Home Business Leo Ekeh, wife, 4 others file defence in N170m alleged contract fraud suit

Leo Ekeh, wife, 4 others file defence in N170m alleged contract fraud suit

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… my defence, by Leo Ekeh

The Chairman of Zinox Group, Chief Stan Leo Ekeh, his wife, Chioma, and four other suspects have filed a process to open their defence in the charge of alleged involvement in a N170.3 million contract fraud filed by the Federal Government.

But the Zinox Group helmsman has described the process as blackmail. At a virtual mentorship project earlier in the week, Ekeh warned the budding entrepreneurs against what he called “the growing threat of blackmail in professional circles” describing the trend as the fifth highest revenue earner globally. He said that for every case of corporate blackmail, there is often a ‘small masquerade’ involved.

The legal process, No. M/11480/2022 dated 6th October 2022 by Ekeh and others was filed on their behalf by a team of lawyers led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mathew Burkaa, along with Innocent Eremionkhale and seven others.

Hearing is pending almost eight years after the Managing Director of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, Mr Benjamin Joseph filed a civil case No. LD/4335/2014 at the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere against the suspects.

Although Ekeh and others filed an application on 4th October 2016 urging the court to dismiss the case against them, the then presiding Judge, Justice Femi Adeniyi on 2nd May 2017 dismissed all their preliminary objections, insisting they have a case to answer.

A N100,000 cost each was imposed against applicants, while the case by Access Bank was equally dismissed with a N50,000 cost.

Again, on 19th December 2020, the Federal High Court in Lagos presided over by Justice Chuka Obiozor dismissed another application by the applicants who sought to enforce their fundamental rights by restraining the police from arresting, detaining and investigating them over the crime.

But, in a motion on notice obtained in Abuja, the defence counsel said the application was on behalf of Ekeh; his wife, Chioma; and Chris Eze Ozims, Folashade Oyebode, Charles Adigwe as well as Technology Distributions Limited.

The process was in response to a formal legal charge earlier filed last 9th September by human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, against the suspects on behalf of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mallam Abubakar Malami, SAN.

Falana had filed a charge at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Maitama against 13 persons suspected to have played different roles in the alleged N170.3 million fraud perpetrated against Joseph, who owns the an Ibadan-based ICT retail firm, Citadel Oracle Concepts.

In the 17-count charge, No.FCT/HC/CR/469/2022, Falana accused the suspects of conspiracy to hijack a contract for the supply of laptops awarded to Joseph’s company in 2012 by the Federal Inland Revenue Service.

The suspects were also accused of conspiring with one Princess Kama and the Managing Director/Chief Executive of both Ad’mas Technologies Limited and Pirovic Engineering Services, Onny Igbokwe, to illegally execute the contract using Citadel Oracle’s name without the knowledge and consent of its owner, Joseph.

Also, the suspects, led by the Legal Adviser/Company Secretary of Zinox Group and TD, Mr Chris Eze Ozims, along with a director with TD, Folashade Oyebode, were accused of conniving with two officials of Access Bank – Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ojeabo – to remove confidential account documents belonging to Citadel Oracle with the bank and allegedly forging same, including Joseph’s signature on a fictitious resolution of the company’s Board of Directors used in opening a account through which the proceeds of the fraud were allegedly received and shared by them.

Both Igbokwe and Kama, along with Ad’mas and Pirovic as well as Access Bank and their two staff members indicted in the crime by the findings of the Serious Fraud Unit of the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigations Department of the Nigeria Police, are yet to file their defence.

However, in the motion on notice filed by the counsel to Ekeh and five others, Burkaa, pursuant to Sections 35 and 36 of the Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria (as amended), asked the court to dismiss the charge against his clients on the ground that it constitutes an abuse of the judicial process.

The senior lawyer based his application on the foundations that, apart from Joseph still having a criminal charge No. FCT/HC/CR/216/2016 pending against him at the FCT High Court, Maitama, the High Court of the FCT, Jabi, formerly presided by Justice Danlami Senchi had already entered judgment on 24th February 2021 which indicted him in charge No. FCT/HC/CR/244/2018.

Alternatively, counsel to the suspects asked the court to dismiss the charge against them on the ground that it constitutes “a direct, unlawful interference with the administration of justice” in charge No. FCT/HC/CR/216/2016, which they said was still pending before Justice Peter Kekemeke of the High Court of the FCT, Maitama.

Burkaa claimed that two other of his clients – Chioma Ekeh and Ozims – have no case to answer, as they were prosecution witnesses in case No. FCT/HC/CR/244/2018 in which Justice Senchi entered judgment that discharged and acquitted two of the suspects – Igbokwe and Kama – in February 2021, while a fine of N20 million was imposed on Joseph.

Charge No. FCT/HC/CR/216/2016 was filed by the Police in 2016 against Joseph after he was accused of “false petitioning” of the Inspector General of Police (IGP).

In 2013, Joseph petitioned the IGP to complain about the fraud uncovered against his company allegedly perpetrated by the suspects.

Although investigations by the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police Force were concluded in 2014 and a prima-facie case established against the suspects, Joseph said the police refused to prosecute the suspects.

He had accused the suspects of deploying all sorts of devious means, including the manipulation of the courts, the police and anti-graft agencies to evade trial.

On 8th May 2015, Joseph said he again petitioned the then IGP, Solomon Arase to highlight his company’s frustration to get the police to transfer the case file to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) for the prosecution of the suspects.

He said that Arase refused to take action against the suspects. Rather, Joseph said the IGP advised that the civil case No.LD/4335/2014 he filed in November 2014 against the suspects at the Federal High Court, Igbosere, Lagos should be allowed to run its full course before the criminal case, to avoid the miscarriage of justice.

Not satisfied, Joseph petitioned Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to look into the matter.

Although the EFCC quizzed the suspects and confirmed their complicity in the crime, the police still refused to prosecute them.

In a curious twist of fate, on 16th June 2016, prior to Arase’s exit from office, Joseph was charged by the police for allegedly “false petitioning of the IGP” in a case the suspects were used by the police as prosecution witnesses.

On 2nd July 2016, Joseph was formally arraigned before Justice Kekemeke at the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo, Abuja, for allegedly misinforming the former IGP through his petition of 3rd July 2014 about the Board resolution used by the suspects in opening the bank account with Access Bank PLC used to allegedly commit the fraud.

The trial of the businessman by the police has been ongoing for more than six years until the AGF, after a review of the case, faulted the trial and approved its takeover by the Federal Ministry of Justice, while the police was directed to withdraw its prosecution.

Based on the legal advice by the Minister, representatives of the DPP on November 15, 2021 actually took over prosecution in the case.

Police prosecution lawyer, Simon Lough, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), ostensibly in compliance with the AGF’s directive, handed over the case file to the DPP, pending final processes to terminate the trial in court.

But, while the court was awaiting the final processes to be concluded by the Office of the AGF to formally bring to closure the trial of the businessman and commence the prosecution of the suspects, Lough stepped back threatening to continue with the trial.

However, because Lough did not present to the court a letter from the AGF reversing his earlier directive to the DPP to takeover and for the police to withdraw its prosecution, Justice Kekemeke adjourned sitting till 3rd November, this year to enable him produce the letter.

Following a petition by Joseph Osinbajo in 2016 highlighting his frustration in getting the police to prosecute the suspects, EFCC was directed to look into the matter.

Although the EFCC quizzed the suspects and confirmed the complicity of eight suspects in the crime, the anti-graft agency choose to prosecute only two – Igbokwe and Kama.

When EFCC arraigned the two suspects in court, charge No. FCT/HC/CR/244/2018 relied upon to prosecute them were fundamentally different from the facts contained in Joseph’s petition on the fraud.

Joseph’s lawyers described the four-count charge against the suspects as strange, but deliberately contrived by the EFCC to make it easy for the case to be dismissed and the suspects acquitted and set free

While Joseph’s petition said his company’s Board Resolution used by the suspects to commit the alleged fraud was dated 18th December 2012, the EFCC prosecutor, Jude Obozuwa conducted its trial of the suspects based on a non-existing document dated 14th December 2012.

Joseph had refused to appear in court to testify in the case following the refusal by Obozuwa to correct the discrepancies in the date and amend the factual distortions in the charge against the suspects.

While delivering his judgment on 24th February 2021, the then presiding Judge of the FCT High Court, Jabi, Justice Danlami Senchi dismissed the case, discharged and acquitted the applicants on the ground of the discrepancies in the evidence as a result of EFCC non-diligent prosecution.

However, reacting to the application by suspects’ counsel, Joseph’s lawyer, Bob James said on Wednesday that when hearing in the case commences, he intends to prove beyond reasonable doubts that the bases for the request for the charges against the suspects to be dismissed by the court were fundamentally flawed.

Apart from a pending appeal application by Joseph at the Court of Appeal in Abuja against Justice Senchi’s judgment for miscarriage of justice in charge No. FCT/HC/CR/244/2018, James argued that the case against the two suspects, which the suspects claimed was dismissed, was actually not based on the facts adduced in the petition by his client that the fraud was committed using a document dated 18th December 2012.

He said his client is of the view that his case against the suspects based on the criminal use of fictitious Board resolution dated 18th December 2012 was alive and pending against them.

Besides, the lawyer pointed out that the basis for the filing of the 17-count charge by Falana against the suspects was the nolle prosequi entered by the AGF after his directive to the DPP to wade in and takeover the case, while the police hands off the continued prosecution of his client in case No. FCT/HC/CR/216/2016.

He said that after the AGF, through a letter dated 10th May 2022, issued approval to the request by Falana since November 2018 for a fiat/power to prosecute the suspects, nobody has seen any other letter from him to controvert or reverse his earlier directive to the DPP to take over the case and the police to withdraw from further prosecuting Joseph.

Meanwhile, investigations revealed that the case file has since been missing after it was filed.

The sudden disappearance of the case file at the central registry of the Federal High Court after it was filed by Falana has remained a puzzle top officials are trying to unravel.

Court officials said that the sudden disappearance of the file may not have been unconnected to the unusually high interest shown by agents of the suspects who were determined to hoodwink the public into believing there was no case filed against their sponsors.

The officials said all efforts to trace the whereabouts of the file proved abortive since last week. The puzzle, however, remains where the suspects got the case file they used to submit their defence.

No date has been fixed for the commencement of hearing in the case.

At the mentorship project this week, the Zinox Group Chairman denied ever meeting Joseph.

“This challenge (the case by Joseph) is a good case study for upcoming African entrepreneurs. As businesses in Africa continue to take a hit from global economic crises – due to the lack of provisioning for tough times – the threat of corporate blackmail will increase for those of you in business. Doing business in Nigeria or Africa is not for cowards. You must prepare like someone going to the war front.

“If you have the will and capacity to succeed as an entrepreneur, you must be always aware and take measures to protect your business from corporate blackmail. Most times, it is the work of small competitors who wish to see you go down or who have a desire to rubbish your credit rating or public image”, Ekeh said.

Despite having a subsisting N20 million fine awarded against him by an Abuja court of competent jurisdiction for giving the Federal Government false information, while also facing another criminal charge for false petitioning before an FCT High Court in Abuja filed by the IGP, in which the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami had instructed the IGP and the courts to prosecute Joseph to logical conclusion.

On the case involving Joseph, Ekeh said: ‘‘Corporate blackmail has grown exponentially in recent years and often, the end purpose is extortion. I can confirm to you that there is no court case or indictment against me or any of my colleagues or my wife either with the Police, EFCC or any court in Nigeria or abroad. I decided from the first day I started business to be a child of trust economy and delete passion for money but instead, hold on to my passion for technology and that informed me in seeing myself as an only child even though I have other five successful siblings.

‘‘I am my greatest adviser and never had a privilege of a mentor outside my tough British-trained mother and humble father who was an only child of his parents. I concentrate more on why brilliant, good and hardworking persons fail in business in Africa but succeed in civilized countries. This informed why I stayed with tech business 360 degrees as I am in total control and the business does not lie. It’s either you are right or wrong. Never concede to blackmailers. Be humble but launch out with confidence as far as you have content to deliver. Blackmailers don’t last in the business.

‘‘This is why my blackmailer failed because there is digitally undisputable proof. I run a tech family – my wife and all my five kids are in tech and comfortable. If you are in the tech business, wealth becomes a right, no matter how old we are. Rich guys in tech all over the world don’t make noise because there is no reason to do so. Successful entrepreneurs don’t make noise because they worked for it. It is not an inheritance.

‘‘My blackmailer had claimed first that no computers were supplied to FIRS by my company on his behalf and in seconds, we produced original serial numbers and delivery note and they tallied with what FIRS received. Zero mistake. Later, he claimed he was not aware of the contract, and in seconds FIRS produced a letter of authority he issued to his partner, Princess Kama physically with a copy of his passport and he now agreed under oath.

‘‘He now claimed the account opened was forged and a forensic analysis report conducted by Police SFU confirmed that he indeed signed the Board resolution.  My staff had nothing to do with opening of his bank account, but our system dictates that you do a Board resolution including two of our staff as majority signatories until we are paid and after the transaction is complete and we are paid, they will resign. We instituted this after few of such companies we funded defrauded us. We have a team of first-class lawyers and the tech to back up our structures and systems and we have done these for over 30 years. This Citadel case is the only blackmail we are tolerating. TD is the largest company in my Group and possibly in the IT Distribution sector in Africa and industry players know this. The N170m in question is an insult to TD and I am sure he knew before trying his luck with us.

‘‘I only became aware of this particular case involving Benjamin Joseph and his company, Citadel Oracle Concepts two years after it started. It was a business transaction with Technology Distributions (TD) and did not, in any way involve Zinox. Yet, each time he goes to press, he mentions Leo Stan Ekeh and Zinox. TD is the pioneer and biggest distributors of tech products in Sub-Saharan Africa representing the biggest global brands in Africa. His mandate was to destroy my global credit rating so that our multinational partners could terminate relationships, but he failed. This is why I always advise entrepreneurs to build themselves as personal collateral during their incubation period and then their business as corporate collateral. In summary, be a child of trust economy and keep your word, and trust me, no person or financial institution can mess around with you. I am a living testimony and this is why I never sued Benjamin Joseph.

‘‘To start with, I have never met this man in my life. Neither has my wife met him in person. Even when he made attempts to meet with me, I rebuffed him because by that time, I had investigated him and discovered where he was headed. In tech business, we do not pay blackmailers because technology does not lie and that is the biggest mistake he has made in his life. Every lie he has told has been substantiated against him.

‘‘When he pressed on with his media campaign against me, I took the pains of hiring local and foreign detectives which cost me huge amount of money to investigate first my staff who handled the transaction, and then Benjamin Joseph, his company and his relationship with his partner, Princess Kama and her uncle, Chief Igbokwe and the discovery further strengthened my resolve not to engage him. Yes, it cost me big money, but it was money well spent. Remember, I mentioned there is often a small masquerade involved in such cases. I say small masquerade because someone bigger than you cannot spend his time blackmailing you for extortion.

‘‘If you have made up your mind to be a successful entrepreneur in Africa, you must be knowledge packed to alter your destiny positively, be ready to take pains before pleasure, implement auditable financial and legal structures backed with strong technology and most importantly, be spiritually strong. Most digital entrepreneurs in Africa fast more than most pastors in Africa. It is creative war like this that delays progress, but you will get there. These inconveniences shall gradually be deleted in the next ten years with the power of technology.

‘‘Blackmailers have, with the backing of some innocent press successfully destroyed our politicians, public office holders and their families as heads of criminal gangs, no matter how decent they are, and now they are gradually destroying wealth creators. Africa would be gone if they are allowed to succeed with our corporates’’.

The Zinox Group Chairman shared some insights into the saga which has seen Joseph facing an ongoing criminal trial for giving the Federal Government false information.

‘‘Benjamin Joseph’s company was among 13 others which TD Africa extended a credit facility to for supply of laptops to the FIRS. To guard against creditors making away with funds extended to them, TD insists on opening a joint account with each creditor so that they are fully aware of when the fund for the contract is paid. After he was paid, Joseph attempted to divert TD’s money but his partner, one Princess Kama refused. From my investigations, he (Joseph) had wanted to marry her but they could not agree.

‘‘However, when she objected to his attempt to divert the funds, Joseph petitioned the Police and EFCC, initially claiming that his company was fraudulently used to execute the contract without his knowledge and that nothing was supplied. This was despite the fact that he gave his partner a duly signed letter of authority and his passport to act on his behalf in executing the FIRS contract. But investigations revealed that the FIRS confirmed that all the laptops were supplied with the serial numbers intact.

‘‘He later fell out with his partner over profit sharing for the contract which Afe Babalola SAN, his lawyer at the time intervened but could not resolve. According to Princess Kama, Mr. Benjamin Joseph demanded all the profit from the business and the lady refused. If he was not aware and his company was fraudulently used to execute the contract and his signature was forged as he claimed, why was he later asking for a larger share of the proceeds?’’ Ekeh wondered.

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