Attorney General Wades Into N170 Million Contract Fraud Allegedly Involving Zinox Computers
The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, has waded into the case of an alleged N170.3 million contract scandal involving Zinox Computers.
The fraud was uncovered in 2013, but despite police investigations establishing the necessary details, no one has been prosecuted for the fraud.
The contract was awarded by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to an Ibadan-based IT firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited in 2012.
But, the contract was allegedly hijacked by some top officials of Zinox Technologies Limited and its subsidiary, Technology Distributions Limited (TD), and illegally executed with allies using the name of awardee.
The Managing Director of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, Joseph Benjamin, whose company was awarded the contract, had accused some top officials of Zinox Group, including the Chairman, Leonard Stanley Ekeh, and wife, Chioma, of conspiracy with suspects.
Other suspects included Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and TD, Chris Ozims, and a director of TD, Folashade Oyebode; the chief executive of Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited and Pirovics Engineering Services Limited, Onny Igbokwe, along with one Princess O. Kama, and some officials of Access Bank PLC.
They were accused of conspiring to forge Mr. Mr. Benjamin’s signature on a fake Board resolution used to open an account No. 0059202675 with Access Bank PLC used in receiving the proceeds of the fraud.
Although investigations by the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigerian Police Force have since 2014 been concluded and a prima-facie case established against the suspects, prosecution had since stalled.
On May 8, 2015, Mr. Benjamin petitioned the immediate past Inspector General of Police (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 prosecution of the suspects.
But, Mr. Arase wrote back on May 15, 2015 to advise Mr. Benjamin that he would prefer the civil aspect of the case to run its full course before prosecution of the criminal aspect, to prevent a miscarriage of justice.
Not satisfied, Mr. Benjamin petitioned the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to wade in, with a view to resolving the matter.
Before his redeployment a few months ago, the immediate past DPP, Muhammad Diri, sent several unsuccessful requests to the then IGP, including the one on March 9, 2015, for the release of the case file for the prosecution of the suspects.
Although the suspects were recently quizzed by the anti-graft agency, the police, rather than prosecuting the accused persons, charged Mr. Benjamin on June 16, three days before the expiration of Mr. Arase’s tenure.
On June 2, Mr. Benjamin was formally arraigned before Justice Peter Kekemeke of Court 14, Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo, Abuja, accused of misinforming the former IGP.
The police prosecution counsel, Simon Lough, in a one-count charge No. CR/216/16 of “false petitioning”, said Mr. Benjamin, through his petition of July 3, 2014, provided false information about the Board resolution used in opening the bank account with Access Bank PLC, used in committing the fraud.
But, a senior Justice Ministry official told PREMIUM TIMES on Friday the new DPP, Mohammed Umar, was worried that the case was still not resolved, being one of the first he received briefing on shortly on his assumption of office.
The official, who requested that his identity be protected because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said Mr. Umar was worried that weeks after he wrote to the police to request the case file to enable his office commence the prosecution of the accused, the police was yet to respond.
Although Mr. Lough was sighted in the DPP’s office last week, the official told PREMIUM TIMES he did so without the requested case file.
“The DPP is very concerned about the development. He has directed that the issue should be one of the priority subjects he would take up during his planned meeting with the Police Commissioner on Legal Matters next week,” the ministry official said.
All attempts to get the police to speak on why they have not been able to send the case file to the DPP failed on Friday. Calls to the Force spokesperson, Don Awunah, were not answered. He equally did not respond to a text message send to him.
Meanwhile, Mr. Lough was at the Federal High Court, Apo on Wednesday and Thursday as the police prosecution at the opening of the trial of Mr. Benjamin.
On October 5, one of the accused persons, now a principal witness for the prosecution, Princess Kama, told the court Mr. Benjamin, a long-time friend since their days at Enugu State University in 2001, had betrayed her kind gesture, investing her personal financial and material resources to help package and deliver a contract awarded by FIRS to his company.
Miss Kama blamed Mr. Benjamin’s allegation of fraud against her on her rejection of his marriage proposal shortly after school for incompatibility reasons.
She told the court she took pity of her former friend’s condition when she met him again in 2011 in Lagos, saying using her experience and private resources to get the FIRS contract for him was her little way of helping him recover from series of bad business experiences he had.
Apart from helping Mr. Benjamin register his first ICT business, Miss Kama said she also deployed his contacts to facilitate his registration as certified Hewlett Packard products distribution partner, which boosted his company’s profile to be pre-qualified for the FIRS contract he eventually won.
To execute the contract, Miss Kama said because Citadel Oracle could not afford the required funding, she went out of her way to approach her uncle, named also as one of the accused, Onny Igbokwe, to help guarantee a credit facility from TD, one of the accused companies.
Miss Kama told the court the loan from TD was on condition that an account would be opened based on a Board resolution by Citadel Oracle making its officials sole signatories.
As part of the agreement, Miss Kama told the court she agreed with Mr. Benjamin that on completion of the contract, Citadel Oracle would take the value of one of the three lots, after TD had deducted its loan principal, while she would take the balance.
She said following the supply of the computers to the FIRS and payment made into the Access Bank account, she was not only surprised, but felt betrayed by Mr. Benjamin’s rejection of agreed share of the profit.
“My Lord, I was shocked that when the contract was completed and I asked my friend to send his account for his share of the profit to be transferred, he refused, demanding for everything to be sent to him. I cannot see any other reason for my good friend’s strange behavior, whom I wanted to help, than that I rejected his marriage proposal,” Miss Kama said.
During cross examination, Miss Kama could not recall some of the most vital information about documents she told the court she helped package, nor the locations, dates and participants in various meetings she attended throughout the contract period.
For instance, although she had told the court the previous day Citadel Oracle could not afford the funding for the contact, one of the documents included in the bid she said she submitted to FIRS was a reference letter from First Bank guaranteeing the company credit facility of a minimum of N500 million if awarded the contract.
Asked why she had to solicit a credit facility from TD, when the document showed the company had the financial capacity to fund the contract, Miss Kama said the reference letter from First Bank did not amount to anything more than information the company had an account with the bank.
At a point the judge had to caution Miss Kama to remember: “Only the truth can set you free. Any other thing will emasculate you”.
The case was adjourned till December 7 and 8 for continuation of trial.