petition to then Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of Force Criminal Investigation Bureau (FCIB), Solomon Arase, accused some top officials of Zinox Group and its subsidiary, Technology Distributions Limited (TD), of fraudulent conspiracy.
    Benjamin 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 of TD to hijack and illegally execute the contract awarded to his company by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in 2012.
    Igbokwe is the chief executive of a Port Harcourt-based IT company, Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited and Pirovics Engineering Services Limited.
    Kama, his staff, allegedly facilitated the alleged fraud also involving a director of TD, Folashade Oyebode, and two staff of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu.
    Fraudulent bank account
    Benjamin said Oyebode and Ozims used his company’s forged documents, including a fake board resolution that appointed them “directors of the company” to open a fake account at Access Bank, Lagos used to receive the proceeds from the fraud.
    To facilitate the opening of the fake account, Benjamin said the suspects approached Onuoha and Ijeabu to release to them the original copies of documents used by his company, a long-time customer with a corporate account with the bank.
    Benjamin accused Ozims, Oyebode and Igbokwe of procuring a fake board resolution dated December 18, 2012, which they claimed was issued by Citadel Oracle management to facilitate the opening of the controversial account.
    The fake document conferred on them the power of attorney to act as “directors” of the company and authorized signatories to the account, which they operated till it was run into debit.
    Benjamin also accused Chioma Ekeh, an executive director of TD and wife of Leo Stan Ekeh, Chairman of Zinox Group and TD, of involvement in the fraud. He accused Chioma of being the one who, following the payment of the proceeds of the fraud by FIRS into the fraudulent account at Access Bank, gave instructions to Charles Adigwe, the Accountant of TD, on the accounts to transfer the proceeds.

    Petitioner turned accused by police
    Benjamin said investigations by the Serious Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police in Lagos on his petition since 2014 confirmed the accused were guilty of the crime.
    Based on the recommendations of the FCIB, eight persons were to be prosecuted as suspects. Benjamin said the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation asked the police to transfer the case file for the prosecution of the suspects. But, then Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, blocked all moves to make that happen.
    Rather, shortly before exiting office as IGP in 2016, Arase directed the police to charge and arraign Benjamin in court on a one-count charge of “false petitioning to deceive the police.”
    Petitioner writes Acting President

    Benjamin alleged victimization by the police. On April 11, 2017 protested in a letter to then Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, who intervened. Although the police is yet to hands off his trial, Osinbajo on July 10, 2017 directed the EFCC to wade into the matter, investigate and ensure justice was done.
    The investigations by the anti-graft agency confirmed the earlier findings by the FCIB about the culpability of eight persons in the crime.
    EFCC shields six suspects?
    After the EFCC concluded its investigations, Benjamin said the director of Legal Unit of the EFCC, Chile Okoroma proposed a meeting to discuss how the suspects would be prosecuted.
    In the first meeting, Benjamin said Okoroma confirmed the legal opinion of the IPO based on his findings confirmed all the facts and evidence contained in his petition.
    During the second meeting, Benjamin said Okoroma claimed he could not find the forensic report of the investigations to confirm who actually signed the controversial Board resolution used in committing the fraud. As such, he said Okkroma said he was at a loss on who to charge for the forgery.
    Okoroma requested for and received fresh set of all documents he said would be used as evidence to prosecute seven of the eight suspects.
    At the third meeting, Benjamin said Okoroma unilaterally announced that rather than charge and arraign all the seven persons, only two (Igbokwe and Kama) selected and insisted on the prosecution.
    Wondering why five or six other suspects were removed from the list of those to be prosecuted, Benjamin said his legal team told Okoroma that his unilateral decision to prosecute just two of the seven or eight suspects raised serious suspicions about his intentions.
    In a protest letter of December 20, 2017 sent to then Acting Chairman of the Commission, Ibrahim Magu, Benjamin said his lawyers, Bob James & Co., noted that those listed for prosecution should have included Leo Stan Ekeh, the Chairman of Zinox Group, whose Board approved the transaction; his wife, Chioma, who is the Managing Director of TD, who approved the disbursements from the fraudulent account at Access Bank; Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited and TD, which the EFCC found during its investigations were jointly and severally mentioned as liable for prosecution.
    Benjamin said no response was received from the EFCC on the series of protest letters.

    Reconstructed four-count charge
    In prosecuting the two suspects, Benjamin said Obozuwa, “completely reconstructed a four-count charge based on a strange evidence, despite tonnes of documented evidence submitted to him to help conduct a diligent prosecution.”
    Benjamin said his legal team was shocked to have discovered the EFCC’s prosecutors drafted a charge which showed the suspects forged a non-existing Board Resolution of his company dated December 14, 2012 and not the one dated December 18, 2012, which was admitted in evidence and used in conducting forensic analysis of the signatories, which confirmed Benjamin’s signature on it as forged.
    Again, Benjamin’s counsel, protested, noting that the reconstruction of the charge by EFCC was deliberate, to mislead the court and Justice Senchi of the Federal High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Jabi into miscarrying justice.
    Fears about prosecution
    The businessman said after his legal team reviewed the charge filed against the two, they concluded that Okoroma’s intentions with his decision to charge only two of the suspects were suspicious.
    In rejecting the decision, Benjamin said the charge against the two suspects raises “fears and lack of faith in the ability, willingness of the Commission to exercise its patriotic duty of diligently prosecuting the crimes.”
    “We have studied the charge filed in court. It’s very difficult not to suspect that the prosecution of the accused persons has been doctored and intentionally set up to fail in court.
    “When we submitted our petition to the EFCC, it included a bulky attachment of evidence to support our claim, which we hoped would assist the Commission with its investigations. However, the Commission has done away with all of them,” Benjamin lamented.
    He said it was strange the Commission listed some of the accused persons as witnesses, whom his lawyers said would be hostile to the cause of the Commission.
    Apart the protest letter of November 5, 2018 by his lawyers, which noted that the charge filed by the Commission was not representative of the content of his petition, Benjamin said letters were also written to the EFCC on October 7, 2019, November 12, 2019, August 17, 2020 and August 31, 2020 to highlight how the errors would hurt the case and pervade the course of justice.
    “Regrettably, I do not feel in the circumstance that it would be safe for me to testify in this case with Mr Jude Obozuwa as the prosecutor, believing that he would lead me in destroying myself,” Benjamin said in his protest letter to the Acting Director, Legal Unit, EFCC on November 12, 2019, while demanding a change of prosecutor.
    Prosecutor’s script foretold
    On December 30, 2019, Benjamin, through his legal counsel, Akin Onigbinde, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), appeared to have seen almost two years ahead what the prosecutor was up to in court.
    In his protest letter to the same director, Onigbinde wrote: “The discrepancy in the two Board Resolutions (of December 14 and December 18, 2012) are contradictory and irreconcilable. It is trite that every doubt or contradictions in evidence in a criminal case will be resolved in favour of the defence.
    “This approach is certainly employed by the prosecutor to weaken the charge, and to assure an acquittal for the defendants, despite all incriminating evidence, documents made available to EFCC prosecution, which are not being used in charging and prosecuting the complaint.
    “The prosecutor has repeatedly refused and turned down every effort by the nominal complainant to have a pretrial session. On many occasions, the prosecutor informed the court the complainant was not willing to testify before the court, thereby creating an impression of a lackadaisical attitude, just to cast shadows on the integrity of the complainant and the case.”
    Despite the several protest letters and demands for correction of the factual errors in the charge, Benjamin said Obozuwa “continued on a deliberate wild goose chase.”
    Determined to ensure the corrections were affected, Benjamin said he visited the EFCC office on January 17, 2020, at the instance of Femi Falana, SAN, only for Obozuwa to turn violent and assault him up for daring to write a petition against him and his handling of the case.
    Few days after the incident, Benjamin said he appeared in court to lodge a complaint, and plan by the prosecutor to shut him out and deny the opportunity to state his case.
    He said the Judge promised to give him a fair hearing, but never did till his judgment.
    Despite all the highlighted flaws almost two years earlier about the plot by the prosecutor acquit and discharge the suspects the Court still passed a not guilty verdict on the two suspects in the judgment of February 24, 2021, while imposing a N20 million fine on the petitioner.

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