The Federal High Court in Lagos has dismissed an application by Chiomah Ekeh to stop the police from questioning her over her role in an alleged N170.3 million Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) contract fraud.
The court said a suspect cannot stop the police from investigating them over a criminal matter.
Justice Chuka Obiozor gave the ruling on Wednesday on an ex-parte motion filed by Mrs Ekeh, a director of Technology Distribution (TD) Limited.
Mrs Ekeh had asked the court to restrain the police from “inviting, interviewing, arresting, and detaining” her over the fraud.
With the ruling, the police can now resume prosecution of the alleged fraud in a matter that has lingered for over six years.
Mrs Ekeh’s company, Technology Distribution, is affiliated to Zinox Group, which has her husband, Stanley Ekeh, as the chairman.
Both companies are involved in the alleged contract fraud.
The respondents in the application filed by Mrs Ekeh’s lawyer, Innocent Eremionkhale, were the police; the Head, X-Squad Section of the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID), Amechi Elumelu, a Commissioner of Police; an Ibadan-based IT retail firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, and its Managing Director, Benjamin Joseph.
After Justice Obiozor denied the application, the counsel to Citadel Oracle Limited and Mr Joseph, Kolade Olutekumbi, hailed the ruling. He said his clients have been unable to get the police to prosecute the suspects.
Mr Joseph had on July 3, 2014, written a petition to the then Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) of police in charge of Force Criminal Investigation Bureau (FCIB), Solomon Arase, on behalf of his company, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited.
In the petition, he alleged that Zinox Group and TD hijacked a N170.3 million contract awarded to his company by the FIRS in 2012.
He named some of the persons who conspired with the companies to execute the alleged fraud as Onny Igbokwe, Princess Kama and Chris Ozims.
READ ALSO: N170m FIRS Contract Fraud: EFCC, Police deny Zinox clearance
Mr Igbokwe runs a Port Harcourt-based IT company, Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited, and Pirovics Engineering Services Limited.
The petitioner said Ms Kama facilitated the fraud by pretending to be representing Citadel Oracle.
Mr Joseph also named a director of TD, Folashade Oyebode, and two staff of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu.
The businessman alleged that the suspects forged his company’s documents and a resolution of its board to open a fake account with Access Bank into which FIRS paid the contract money.
He said documents showed TD’s accountant, Charles Adigwe, disbursed various sums from the Access Bank account to parties in the alleged fraud.
However, after the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police in Lagos investigated the allegations, it refused to release the original case file to the then Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Muhammad Diri.
Petition to IGP
On May 8, 2015, Mr Joseph wrote to Mr Arase, who was just promoted Inspector General of Police (IGP), to remind him of the pending request by then DPP, Mr Diri, for the transfer of the case file to his office.
In his response on May 14, 2015, Mr Arase advised Mr Joseph to “allow the matter to run its full course with a view to preventing a miscarriage of justice.”
The IGP by the statement was referencing a civil case, No. LD/4335/14, filed by Mr Joseph in a Lagos High Court against the suspects for alleged frustration of their prosecution over the fraud.
Not satisfied, on December 2, 2015, Mr Joseph petitioned Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who directed the EFCC to look at the matter.
On December 21, 2015, Mr Osinbajo further directed the anti-graft agency to investigate the matter.
Curiously, on June 16, 2016, three days before Mr Arase’s tenure as IGP ended, the police in Abuja charged Mr Joseph to court for “providing false information in his petition against the suspects.”
The police said Mr Joseph lied that the suspects used a fictitious board resolution of his company to open the Access Bank account through which the FIRS made the payment for the controversial contract.
On June 18, 2016, Mr Joseph petitioned the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, over the turn of events.
On July 2, 2016, the police arraigned Mr Joseph at the Federal Capital Territory High Court on a one-count charge of “false petitioning.”
The police prosecution counsel, Simon Lough, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, called the suspects as the prosecution witnesses.
Mr Malami responded with a directive to the newly appointed DPP, Mohammad Umar, to take over the prosecution of the case from the police to avoid a miscarriage of justice.
On December 7, 2016, the DPP’s representative, a senior counsel in the Federal Ministry of Justice, Aniekan Ekong, appeared in court to take over the case.
But on February 28, 2017, Mr Lough presented to the court another letter from the same DPP Umar, upturning the AGF’s earlier directive.
Mr Eremionkhale is the same person who filed Mrs Ekeh’s application dismissed by the Federal High Court last Wednesday.
Currently, the case by the police against Mr Joseph for “false petitioning” is being heard, separately, with that of the EFCC against the suspects in the alleged contract fraud.
While Mr Joseph is currently being tried before Justice Peter Kekemeke of the FCT High Court, Nyanya, Messrs Igbokwe and Kama are appearing before Justice Danlami Senchi of the FCT High Court, Jabi.
Interestingly, the two cases are based on pieces of evidence contained in the same petition by Mr Joseph on the alleged fraud.
Meanwhile, the civil suit Mr Joseph filed against the suspects for allegedly frustrating their criminal prosecution is also pending before Justice Femi Adeniyi of the Lagos High Court, Igbosere.
In his ruling in the preliminary objections by the suspects, Justice Adeniyi said on May 2, 2017, that top officials of Zinox Group and TD have a case to answer.
Failed attempts to stop trial
Mr Joseph had also petitioned the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Itsay Sagay, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
In his response on April 24, 2019, Mr Sagay wrote to the then newly appointed IGP, Mohammed Adamu, urging him to investigate the case.
On December 16, 2019, Mr Joseph wrote to the IGP, urging him to order the review of his trial by the police. On December 27, 2019, the IGP obliged and directed the DIG FCID to act on it.
Pursuant to the IGP’s directive, the DIG, through the X-Squad Department of the Nigeria Police Force Investigation, conducted a fresh investigation, which confirmed the fraud.
Consequently, the IPO handling the case, Mr Lough, was directed to withdraw the charge against Mr Joseph and report to the Commissioner of Police (Legal), Abuja on February 24 for further directives.
After ignoring the directives, on July 10, Mr Lough was issued another directive from the DIG Force CID to transfer the case file to the Commission of Police X-Squad on July 20. Again, he refused.
PREMIUM TIMES recently obtained the certified true copy (CTC) of the Police Investigation Report on the petition by Mr Joseph dated July 3, 2014.
The document shows the Chairman of Zinox Group, Mr Ekeh, is the fifth of eight suspects recommended for criminal prosecution.
The report, No. CR: 3000/X/FHQ/ABJ/SEB/Vol.41 of April 7, 2015, was signed by Olayinka Ajeigbe, then a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Team ‘A’ Leader, Special Enquiry Bureau, Force Criminal Intelligence & Investigation Department (FCIID), Abuja.
The report titled: “Re: Case of Identity theft, Impersonation and Criminal Conversion of Contract worth over N170million committed against Citadel Oracle Concept Limited” was addressed to the Commissioner of Police (Administration), Special Enquiry Bureau, FCIID, Nigeria Police, Abuja.
The suspects listed in the report include “Princess Kama Onyeoma, Chief Onny S.O. Igbokwe, Mr. Chris Eze Ozims, Folashade Oyebode, Chief Leo Stan Ekeh, Charles Adigwe, Obilo Onuoha, (and) Deborah Ojeabu.”
The report had the words ‘At Large’ written after Mr Ekeh’s name on the list, suggesting he made himself unavailable to answer questions over his role in the scam.
In the report, CSP Ajeigbe said based on the petition by Mr Joseph, his department invited all the parties named in the petition and conducted forensic analyses of the transaction documents and signatures.
At the end of the investigations, the report confirmed all the allegations by Mr Joseph in his petition against the suspects.
Part of the bureau’s findings were that the Statement of Account forwarded by the FIRS to the SEB FCIID revealed that four contracts were awarded to Citadel Oracle Limited and a total sum of N216.6million was paid.
Out of the amount, about N115.2 million was transferred to Technology Distribution Limited account with Guaranty Trust Bank, while the sum of N38million was moved into Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited account with Zenith Bank Plc.
Based on its findings, the Bureau recommended that the case file be “forwarded to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to commence prosecution of the suspects without further delay.”
Based on the recommendation of the Bureau, Olufemi Oyeleye, a Commissioner of Police in charge of Administration, FCIID on April 16, 2015, forwarded the report to Mr Arase for action.
Mrs Ekeh’s motion
But, Mrs Ekeh’s application was for an order restraining the police from acting or giving effect to the findings contained in the police interim report.
But the court has now dismissed her application and given the nod to the police to proceed with their prosecution of the original case.