Counsel accuses EFCC of withholding evidence in alleged N170 million contract fraud

EFCC Operatives used to illustrate the story.
EFCC Operatives used to illustrate the story.

Lawyers to the petitioner in the alleged N170 million contract fraud against top officials of Zinox Technologies Limited and its subsidiary, Technology Distributions Limited, have again cried out against alleged attempts to compromise the trial of the accused.

The case is becoming a litmus test for the anti-corruption posture of the present administration, as the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) has already described it as “very complicated owing to undue interference in investigation and prosecution.”

EFCC prosecution withholding vital documents

In a protest letter to the anti-graft agency, EFCC, Bob James of Bob James & Co., counsel to the petitioners, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited and its managing director, Joseph Benjamin, accused the EFCC of withholding vital documents and refusing to investigate the evidence against the accused.

In the letter dated November 5 to the Head, Procurement Fraud Unit of the EFCC in Abuja, Mr James said although a case of forgery and use of forged documents to operate a bank account by the fraud syndicate was being investigated, “very vital facts and documents that pointed conclusively to the involvement of the suspects were glossed over or totally ignored (by the unit).”

The lawyer said the “oversight” is provoking some fundamental questions about what could have happened to the original document titled, “Letter of Acceptance and Authority, which one of the key suspects, Princess Kama, insisted was the basis of her involvement in the scam.”

“The truth is that the document was NEVER given to her. The original is still with our client till today,” Mr James said.

“If she (Kama) and FIRS do not have the original, it proves the position of our client that she was never given the document to present to the FIRS,” he added.

He said his client had showed the original of the document to the EFCC at the beginning of its investigation.

In her defence during the trial, Ms Kama insisted Mr Joseph, the Managing Director of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, had issued the document to appoint her as the company’s approved representative in the scam.

Other documents not investigated

Also, when the alleged fraud was uncovered in 2013, Mr James said his client had confronted Ms Kama about his discovery through telephone calls on August 20 and 21 that year, an encounter he said were recorded.

The lawyer said despite the crucial importance of the recorded conversations in which the suspect denied any contract was ever executed in the name of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, the EFCC refused to investigate the evidence.

In addition, the lawyer listed several other ‘forged’ documents he said were used by the syndicate in perpetrating the fraud which the forensic unit of the anti-graft agency refused to investigate.

The documents include an allegedly forged “Letter of Acceptance” of the contract award dated December 14, 2012, signed by Ms Kama, and an allegedly forged resolution of the Board of Directors’ of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited of the same date signed by the same suspect.

The other documents Mr James accused the EFCC of refusing to investigate include the irrevocable standing order for payment dated December 18, 2012 also signed the same suspect, and an invoice dated December 20, 2012 signed by one Ikechukwu Ulu, who Citadel Oracle Concept Limited has denied ever being its staff.

Again, Mr James said the EFCC failed to investigate a ‘forged’ delivery note dated December 20, 2012 and signed by the same Ikechukwu Ulu.

He said the EFCC also ignored investigating one Okechukwu Ani identified in the report by the FIRS on the fraudulent contract as representative of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited at the financial bids opening exercise whom his client has since denied ever knowing.

One Kama, many designations

In the letter conveying the notification of the award of contract to the ‘phantom’ winner, Mr James said Ms Kama signed variously as Secretary to the Board of Directors of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, Managing Director and manager.

“She could not be said to have acted honestly if she was seen to have a split personality to act in various capacities for the same company in the same transaction,” the lawyer said.

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Apart from these documents, the lawyer said there were other important documents recovered by the EFCC during its investigation, which the prosecutor said he was not given by the investigators for use in the trial of the suspects.

The documents include the May 2012 pre-qualification documents titled: “2012 Pre-qualification Package 7” sent to Ms Kama by the Managing Director of Citadel Oracle to submit to FIRS and letter by the Director of Public Prosecution to the EFCC dated June 17, 2016.

Urging the EFCC to forward to the prosecutor these documents and other bundles of documents submitted by the petitioner on October 7 this year, Mr James said the investigators would be required the document to successfully prosecute the case.

Falana seeks powers to prosecute suspects

In November, 2018, Femi Falana, wrote to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, seeking powers to prosecute the suspects.

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria requested the minister to grant him fiat to prosecute the accused persons for their alleged roles in the scam pursuant to section 104(2) of the administration of criminal justice Act.

In the letter, he listed the names of the suspects to include Onny Igbokwe, Princess Kama, Folashade Oyebode, Charles Adigwe, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ojeabu.

The Attorney-General is yet to respond to the request by Mr Falana. He has always evaded inquiries by PREMIUM TIMES on the issue.

Falana petitions EFCC Chairman

Last July 25, a lawyer in Falana & Falana Chambers, Marshal Abubakar, wrote to the acting Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, to accuse the anti-graft agency’s prosecutors in the trial of the suspects, Jude Obozuwa and Egbe Omagbitse, of conducting a suspicious prosecution.

The law firm identified at least ten flaws and contradictions in the testimony by the two EFCC prosecution witnesses in the trial.

For instance, Mr Abubakar said the claim by Mr Omagbitse, a principal witness in the trial, that Mr Joseph issued a letter of authority and acceptance to Ms Kama contradicted his earlier statement on October 22, 2018 that the letter was later withdrawn.

Mr Abubakar said even the FIRS officials in statements to the EFCC never said they received any such letter from Mr Joseph, who is still with the original copy of the letter.

Again, the lawyer said Mr Joseph never authorized Ms Kama to act as the Company Secretary, Manager and Managing Director of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited she claimed.

On the forensic report by the EFCC, which confirmed Mr Joseph’s signature on the fake Board Resolution was actually forged, Mr Abubakar expressed shock that the prosecution team never tendered the report, nor testified on it.

Background to the story

In October 2013, Mr Joseph had in a petition to the police accused Messrs Igbokwe and Kama of conspiring with the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and Technology Distributions Limited, TD, Chris Ozims, and other officials to hijack and illegally execute the contract awarded to his company by the FIRS.

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 crime.

The petitioner said the suspects committed the fraud by using a fake account they opened at Access Bank with forged documents of his company, including a fake Board Resolution that appointed them “managers of the account.”

To facilitate payment for the contract, Mr Joseph said the suspects approached officials of the Awolowo Road, Ikoyi branch of Access Bank (Messrs Onuoha and Ijeabu) who released 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 authorized signatories to the account.

Petitioner turned accused

Although the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police in Lagos said its investigations since 2014 confirmed the accused were culpable of the offence, prosecution stalled as the police refused to release the original case file.

On May 8, 2015, Mr Joseph petitioned the then Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, to complain about his frustration to get the suspects prosecuted.

Curiously, on June 16, 2016, Mr Joseph was charged to court by the police and accused of providing false information in his petition against the suspects.

On July 2, 2016, he was arraigned before the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo, Abuja, with the suspects he petitioned against used as prosecution witnesses.

Mr Joseph petitioned the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to protest his trial.

On December 7, 2016, Mr Malami directed the DPP to take over the case, to avoid a miscarriage of justice.

But, on February 28, 2017, the directive was reversed after police, based on a letter by Integrity Law Firm, protested against the Attorney-General’s order.

In October 2018, Mr Joseph wrote to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to protest the decision by the EFCC to arraign only two members of the fraud syndicate, Onny Igbokwe and Princess Kama, out of seven suspects named in connection with the high profile scam.

Although the VP directed the anti-graft agency to investigate the allegations by Mr Joseph, nothing has come of it, as the police are continuing with his trial.

Early this year, Mr Joseph took his case before the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).

But, after a review of the volume of documents submitted with the petition, the Executive Secretary presidential committee, Sadiq Radda, in his response, dated March 5 this year, described the case as “very complicated owing to undue interference in investigation and prosecution.”

He said: “The case borders on fraud and some elements of impersonation. Cases of this nature are usually handled by the police. If not satisfied, you can file complaints to relevant bodies and agencies for intervention.

“It is PACAC’s view that the case has become a debacle, as you are entangled in the Ministry of Justice, The Nigerian Police Force and the Federal Inland Revenue Service.”

Mr Radda advised Mr Joseph to also explore the possibility of seeking remedy with the Public Complaints Commission, Police Service Commission, SERVICOM and ACTU sections of the Ministry of Justice, the Police and FIRS, NASS Committee on Anti-Corruption, and the National Human Rights Commission.

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