Business - Investigations - News - March 5, 2021

N170m FIRS contract fraud: Petitioner facing police trial declared over N700m turnover in 2012

Says he did not need credit from TD to execute contract as N500m written guarantee from bankers was enclosed in company’s bid to FIRS

Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited whose managing director, Benjamin Joseph, is currently facing a one-count charge by the police accused of “false petitioning” in the controversial N170 million contract fraud actually declared over N700million turnover in 2012, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Nyanya heard on Wednesday.
Joseph told the court presided by Justice Peter Kekemeke that is contrary to claims by the suspects in the contract fraud that he consented to the decision for his company to approach Technology Distributions Limited (TD) for credit facility to fund the contract.
Prior to the bid for the N154million contract, which costed about N70million to execute, Joseph said his company had no concerns about where to get money to execute the contract if the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) were to have awarded it.
Apart from its solid liquidity level, he said Citadel Oracle had submitted along with the bid a N500million written guarantee for financial support from its bankers, First Bank of Nigeria (FBN) PLC, in case the contract was awarded to it.
Ten times financial capacity
By 1992, Joseph said his company had the financial capacity to execute ten times the value of the contract that was awarded to his company, which was hijacked and illegally executed by members of a fraud syndicate.
“My Lord, there was no due diligence carried out to find out if Citadel Oracle had the capacity to execute the contract.
“TD knows Citadel Oracle very well. We used to attend meetings of computer retail operators together in Lagos. The address of directors of Citadel Oracle are listed on the HP (Hewlett Packard) website in Switzerland.
“They (TD) have proposed many times to partner with us in business. We were the biggest computer retail outlet in the whole of South West. We did not need to seek credit from TD before executing the contract.
“As at the time of the transaction, my bank, First Bank of Nigeria PLC wrote to FIRS with our account number, sort code and address guaranteeing that in the event of the contract awarded to Citadel Oracle that they were ready to give N500millionsupport. This is one of the documents I sent to Kama to submit for me at FIRS,” Joseph told the court.
Beyond its financial capacity, Joseph said Citadel Oracle had enough properties at the time which could have been used as collateral to secure loan from many of the banks that were pursuing the company with credit facilities.
Even after the fraud, Joseph said Citadel Oracle took a N240million loan in 2013 from Standard Chartered Bank with a collateral of over N377million.
“My Lord, you can see our company was well positioned to handle any contract, which TD, Kama and Igbokwe knew very well,” Joseph said.
Backstory
It was the second day of his defence before the court. In October 2013, Joseph petitioned the then Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of Force Criminal Investigation Bureau (FCIB), Solomon Arase, accusing Onny Igbokwe and Princess Kama of conspiring with some senior officials of Zinox Technologies Limited and its subsidiary, TD, to commit fraud.
Joseph alleged the duo 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 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 who was handed the contract’s bid documents in Ibadan to help summit at the FIRS in Abuja betrayed the trust and handed them over to the fraud syndicate that hijacked and executed the contract without his knowledge.
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 two officials of the Awolowo Road, Ikoyi branch of Access Bank (Onuoha and Ijeabu) illegally released to the syndicate the original 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.
Curiously, on June 16, 2016, Joseph was handed 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 suspects. He was arraigned on July 2, 2016.

Second day of defence
On the second day of his defence on Wednesday, Joseph told the court he did not go to Garki 2 Branch of Access Bank, Abuja with Kama to submit the documents used in opening the fictitious account into which the FIRS made the contract fraud payment.
Rather he made reference to a November 11, 2013 letter by Chris Eze Ozims to Access Bank in which he named Igbokwe as the person who took all the documents, including the fake Board Resolution of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, to the bank.
Joseph said Ozims also confirmed Igbokwe provided the Citadel Oracle registration certificate.
Also, Joseph said Ozims equally wrote in the letter that Igbokwe was given an agreement for him purportedly between TD and Citadel Oracle, to cover a mutual understanding over the deal.
Joseph said the agreement, which was attached to the documents given to the police, was never brought to his attention, nor was it executed by the suspects.
To confirm he never consented to the said agreement, Joseph told the court that Igbokwe in his statement said that he got the document from Kama to show to the MD of Citadel Oracle as he was traveling to Lagos to meet with him.
Joseph said Igbokwe confirmed in his statement to the police that he never agreed to the conditions contained in the document.
Despite not being executed, Joseph said investigations showed that after the FIRS payment for the contract, Igbokwe in an email to the Accountant of TD, Charles Adigwe, on January 25, 2013, citing the agreement, requested the transfer of his share of the money from the fake account in Access Bank to his account ostensibly for Citadel Oracle.
Joseph said on the basis of the unexecuted agreement, the Director of TD, Chioma Ekeh, approved that N38million be transferred to Ad’mas account, and another N115million to her account at Guaranty Trust Bank.
Following the transfers, Joseph said his company’s findings revealed that Access Bank charged cost of transaction as well as another charge for conducting search on the account, thus running it into debit balance.
Joseph said further findings by his company showed that the account was left with a debit balance from February 2013 until October 2013 when the fraud was discovered after he visited the bank to request for a nationwide search to be conducted on his company’s accounts at Access Bank.
On why the fake account was opened by Access Bank without contacting Citadel Oracle management, which also has its corporate account with the bank, Joseph said Obilo Onuoha, the Access Bank staff who facilitated the process, had confessed in his statement to the police that was possible because of the bank’s relationship with both Zinox Group and TD.
Joseph said Onuoha had also confirmed in his statement that throughout the transaction he never met with the managing director of Citadel Oracle, and that all his dealings were with Igbokwe and the signatories to the fake account, Ozims and Oyebode.
On claims by Kama that she was given an official authorization to represent Citadel Oracle in all aspects of the transaction, Joseph said the letter he wrote to FIRS dated December 13, 2012 authorizing her to relate with the agency was not sent to her directly.
Rather Joseph said the letter was sent to FIRS through one Perpetua Nweke requesting the agency to extend to Kama all necessary cooperation in respect of the submission of the bid for the contract.
He said when Kama later told him at FIRS did not accept the photocopy of the letter of introduction sent to her, the original letter of introduction he wrote expecting to give to her during the meeting in Lagos that Igbokwe offered Citadel Oracle N15million to walk away from the contract, was never given to her.
Till today, Joseph said the original copy of the letter of introduction he wanted to give to Kama introducing her as staff of Citadel Oracle is still with him.
Joseph said after the meeting in Lagos when Igbokwe gave him unacceptable conditions about the contract that were against his business principles and belief, he said he promptly wrote a letter dated December 13, 2013 to withdraw the introductory letter to the FIRS for Kama’s representation of Citadel Oracle and terminating every relationship of the company with her.
He said the letter, which was attached to the petition he wrote on July 3, 2014 to the Deputy Inspector of Police, Solomon Arase, was not listed by the prosecution counsel among the documents submitted as proof of evidence.

Kama represented Ad’mas
Joseph said findings from the minutes of the Financial Bid opening at FIRS on November 16, 2012 showed that Kama did not represent Citadel Oracle. Rather, it was one Okechukwu Ani whom he said he never met, or known to have ever been a staff of the company, who did.
Similarly, Joseph said the invoice and delivery note with a forged Citadel Oracle letter-headed paper issued to FIRS after the contract was signed by one Ikechukwu Ulu who he said was neither a staff of his company nor any person known to him.
He said till date the police have not only failed to invite Ulu to give evidence in court, the invoice which carried two telephone numbers known to belong to Igbokwe, have not been released to him by the police or tendered in court, same as the acceptance of contract document, he said was signed by Kama in her capacity as managing director.
“My Lord, the whole exercise showed that I was betrayed by Kama right from the onset. Records showed that Princess Kama was in that meeting to represent Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited,” Joseph said.
On the structure of the controversial Board Resolution used in opening the fake account at Access Bank, Joseph said it did not conform with his company’s standard and quality.
In all his official correspondences, Joseph said he never signed off as Chairman/MD of his company as the case in the fake Board Resolution.
He said what he observed was that the suspects had cut that unusual style from the previous letter of December 13, 2012 sent through Perpetua Nweke to FIRS, which was issued on his behalf by a staff of his company when he was out of town, and pasted on the fake document.
Besides, Joseph said he observed that the Board Resolution was written on a scanned letter-headed paper against his company’s practice that such important document must be original.
Also, Joseph said a review of the contract documents of December 5, 2012 showed that contrary to his company’s standard of practice, Kama signed as the managing director of Citadel Oracle in the first and third contracts, while signing as Company Secretary in the second.
Joseph said in the course of his investigations at the FIRS he discovered the suspect had written a letter of an irrevocable order to the agency barring it from honouring any other correspondences that would contravene the forged documents. He said a copy of the order was sent to TD.

N10m offer for peaceful settlement
At the end of the series of meetings with the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police, Joseph told the court how Igbokwe in a letter dated February 20, 2014 he personally signed and addressed to him in which he acknowledged the intervention of General Oladapo Popoola (Rtd) in an attempt to resolve the matter.
In the letter, Joseph said Igbokwe, who expressed regrets over his role in the transaction, offered to pay N10million to Citadel Oracle as a way of peaceful settlement.
On March 18, 2014, Joseph said Igbokwe, in furtherance to peaceful settlement, again repeated the offer in a letter he wrote to Popoola asking the General to call him (Joseph) to order.
Joseph said he rejected both offers from Igbokwe, insisting on a letter of apology and a notarized indemnity of his business against future liabilities as a result of the contract award.
After his protest letter of July 2014 to the DIG of Police, Joseph said the police confirmed it had commenced investigations into his claims, but asked for the case file.
However, while waiting for the case file, Joseph said Igbokwe’s lawyers sent a letter to the DIG misinforming him that investigations have already been concluded on the matter and the outcome sent to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
While the investigation by the police was ongoing, Joseph told the court he went to see then DIG Solomon Arase who informed him that the suspects had come to inform him that he (Joseph) rejected the settlement offers made to him.

Arase sides with suspects
He said Arase wanted to know why he was being difficult and refusing to accept money to settle the matter.
“My Lord, I told Arase I am not being difficult, but afraid that since the contract was given to Citadel Oracle, question will be asked several years later.
“I requested that if such offers should be considered, there should be minutes of the meeting where the offer would be captured, to protect me tomorrow against any issue from FIRS. Arase said there would be no such minutes and advised me to go and wait till the civil case is completed,” Joseph told the court.
On March 12, 2015, Joseph said he was informed by the police officer that handled the investigations that the Attorney General of the Federation had written to confirm that after studying the case file sent by the SFU, a prima facie case was established against all the suspects.
Joseph said the IPO informed him that the letter dated March 9, 2015 written by then DPP Mohammed Diri followed his July 3, 2014 petition to the DIG on the matter.
By May 2015, Joseph said a new DIG was appointed and Arase had become Inspector General of Police. Joseph said the new DIG was ready to go ahead with the prosecution of the suspects following the Police Report, which said a comprehensive legal advice from the DPP indicted the suspects.
However, while they were doing the case, Joseph said a legal advice came from the AGF’s office asking the police to bring the case for prosecution to commence. He said the police has refused to produce the case file till as they said Arase retired with it.
The case was adjourned at this point till June 9 and 10 for continuation of defence.

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