The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, through the Director of Public Prosecution has told a High Court in Abuja that it has taken over the prosecution of the case of “false petitioning” by the police against Citadel Oracle Concept Limited and its Managing Director, Benjamin Joseph, who raised a petition over N170million Federal Inland Revenue Service contract fraud.
Joseph had in 2016 filed a petition to the Inspector-General of Police alleging that his company Citadel Oracle Concept Limited was defrauded in a contract worth N170million awarded by the FIRS by some top officials of Zinox Technologies Limited.
But he was later arraigned by the police and charged for falsehood, despite several investigations by both the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) indicting the suspects.
A lawyer from the AGF’s office, Mr. A.K Alilu, who is also an Assistant Director in the Federal Ministry of Justice, said the move to take over the prosecution was at the instance of a formal letter earlier sent to the court.
At the resumed hearing of the case before Justice Peter Kekemeke on Tuesday, the police lawyer, Simon Lough, announced his appearance for prosecution and thereafter Alilu also announced his appearance for the prosecution and informed the court that the AGF had taken over the case.
There was no objection either from Lough or Benjamin's lawyer, Bob James, as Lough told the court that it was within the powers of the AGF to take over any criminal case at any time.
The trial judge, after he had taken judicial notice of the application, therefore ruled that henceforth the matter had been taken over by the AGF just as he adjourned the case to March 14, 2022, for continuation of trial.
SaharaReporters learnt that Malami took over the case in a letter addressed to the IGP for the attention of the Commissioner of Police in charge of the Legal Department of the Police, a copy of which was sent to the Registrar, Court 5, of the FCT High Court, Maitama, Abuja.
The letter titled “RE: Charge No. FHC/HC/CR/216/2016 – IGP vs Benjamin Joseph” reads, “I am directed to inform you that the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation in the exercise of the powers conferred on him by Section 174(1) b of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) has directed the taking over of the above-captioned charge No. FHC/HC/CR/216/2016 pending before Hon. Justice (Peter) Kekemeke of the FCT High Court, Maitama, Abuja.
“I am further directed to inform you that a counsel from the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation shall be in court on the 16th of November, 2021 to formally take over the case.”
Regardless, in exercising the powers under the section, either by him in person, or through officers of his department, the AGF is obliged to have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice, and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.
In October 2013, Joseph petitioned the then Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of the Force Criminal Investigation Bureau (FCIB), Solomon Arase.
Joseph accused some senior officials of Zinox Technologies Limited and its subsidiary, Technology Distributions Limited (TD) of conspiring with their allies to fraudulently hijack and illegally execute, using his company’s name, an N170.3million contract awarded to his company by the FIRS in 2012.
The businessman named the suspects to include the Chairman of Zinox Group, Leonard Stanley Ekeh, and wife, Chioma; Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and TD, Chris Eze Ozims, and a director of TD, Folashade Oyebode.
Joseph alleged that they connived with the chief executive of Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited and Pirovics Engineering Services Limited, Onny Igbokwe, along with one Princess O. Kama, and two officials of Access Bank PLC – Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu.
Oyebode and Ozims, he alleged, appointed themselves signatories of a fake account opened in his company’s name at Access Bank with forged documents, including a board resolution dated December 18, 2012, using a caricature of his signature.
To facilitate the fake account opening, Joseph said Onuoha and Ijeabu illegally gave out to the syndicate the original copies of his company’s documents with the bank.
Joseph said a review of the transaction documents also showed Chioma Ekeh issued the instructions to the accountant at TD, Charles Adigwe, for the disbursement of funds from the fictitious account at Access Bank to various benefiting parties in the fraud.
Although the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police in Lagos since 2014 concluded investigations into the allegations in the petition and found the suspects culpable of the crime, the police refused to release the original case file to the DPP for their prosecution.
Meanwhile, the then DPP, Muhammad Diri, sent several unsuccessful requests to Arase, demanding the release of the case file for the prosecution of the suspects. On July 3, 2014, Joseph sent a reminder to Arase.
Following Arase’s appointment as Inspector General of Police (IGP), Joseph, on May 8, 2015, sent yet another reminder highlighting his company’s frustrations in getting the police to transfer the case file to the DPP for the prosecution of the suspects.
But Arase advised him to allow the civil case instituted against the suspects to run its full course before their prosecution, ostensibly to prevent a miscarriage of justice.
Not satisfied, Joseph petitioned then acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, who directed the EFCC to wade in and investigate the matter.
In compliance with Osinbajo’s directive, the anti-graft agency invited and quizzed all the suspects. At the end, the report said the agency corroborated all the allegations against the suspects. Yet, the police remained adamant over their prosecution.
Rather, on June 16, a few days before Arase’s retirement, Joseph was charged by the police for allegedly misinforming the former IGP.
On July 2, he was formally arraigned before Justice Peter Kekemeke of Court 14, Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo, Abuja, on a one-count charge of “false petitioning” in case No FHC/HC/CR/216/2016.
The police prosecution counsel, Simon Lough, said Joseph provided false information to the IGP through his petition of July 3, 2014, which accused the suspects of using a fictitious Board resolution of his company to open a fake account with Access Bank PLC used in committing fraud.