Hearing continued on Wednesday at the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo, Abuja, in the N2 billion libel suit by Zinox Technologies Limited against PREMIUM TIMES.
While the suit continues, PREMIUM TIMES has exclusively obtained a police investigations report that indicted the chairman of Zinox, Leonard Ekeh, and some of the company’s other officials of involvement in a N170 million fraud that led to the ongoing libel suit.
On Tuesday, Zinox Technologies spokesperson, Gideon Ayogu, continued his testimony in the libel suit that began on October 4, 2019.
After Mr Ayogu’s testimony, which lasted barely five minutes, lawyer to Zinox Technologies, Patrick Ikwueto, a senior advocate of Nigeria, presented some documents he said was part of the evidence in its case.
Before adjourning the case to March 15, 16, 17 and 24, 2021 for the continuation of hearing, Justice S.C. Oriji accepted the documents in evidence.
But, hearing in the case is continuing amid fresh evidence obtained by PREMIUM TIMES that shows that Mr Ekeh, along with all the officials named in previous reports, were indeed complicit in the reported fraud case that led to the libel suit.
On May 15, 2017, Zinox Technologies Limited sued this newspaper over a report in its September 15, 2016 edition.
The report said the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), quizzed Mr Ekeh, alongside two senior officials of a Zinox affiliate, Technology Distribution, as well as two officials of Access bank, over alleged N170.3 million contract fraud.
The report was based on a petition dated July 3, 2014, by the Managing Director of an Ibadan-based IT retail firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, Benjamin Joseph, against the officials.
In the petition to the then Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of Force Criminal Investigation Bureau (FCIB), Solomon Arase, Mr Joseph accused Messrs Onny Igbokwe and Princess Kama of conspiring with the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and TD, Chris Ozims, and other officials to hijack and illegally execute the contract awarded to his company by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in 2012.
Mr Igbokwe is the chief executive of a Port Harcourt-based IT company, Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited, as well as Pirovics Engineering Services Limited, while Ms. Kama allegedly facilitated the fraud.
Mr Joseph also accused a director of TD, Folashade Oyebode, and two staff of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu, of involvement in the alleged crime.
The businessman said the suspects 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 by the FIRS, Mr Joseph said the suspects approached officials of the Awolowo Road, Ikoyi branch of Access Bank (Messrs Onuoha and Ijeabu) to release to them the original copies of documents used by Citadel Oracle to open its corporate account.
To open the controversial account, Mr Joseph said a fake board resolution purportedly issued by Citadel Oracle management was procured, with Messrs Ozims, Oyebode and Igbokwe conferred the power of attorney to act as “directors” of the company and authorised signatories to the account.
Further reporting, based on the review of documents used in issuing instructions for the disbursement of funds from the fictitious account at Access Bank to various benefiting parties in the fraud, showed that even the Managing Director of Zinox Group, Chioma Ekeh, who is also the chairperson’s wife, was also involved in the scandal.
The documents show that she was the one who gave instructions to the company’s accountant, Charles Adigwe, to disburse various sums to different bank accounts belonging to various parties involved in the deal.
Although the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police in Lagos said its investigations since 2014 confirmed the accused were culpable of the offence, their prosecution was stalled as the police refused to release the original case file to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
Zinox sues PREMIUM TIMES
Following the report, Zinox Technologies filed the suit accusing PREMIUM TIMES’ Publisher/Chief Executive Officer, Dapo Olorunyomi; Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, and Business Editor, Bassey Udo, of libelling Mr Ekeh.
In its statement of claims before the court, counsel to Zinox Technologies, Chukwuma Ekomaru, said Mr Ekeh was never involved in the scam.
Mr Ekomaru of Patrick Ikwueto Chambers further sought to distance Zinox Technologies and its chairperson, Mr Ekeh, from the case.
Apart from the demand for N2 billion in damages and N10 billion in cost of litigation, Zinox Technologies asked the court to impose an order of perpetual injunction restraining PREMIUM TIMES from further publication on the scam.
But, standing by its report, PREMIUM TIMES filed a counter-motion, No. M/1003/18, demanding a N10 billion compensation from Zinox Technologies for questioning the facts of its reporting and bringing its integrity to disrepute.
The libel suit against PREMIUM TIMES by Zinox Technologies disregarded the ruling of the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere on May 2, 2017, which said its top officials and those of TD accused of complicity in the fraud, had a case to answer.
In his ruling, Justice Femi Adeniyi dismissed all the preliminary objections by Zinox Technologies, with a N100,000 cost, while the application by Access Bank was equally dismissed with N50,000 cost.
Justice Adeniyi said the objections by Zinox Technologies that its top officials were not involved in the case of “impersonation, forgery and contract scam” did not only lack merit, but also incompetent, and did not deserve any serious consideration by the court.
PREMIUM TIMES has now obtained the certified true copy (CTC) of the Police Investigation Report on the petition by Mr Joseph dated July 3, 2014.
The document shows the chairperson of Zinox Technologies, Mr Ekeh, was not only involved in the contract fraud, he was the fifth of eight suspects listed in the report for criminal prosecution at the end of the investigation by the police.
The report No. CR: 3000/X/FHQ/ABJ/SEB/Vol.41 dated April 7, 2015 was signed by Olayinka Ajeigbe, then a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Team ‘A’ Leader, Special Enquiry Bureau, Force Criminal Intelligence & Investigation Department (FCIID), Abuja.
The report titled: ‘Re: Case of Identity theft, Impersonation and Criminal Conversion of Contract worth over N170million committed against Citadel Oracle Concept Limited’ was addressed to the Commissioner of Police (Administration), Special Enquiry Bureau, FCIID, Nigeria Police, Abuja.
The suspects listed in the report included “Princess Kama Onyeoma, Chief Onny S.O. Igbokwe, Mr. Chris Eze Ozims, Folashade Oyebode, Chief Leo Stan Ekeh, Charles Adigwe, Obilo Onuoha, (and) Deborah Ojeabu.
The report had the words “At Large” written after Mr Ekeh’s name on the list, suggesting he made himself unavailable to answer questions over his role in the scam.
In the report, Mr Ajeigbe said based on the petition by Mr Joseph, his department conducted investigations, which included invitation of all the parties named in the petition for questioning as well as the forensic analyses of the transaction documents and signatures.
At the end of the investigations, the report confirmed all the allegations by Mr Joseph in his petition against the suspects. But, the report became one of the most closely guarded documents in the police until late.
Part of the police’s findings was that the statement of account forwarded by the FIRS to the SEB FCIID revealed that four contracts were awarded to Citadel Oracle Limited and total sum of N216.6 million was paid.
Out of the amount, about N115.2 million was transferred to Technology Distribution Limited account with Guaranty Trust Bank, while the sum of N38 million was moved into the account of Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited with Zenith Bank Plc.
Based on its findings, the Bureau recommended that the case file be “forwarded to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to commence prosecution of the suspects without further delay.”
Based on the recommendation of the Bureau, Olufemi Oyeleye, a Commissioner of Police in charge of Administration, FCIID on April 16, 2015 forwarded the report with cover letter No. CR: 3000/X/FHQABJ/SEB/Vol.4/106 to the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, for action.
DPP requests for case file
The report was forwarded by Mr Oyeleye in response to a request for the case file contained in letter No. DPP/ADV:1009/14 dated March 9, 2015, by the then Director of DPP, Mohammad Diri.
No action was taken by Mr Arase on the matter.
On May 8, 2015, Mr Joseph wrote to Mr Arase, who was just promoted Inspector general of Police (IGP) to remind him about the pending request by DPP Diri for the transfer of the case file to his office for the prosecution of the suspects.
In the letter, Mr Joseph complained about his frustration in getting the suspects prosecuted. On May 14, 2015, Mr Arase in his response advised Mr Joseph to “allow the matter to run its full course with a view to preventing a miscarriage of justice.”
Not satisfied, on December 2, 2015, Mr Joseph petitioned Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who directed the EFCC to wade in, with a view to resolving the matter.
On December 21, 2015, the VP directed the anti-graft agency to investigate the matter.
Twists and turns
Curiously, on June 16, 2016, three days before the end of IGP Arase’s tenure, the police charged Mr Joseph to court, accusing him of “providing false information in his petition against the suspects.”
The former IGP said Mr Joseph’s allegations in his July 3, 2014 petition about a fictitious board resolution of his company used by the suspects in the fraud to open a fake account, No. 0059202675, in Access Bank, through which the FIRS paid the proceeds from the contract fraud, were false.
On June 18, Mr Joseph petitioned the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, over his predicament.
On July 2, 2016, Mr Joseph 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.
Ironically, the suspects who were supposed to have been prosecuted were now used by the police prosecution counsel, Simon Lough, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, as prosecution witnesses against Mr Joseph.
Mr Malami responded with a directive to the newly appointed DPP, Mohammad Umar, to take over the prosecution of the case by the police to avoid a miscarriage of justice.
On December 7, 2016, the DPP’s representative, a senior counsel in the Federal Ministry of Justice, Aniekan Ekong, was in court to take over the case. He submitted the directive from the AGF to the court for the police to hands off the prosecution and transfer the case file to the DPP.
Surprisingly, on the adjourned sitting of the court on February 28, 2017, the police prosecutor, Mr Lough presented a letter purportedly signed by the DPP, upturning the AGF’s earlier directive, reinstating the police to continue the trial.
The DPP confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES on enquiry that he wrote the controversial letter reinstating the police, based on AGF’s instructions, following a petition by Integrity Law Firm, which claimed its client, the police, had a case pending against Mr Joseph.
On April 11, 2017, Mr. Joseph, through his counsel, Udah, Bala, James & Partners, again petitioned the AGF, accusing Stella Anukam, the then director of International and Comparative Law in the Federal Ministry of Justice of working through her brother and owner of Integrity Law firm, Innocent Eremionkhale, of planning to “truncate” the case.
Mrs Anukam’s brother, Innocent, joined Zinox Technologies to sue PREMIUM TIMES, claiming defamation.
A background check by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that Mrs Anukam was listed as a lead partner and management team member on Integrity Law Firm’s website, a development that violates public service rules barring government officials from private practice.
More twists with EFCC
Meanwhile, pursuant to the directive by the VP for it to investigate Mr Joseph’s petition, the EFCC, between September 2017 and May 2017, quizzed all the suspects, including Mr Ekeh and wife, Chioma.
Interestingly, documents reviewed by PREMIUM TIMES showed that Mrs Anukam, the director in the justice ministry of Justice, was also one of those who stood sureties for some of the suspects.
Although they confirmed the allegations by Mr Joseph, including the forensic analysis of the forged signature of the Board resolution used in opening the fictitious account at Access Bank, only two of the suspects, Messrs Igbokwe and Kama were arraigned for the crime.
Both were arraigned before Justice D. Senchi of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja on a four-count charge of committing the alleged offences. The case is still ongoing, simultaneously with Mr Joseph’s trial by the police, at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Nyanya presided by Peter Kekemeke.
Although the suspects have since made their closing statements in the EFCC trial, Mr Joseph has complained on more than one occasion that he was being denied the opportunity to defend himself.
Petitioner demands N1 billion from police, prosecutor
Apparently frustrated by the police continued refusal to ensure diligent prosecution of the suspects, Mr Joseph, who only last Thursday opened his defence for the first time after four years of trial, petitioned the IGP, threatening to file a N1 billion suit against the Nigeria police and his prosecutor, Mr Lough, if they fail to take steps to discontinue his trial.
In the petition dated October 23, 2020, by his counsel, Bob James Co. (Legal Practitioners), Mr Joseph highlighted Mr Lough’s role in shielding the suspects by doing everything to frustrate their prosecution.
“When the SFU finished their investigation into this case, they established that the fraud was perpetrated by the suspects and the police report stated that the suspects should be charged to court. The DPP even asked for the original case file to prosecute them. CSP Simon Lough has refused up till today to handover the case file,” Mr Joseph lamented.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...