Business - News - March 2, 2021

UPDATED: N170m FIRS contract fraud: Petitioner continues his defence

Reveals how fictitious account at Access Bank was uncovered

After opening his defence late last year for the first time in more than four years since the Nigeria Police arraigned him on a one-count charge for “false petitioning”, the petitioner in the controversial N170 million contract fraud, on Tuesday continued his defence.
The petitioner-turned accused, Benjamin Joseph, is the Managing Director of an Ibadan-based IT retail firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited.
Backstory
In a petition dated October 2013 to the then Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of Force Criminal Investigation Bureau (FCIB), Solomon Arase, Joseph accused some senior officials of Zinox Technologies Limited and its subsidiary, Technology Distributions Limited (TD), of conspiracy and fraud.
Joseph alleged that Onny Igbokwe and Princess Kama conspired with the Company Secretary, Zinox Group, Chris Eze Ozims, who is also the Legal Adviser of TD, 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, while Kama, his ally, facilitated the alleged fraud.
Joseph said Kama was handed the contract’s bid documents in Ibadan to help summit at the FIRS in Abuja betray the trust and handed them over to the fraud syndicate that hijacked and executed the contract.
Also accused of involvement in the alleged crime were Folashade Oyebode, a director of TD, and two staff of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu
The suspects, Joseph said, committed the fraud by using a fake account they opened at Access Bank with his company’s forged documents, including a fake board resolution that appointed them “managers of 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) for the original copies of documents used by Citadel Oracle to open its corporate account.
To open the controversial account, Joseph said a fake board resolution purportedly issued by Citadel Oracle management was procured, with Ozims, Oyebode and Igbokwe conferred the power of attorney to act as “directors” of the company and authorized signatories to the account.
Although the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police in Lagos confirmed the conclusion of its investigations since 2014 and the suspects found culpable of the offence, their prosecution stalled as the police refused to release the original case file.
Petitioner-turns-accused
Curiously, on June 16, 2016, Joseph was charged to court by the police for “false petitioning”. On July 2, 2016, 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 accused.
Interesting, all the suspects Joseph named in his petition were used by the police prosecution counsel, Simon Lough, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, as prosecution witnesses.
The case was later transferred to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Nyanya presided by Justice Peter Kekemeke.
At the opening of his defence on November 27, 2020, Joseph named the Chief Executive of Zinox Group, Leonard Ekeh, as one of the key accomplices in the fraud. Ekeh has always denied his involvement.
Joseph told the court how Igbokwe and Kama denied knowledge of the contract when confronted with discovery by his company’s auditor when he went to the FIRS Ibadan to submit the company’s annual audited account.
Rather than accept to put into writing her denial of knowledge about the contract, Joseph said Kama insisted on him attending a meeting with her and her bosses.
Continuation of defence
At the resumed sitting for the continuation of his defence on Tuesday, Joseph said having rejected the invitation for the meeting, Kama later decided to visit the Corporate headquarters of his company in Ibadan, accompanied by her brother, Tochukwu.
In a meeting during the visit, Joseph said Kama, in the presence of Emeka Nwachukwu, an NDLEA official, still denied knowledge about those who executed the contract in his compay’s name.
Pressed further, Joseph said Kama offered to give his company a letter of indemnity, which he said he rejected.
Joseph told the court Kama then told him rather than insisting on knowing those who executed the contract, she would advise him to name his price, because she knew that he would not be able to confront the people.
On his insistence, Joseph said Kama mentioned Technology Distribution Limited, which she said was a subsidiary of Zinox Group, as the company behind the contract.
Not satisfied, Joseph said he insisted on knowing the names of persons in TD who were involved. This, he said, angered Kama who suddenly got up, carried her handbag and walked out of the meeting with her brother.
Before leaving, Joseph said she warned him to let sleeping dogs lie and forget about inquiring further into the matter if he loved his life, saying in Igbo language: “A man who insists on seeing everything under his two legs will hit his head on the ground.”
Afe Babalola connection
After the meeting, Joseph said he contacted Chief Afe Babalola, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who on getting the brief on the fraud, directed one of the staff in his Chambers to write a letter to the FIRS requesting all details about the alleged contract, those who executed it and the account into which the payment was made.
After the letter was delivered to the FIRS, Joseph said he proceeded on a vacation in the United States with his family, a trp he said was earlier planned for August 2013.
While in Maryland, USA, Joseph said he contacted Chief Babalola, who said his Chambers received a response from Igbokwe’s lawyers, Anthony Okah & Co. requesting for a meeting on September 26, 2013.
Joseph said he told Chief Babalola that although it would be a good idea to attend the meeting to hear their story, he would not be available since he would not return to Nigeria from his vacation before September. With that, Joseph said Chief Babalola offered to host the meeting in his Chambers at Ado Ekiti.
After the meeting, Joseph said Chief Babalola called to inform him in the US that Chief Igbokwe and others were still denying any involvement in the contract fraud. Joseph said Chief Babalola also said they asked for time to investigate who executed the contract.
On returning to Nigeria from the US, Joseph said he went to Chief Babalola who informed him Chief Igbokwe’s lawyers had brought another letter with an offer to pay N5.6million.
With that offer, Joseph said Chief Babalola was convinced that indeed Chief Igbokwe and others knew something about the fraud, and encouraged him to dig further to get the account used for the payment by FIRS.
Search for culprits
Joseph said Chief Babalola asked that his Chambers should write to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation to request for details of the contract payment.
Meanwhile, Joseph said he kept visiting all the banks in Ibadan his company had accounts with, to find which of them could have been used for the fraud.
When he could not find any, Joseph said he was in Lagos for a different business and visited Access Bank to request them to conduct a nationwide search on his company’s accounts, despite not in possession of the account numbers.
He said on conducting the search, three accounts with his company’s name and their current balances were found.
Joseph said initially the cashier copied and handed him details of the three accounts, only to request that the third account be withdrawn, claiming he was not a signatory to the account in Lagos.
Although the cashier had canceled the third account on the paper they were written, Joseph said the details of the Account number were still legible to read.
On his return to Ibadan, Joseph said he went to the branch of Access Bank where his company has accounts and requested for the statement of the third account.
Again, after the bank official printed the account statement, Joseph said she refused to release the copy to him, also on grounds that he was not a signatory to the account.
On his insistence, the bank official invited the attention of her colleagues, who also supported why they would not release the statement to him.
When the attention of the Branch Manager was invited, Joseph said he advised him to get the authority of the signatories to the account before the statement could be released to him.
Frustrated, Joseph said he sent for N10,000 from his company which he paid into the account and collected a deposit teller.
He said he also called a friend to pay a N15,000 cheque into the account so that when goes for clearing it would be difficult for the bank to deny the existence of the account in the system.
Armed with the account number, Joseph said he returned to Chief Babalola with evidence of the breakthrough.
He said Chief Babalola instructed his Chambers to write a letter to Access Bank demanding the details of the fictitious account and all the accounts opening documents.
Joseph said Chief Babalola accused the bank in his letter of fraudulently opening the account without the knowledge of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited despite the company being its customer since 2008.
After three weeks, Joseph said Access Bank responded to Chief Babalola’s letter informing him they commenced internal investigations into the fraud.
Meeting with police SFU
Joseph said Chief Babalola then advised him to send a report to the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police, after he said he had called the Commissioner of Police, Ogunshakin. At the SFIU, Joseph said he submitted a formal petition.
Based on the petition, Joseph said the police investigated the matter in November 2013 and came up with details about the exact people who opened the fraudulent account at Access Bank in the name of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited.
Joseph said the police listed the names to include Chris Eze Ozims and Folashade Oyebode, who were the signatories who operated the account in the name of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, even where none of them was a member of staff of the company.
He said police investigations also revealed they were all staff of Technology Distribution Limited, a subsidiary of Zinox Technologies Limited.
Joseph said the duo were invited by the police along with Princess Kama, Onny Igbokwe, Obilo Onuoha (the Accounts Manager at Access Bank that helped open the account) and Deborah Ijeabu and Charles Adigwe (the Accountant of TD Limited).
Joseph said all the suspects made statements to the police, which later invited all parties to the case to a meeting where he said he was shown for the first time the account opening documents showing his company’s address as Suite A11 Banex Plaza, an address he said belongs to Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited owned by Chief Igbokwe.
On the account opening document, Joseph said the phone numbers written on the account were the same on Ad’mas Technologies headed paper used by Chief Igbokwe to write a letter to his company on September 9, 2013 when confronted with the findings on the fraud.
Besides, Joseph said the email on the account opening documents did not belong to his company, while another purported to belong to his wife who is the deputy managing director was also wrong.
Asked to give his correct email addressed, Joseph said his was [email protected], or citadeloracle.com, while that of the wife was [email protected]
On the customer compliance form, Joseph said only his middle name (Onyebuchi) was used as his mother’s maiden, rather than Ogbodo. He said where his signature was supposed to appear on the form was left vacant.
On the second customer compliance form, Joseph said it was Chris Eze Ozims who filled and signed, while the third customer compliance form was signed by Folashade Oyebode.
On the mandate card, Joseph said his name was written without all his particulars, including his date of birth, while the space for signatory authorization left vacant, same as the space for passport.
He said the second account mandate form had Folashade Oyebode’s name and signature on it, while the mandate form was filled and signed by Chris Eze Ozims.
He said the utility bill used in opening the account was an Abuja Development Levy receipt with Suite A11 Banex Plaza, Wuse, Abuja.
The Board Resolution dated December 18, 2012, Joseph said, carried his forged signature. He noted that both the letter headed paper use to draft the Board Resolution was not from his company, while its quality fell far short of the standard of his company’s several Board Resolution issued when opening other accounts.
In the forged Board Resolution document, Joseph said only one person’s signature was used, against his company’s standard practice of using the signatures of the Managing Director and Company Secretary.
Also, in the forged document, Joseph said his name and that of his wife were used without their signatures, while a similar form had the names and signatures of Chris Ozims and Folashade Oyebode on them. The portion for authorization signature, Joseph said, was left blank.
Where the Company Secretary was supposed to sign, Joseph said, was left blank, while the reference form was completed by Chief Onny Igbokwe and Princess O. Kama.
Initially, Joseph said Princess Kama written on the form was cancelled and replaced with Ad’mas Digital Technologies as the company that referred Citadel Oracle to Access Bank.
On the second reference form, Joseph said the name of Chief Onny Igbokwe was cancelled and replaced with Pirovic Services Engineering Limited.
Ad’mas and Pirovics are two companies belonging to Chief Onny Igbokwe who he said denied in his letter of September 9, 2013 ever having anything about the fraud.
Also, on the know-your-customer (KYC) form, which the bank ought to have completed on visiting his company to know its owners, Joseph said, carried his name and the company’s, but with Chief Igbokwe;s telephone numbers.
He said during the meeting with the SFIU, Folashade Oyebode confessed that they never visited Citadel Oracle, rather all contacts were made to Chief Igbokwe. Folashade had also confessed that Accountant of TD, Charles Adigwe completed all the account opening forms.
At the meeting with SFU, Joseph said the police said since nobody agreed to have signed the Board Resolution, they would conduct forensic analysis on the document. He said he asked the police to also extend the forensic analysis to the account opening forms.
Joseph also said Chris Eze Ozims also denied meeting Princess Kama until they were arrested by the police in 2013.
The case was adjourned to Wednesday for continuation of defence.
One case, same set of facts, different outcomes
The case is fast becoming a sensational one that should attract the attention of anti-corruption agencies.
While the trial of the petitioner by the police is ongoing, a judge of the FCT High Court in Jabi, Danlami Senchi, on Wednesday, February 24 discharged and acquitted two of the seven suspects, Onny Igbokwe and Princess Kama, arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes (Commission) on a four-count charge of conspiracy, document falsification, forgery and fraud.
Following the refusal of the police to prosecute the seven suspects after the SFU’s investigations completed in 2014 found them culpable of the crime, Joseph in 2016 petitioned Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo who directed the EFCC to investigate the allegations.
Court documents obtained by MEDIATRACNET showed that although the investigation by the EFCC also confirmed the suspects’ culpability, the anti-graft agency’s prosecution deliberately build a case pre-determined to fail in court.
Apart from refusing to tender vital credible documents that would prove its case, the EFCC prosecution counsel, Jude Obozuwa, ensured even those tendered would easily be dismissed or knocked off on minor technical points.
Throughout the trial, the nominal complainant in the case, who was a crucial party to give evidence of the fraud was not invited to testify throughout the four years the case lasted.
On Friday, February 26, counsel to the complainant filed an appeal at the Appeal Court, Abuja seeking to quash the discharge and acquittal of the two suspects and setting aside the entire judgement.

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