N170m Fraud: Signature on bank document ‘mechanically imported’- EFCC

EFCC officials

The trial of Onny Igbokwe and Princess Kama for fraud continued on Tuesday at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Jabi, Abuja.

Mr Igbokwe and Ms Kama are standing trial over allegations made by Benjamin Joseph, the managing director of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, an Ibadan-based computer retail firm, that they conspired with some officials of Zinox Group to hijack and execute a N170 million contract awarded to his company by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in 2012.

Details of the petition

In a petition to the police in October 2013, Mr Joseph said apart from the contract, the suspects also opened a fake account at the Awolowo Road, Lagos branch of Access Bank using forged documents of his company with the bank, including a fake Board resolution.

The resolution dated December 18, 2012, appointed Chris Ozims and Folashade Oyebode as directors of the company and sole signatories to the fake account.

Mr Ozims is the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and Technology Distributions Limited, TD, while Ms Oyebode is a director of TD, a subsidiary of Zinox Group.

The document, which conferred the power of attorney on the fake “directors” to act on behalf of Citadel Oracle Concept Ltd, bore a signature they credited to its managing director, Mr Joseph.

Controversial signature

The signature is at the centre of the ongoing legal dispute in court, which the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) recently described as “very complicated owing to undue interference in investigation and prosecution.”

To facilitate the opening of the fake account, Mr Joseph said the suspects procured the assistance of two officials of the bank (Messrs Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu) who released to them the original copies of documents used by Citadel Oracle to open its corporate account.

‘Mechanically imported’

At the continuation of the trial of the two suspects on Tuesday, a forensic analyst with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Debi Gideon, told the court the disputed signature of Benjamin Joseph on the board resolution document used to commit the fraud was “mechanically imported.”

Mr Gideon testified as the fourth prosecution witness in the case instituted by the anti-graft agency against the two suspects.

The disputed document titled “Board Resolution authorising the opening and operation of an account with Access Bank Plc” was written on Citadel Oracle’s letter head paper and bore Mr Joseph’s “signature”.

The document dated December 14, 2012 was addressed to the Branch Manager, Access Bank PLC, 58 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.

Mr Joseph, who is the nominal complainant in the case, has always insisted his signature was forged by the suspects to facilitate the fraud.

He is also disputing another fake “Board Resolution for Authorisation” dated December 14, 2012 sent to the Director of Procurement, FIRS.

The letter was signed by Ms Kama purportedly on behalf of MD/CEO Citadel Oracle to authorise her to accept the contract award by the FIRS Tenders Board ostensibly on behalf of the company.

Asked to confirm how he came to the conclusion that the signature on the controversial Board resolution was “mechanically imported”, Mr Gideon explained

“My Lord, I carefully examined the handwritten signature of Mr Joseph on another document and compared it with the disputed document after it was forwarded to me from the Procurement Fraud Unit of my office (EFCC).

“The writing ‘Your’s faithfully’, the signature and the name ‘Benjamin Joseph’ were ‘forensically not genuine’, because they were mechanically imported into the disputed document via the process of scanning/cut and paste method,” the official said.

The witness also stated that the letter headed paper used to commit the fraud was also part of the scanned document he analysed.

Following his testimony, the prosecution counsel, Jude Obazuwa, applied to tender the forensic report as evidence before the court.

The presiding judge, Danlami Senchi, accepted the document.

Twist

Meanwhile, Mr Joseph who was scheduled to testify and give evidence as the fifth prosecution witness in the case was not in court, alleging lack of diligent prosecution by the EFCC prosecutor.

In his place, his legal counsel, Mouka Jude, tendered in court a letter Mr Joseph addressed to the acting director in the legal unit of the EFCC, Abubakar Madaki, in which said “he no longer had any interest to give evidence in the case under the prosecutor.”

The letter directed at “Mr Jude Obazuwa, the Prosecutor” read: “I wish to respectfully bring to your attention my observation in relation to the description and identification of the Board Resolution of Citadel Oracle Concept Ltd. suspected to have been forged by the defendants in the above described charge.

“Whereas the charges read that the said Board Resolution was forged on the 14thof December, 2012, the Board Resolution authorising the opening and operation of the account in the name of Citadel Oracle Concept Ltd was dated December 18, 2012. The said forgery was confirmed by the said Forensic Report dated 20th July, 2017.”

Mr Joseph said on Monday, November 11, 2019, when he called Mr Obazuwa to intimate him of his discovery of the discrepancy, “he was shocked that he was rather hostile, blaming him for doing so.”

Also, he said last October 11, he had notified the EFCC of its apparent refusal to list for tendering the appropriate documents required for the successful prosecution of the case.

Again, he said another letter by his lawyers, Bob James, on November 7 expressed reservations about “the anti-graft agency’s attempt to withhold very vital documents considered indispensable for the successful prosecution of the case.

Mr Joseph in the letter said the prosecution has failed to produce appropriate documents needed for the successful prosecution of the case.

“In view of the foregoing and the concerns raised in this correspondence, I express my sincere reservations about the modus and the end objective of the criminal trial above referenced.

“Regrettably, I do not feel in this 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 in the circumstance,” Mr Joseph said.

Consequently, Mr Obazuwa brought his case to a close.

The case was later adjourned to Thursday, January 30, 2020, for the continuation of trial.

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