A Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Apo has fixed Tuesday, 8th November for the arraignment of the Chairman of Zinox Group, Chief Leonard Stanley Ekeh; his wife, Chioma; and nine other suspects in an alleged N170.3 million contract fraud.
The arraignment by human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), on behalf of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami will be held by Justice C. O. Oba in Court 32.
The arraignment, which would signal the commencement of the prosecution of the suspects, will address the seeming confusion that the AGF had rescinded his 10th May order for them to be prosecuted over their alleged roles in the fraud that involved a contract by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for the supply of laptop.
Last 9th September, Falana filed a 17-count charge against the suspects on behalf of the AGF following his approval of the request made by Falana in November 2018 for fiat/powers to prosecute the suspects.
Apart from Ekeh and his wife, other suspects to be arraigned include the Legal Adviser/Company Secretary, Zinox Group and Technologies Distributions Limited (TD), Chris Eze Ozims; a director in TD, Folashade Oyebode; and the Accountant with TD, Charles Adigwe.
Others include the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of both Ad’mas Technologies Limited and Pirovic Engineering Services Limited, Onny Igbokwe, and his accomplice, Princess O. Kama, along with two staff of Access Bank PLC, namely Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ojeabo.
Three companies implicated in the fraud following police investigations — TD, Ad’mas Technologies Limited and Pirovic Engineering Services Limited — are joined as defendants.
In 2013, the Managing Director of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, Mr Benjamin Joseph petitioned the Police to complain about the alleged fraud uncovered against his company, which was allegedly perpetrated by the suspects.
The businessman said the fraud involved a N170.3 million contract for the supply of computer systems awarded by FIRS to his company in 2012, which was allegedly hijacked by the suspects and clandestinely executed using his company’s name without his knowledge and consent.
Joseph said that the suspects also conspired to forge his signature on a fake Board of Directors resolution used to facilitate the opening of a fictitious account No. 0059202675 with Access Bank PLC for the payment of the proceeds of the fraud.
Although investigations by the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) 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.
Initial investigations by the SFU of the Federal Criminal Investigations Department indicted eight persons. But Falana listed 11 suspects in the charge sheet that accompanied his application before the court.
Joseph had accused the suspects of deploying all sorts of devious means, including the manipulation of the courts, the police, anti-graft agencies and the media to evade trial.
Joseph said that he petitioned the then Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase on 8th May 2015 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.
Joseph said Arase refused to take action against the suspects. Rather, he said Arase advised that the civil case he filed against the suspects 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 refused to prosecute them.
On 16th June 2016, prior to Arase’s retirement, Joseph was charged by the Police on a one-count allegation of false petitioning of the IGP against the suspects in a case the suspects were used by the police as prosecution witnesses.
On 2nd July 2016, Joseph was formally arraigned before Justice Peter Kekemeke at the FCT High Court, Apo, Abuja, for allegedly misinforming the former IGP.
For more than six years, the businessman stood trial by the Police over alleged false petitioning, while the suspects were being shielded from prosecution for the crime.
But, following a petition requesting the intervention of the AGF, Joseph said Malami reviewed the entire trial and approved its takeover from the Police by the DPP.
Based on the Minister’s legal advice, representatives of the DPP took over prosecution in the case on 15th November 2021.
Last 10th May, the AGF approved the request by Falana for powers to prosecute the suspects in court for the crime.
Pursuant to the Minister’s order, Falana, on 9th September, filed at the High Court of the FCT the 17-count charge the suspects would be arraigned for.
On 6th October, the suspects, through their legal counsels, Mathew Burkaa, SAN, Innocent Eremionkhale and seven others, filed a process, No. M/11480/2022, to open their defence for the crime.
Last month, the Zinox Group boss alleged that he was been blackmailed. At a virtual mentorship project, 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.
He 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.