It was a case of the hunter becoming the hunted, when the nominal complainant, Benjamin Joseph, in the alleged N170 million contract fraud involving some senior officials of Zinox Group, became the accused before the court.
Joseph had filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, Abuja, to challenge the ruling of a high court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, acquitting and discharging the defendants in a case where a crime was allegedly committed.
The presiding judge, Justice Danlami Senchi, in his ruling on Wednesday discharged and acquitted two defendants, Princess Kama, and Onny Igbokwe, arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on four counts bordering on alleged forgery, document falsification and contract fraud.
The judge also ruled that Joseph should pay the sum of N20 million compensation to the defendants for the accusations without justification to serve as a deterrent to others who may wish to behave the same way in future.
They were arraigned on June 21, 2018, on four counts for conspiring to commit an illegal act of forgery contrary to Section 96 of the Penal Code CAP 532 LFN Abuja (1990) and punishable under Section 97 of the same Act.
Joseph, who was the Managing Director of an Ibadan-based Information Technology retail firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, was accused of making false claims against the suspects in his petition by the police.
SaharaReporters had reported how the Joseph in his petition accused one Onny Igbokwe and Princess Kama of conspiring with the Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and Technology Distributions Limited (TD), Chris Ozims, to hijack and illegally execute the contract awarded to his company by the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
A petition by Joseph, addressed to the then Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of the Force Criminal Investigation Bureau, Solomon Arase, who later became the Inspector-General of Police, detailed how the syndicate fraudulently hijacked and executed the contract.
Among the senior workers of the Zinox Group and companies alleged to have participated and facilitated the contract were Igbokwe, the Chief Executive of a Port Harcourt-based IT company, Ms Kama, Folashade Oyebode, Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited, and Pirovics Engineering Services Limited.
Others were two staff members of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu.
The suspects allegedly opened a fraudulent account at Access Bank in the name of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited with forged company documents which included a letterhead, signatures and the board resolution.
But in a dramatic turn of events, Joseph was charged for allegedly giving false information in his petition against the suspects.
After the prosecution led by Simon Lough had closed their case, the defendant opened his defence with his testimony as the first defence witness in November 2020.
In his defence, he told the trial judge, Peter Kekemeke, at the high court of FCT Nyanya, how he reported the fraud to a legal luminary, Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in Ibadan, Oyo State.
The defence lawyer, Bob James, said after he was able to secure the details of the alleged fraudulent account, he advised him to report the case to the Special Fraud Unit.
He said the outcome of SFU investigations revealed that a fake address was assigned to Citadel Oracle company on the account opening documents submitted to Access Bank.
The petitioner said the police invited him and other parties involved in the case to a meeting where he was shown the account opening documents.
He told the court that a fake address was used for his company at Suite A11, Banex Plaza in Wuse, Abuja, and that up till today his company has no address in Abuja.
He added that the phone numbers attributed to Citadel Oracle in the bank were that of Mr Igbokwe.
Jospeh said he "got to know this because the phone numbers appeared on the letterhead of Ad’Mas Technology Limited through which Igbokwe wrote a September 9, 2013, letter" to him denying knowledge or execution of the controversial contract.
As part of the flaws in the opening of the account was an “Abuja Development Levy receipt that has the address of the company Suite A11 Banex Plaza, Wuse, Abuja."
In his testimony, the petitioner stated that SFU investigations also revealed that his signature was forged in the board resolution dated December 18, 2012, presented to the bank.
The trial judge discharged them because the EFCC built the foundation of the case on a wrong document and could not prove their case.
The Count 2 of the charge was that "you, Princess Kama and Chief Igbokwe, did make a false board resolution of the Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, dated December 14, 2012, while opening an account with number, 0059202675, at the Access Bank.
"Whereas the fake board resolution document the EFCC prosecutor exhibited to the court was dated December 18, 2012, the EFCC prosecutor also used persons Joseph had accused as the signatories and operators of the forged account Chris Ozims and Chioma Ekeh as prosecution witnesses."
Joseph, the nominal complainant who was not a party to the suit, was not allowed by the EFCC prosecutor to give evidence in court.
He was rather accused by the court of blatantly refusing to come to court to give evidence which made the judge to award 20 million in damages against him.