The Federal Government has ordered the continuation of the prosecution to a logical conclusion of one Benjamin Joseph, owner of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, an Ibadan-based ICT retail firm and alleged accuser of the Zinox Chairman, Leo Stan Ekeh, for malicious falsehood over an alleged N170m fraud.
The order was communicated via a letter dated 6th June from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami to the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba and communicated to the courts by the IGP on 26th September 2022.
This was confirmed in a statement by Matthew Burkaa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
According to the statement, Joseph has a previous court judgment of N20m as damages awarded against him by an FCT High Court Abuja, for giving the Federal Government false information after accusing Ekeh of fraudulently converting a contract awarded to his firm by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in 2012. Furthermore, the statement revealed that Joseph is facing another criminal charge for false petitioning before Honourable Justice Peter Kekemeke of the High Court of the FCT, Abuja.
The statement reads in part: ‘‘We act for Mr. Leo Stan Ekeh, Technology Distributions Limited (TD) and its staff Chioma Ekeh, Chris Eze Ozims, Oyebode Folashade and Charles Adigwe (hereinafter referred to collectively or individually as “Our Clients”).
‘‘Our Clients have drawn our attention to several online publications, containing some false, distorted and damaging content in the SAHARA REPORTERS of October 2, 2022, titled: ZINOX GROUP CHAIRMAN, WIFE, 11 OTHERS FACE TRIAL IN NIGERIAN COURT OVER ALLEGED N170M CONTRACT FRAUD NINE YEARS AFTER. A Similar story with the same content was published in OPERA NEWS on 29th September 2022, and in the NATIONAL WAVES on 29th September 2022 titled: LEO STAN EKEH’S ALLEGED N170.3M FRAUD SCANDAL RESURFACES; and also in THE NEWS MATRICS (Online News Paper Publication) published on the 30th September 2022 titled: FG TO PROSECUTE ZINOX BOSS, EKEH, WIFE OVER ALLEGED N170.3M FRAUD. THE WITNESS (online newspaper) of September 29, 2022, also carried the story. Copies of these online publications have gone viral on social media and have been read globally by different persons and diverse groups, who have been worried by the content of the publication and have continued to bombard our Clients with calls expressing their utter shock and consternation at the content of the publications.
Specifically, Burkaa disclosed that reports of investigation reports by various authorities including the Nigerian Police Force, Special Fraud Unit (SFU) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) reveal that Mr. Ekeh and Zinox Technologies Limited are not connected in any way to the allegations that formed the basis of the said libelous publications.
Also, he held that neither Mr. Ekeh nor the other persons mentioned in the articles had been served with any charge by the law firm of FALANA & FALANA, as falsely claimed, adding that they only read of the existence of the charge in the media. Burkaa, who condemned the development, described it as going against all known ethics of the administration of justice in Nigeria, especially as the said charge has been widely circulated on print and electronic media with all its details and the full names of persons mentioned along with the charge number.
Burkaa noted that: ‘‘The Criminal Charge will be coming up before His Lordship, the Hon. Justice U.P. Kekemeke of the FCT, High Court, Abuja on the 3rd day of November 2022 for the defence of Mr. Benjamin Joseph whose “No Case Submission” had been dismissed by the Court, indicating that he has a case to answer. The Federal Government has also written letters through the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) and the Nigerian Police Force for the continuation of the said prosecution. The letters are dated the 6th of June, 2022 and the 26th of September, 2022.
‘‘It is therefore appalling to our Clients to read, via the above publications, that a Charge had been filed against them by a private law firm associated with Mr. Benjamin Joseph because, they (our Clients) had by a letter dated 19th November 2018 drew the attention of the Honourable, the Attorney General of the Federation to the fact that, it was apparent that the Law firm of FALANA &FALANA was acting on the instructions of Mr. Benjamin Joseph, the MD of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, who is the Defendant standing trial in Charge No: CR/216/2016.
‘‘It is also imperative to point out that the High Court of the FCT, Per D.Z Senchi J. (as he then was) in Charge No: FCT/HC/CR/244/2018 dismissed as “false petitioning” the very allegations forming the basis of the new charges filed by FALANA & FALANA’S Chambers, and indicted the said Benjamin Joseph for forwarding false information to the Nigerian Police. The court went ahead to slam a fine of N20million against him for writing a Petition containing falsehood against our Clients and to serve as a deterrent to others who might want to mislead security agencies by forwarding false complaints against innocent Nigerians. The said Judgment is dated the 24th day of February 2021. In fact, Chioma Ekeh and Chris Eze Ozims, who are also supposedly charged in the referred charge, were prosecution witnesses against Benjamin Joseph in the two previously filed charges. So, the present Charge includes the very persons who had been discharged and acquitted on the same set of facts and in whose favour there is a subsisting Judgment.’’
Meanwhile, the SAN added that copies of all the documents mentioned above (including the Judgement, Reports, and letters) are available for verification as they are in various courts’ records, having been tendered in proceedings.
The ongoing saga relates to a 2012 Credit Sale of HP Laptops to Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited on an interest-free credit facility when they could not fund the contract awarded to them by FIRS to supply laptops, along with twelve other companies. After FIRS paid all suppliers who were funded by Technology Distribution (TD), the other companies paid TD the pre-agreed invoice value.
But Mr. Benjamin Joseph, the MD of Citadel, tried to divert TD’s fund but his partner Princess Kama resisted that move. After TD was paid, a dispute arose between Benjamin Joseph and his partner, Princess Kama, on profit sharing. At a point, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN who was Counsel to Benjamin Joseph, tried to intervene and cause an amicable settlement of the profit-sharing dispute. But Benjamin Joseph wanted the entire money without paying TD. It was at this point that he changed the story and contended that he was not aware of the contract and that his company was used to defraud FIRS. However, during the investigation by Nigerian Police and EFCC, the FIRS provided proof that Benjamin Joseph was indeed aware of the contract and that all the ordered computers were fully supplied and received by the FIRS.
Equally important, the Police (Prosecution) has closed their case since 2018 and Mr. Benjamin Joseph has been called upon by the Court to open his defense. Instead of proceeding with the said defense to a conclusion, he has devised different tactics in his bid to sway the Attorney General to discontinue the criminal charge preferred against him. Interestingly, the Law Firm of FALANA & FALANA who filed the present charge had earlier in 2018 applied to the Attorney General of the Federation by a letter dated November 1, 2018, for a Fiat to prosecute our clients. In order to convince the office of the Attorney General, Mr. Joseph submitted some spurious reports said to have been made in 2015 and in 2020 by the Nigerian Police, which his solicitors again used to apply for another Fiat. However, the Nigerian Police Headquarters Abuja, by a comprehensive report dated December 1, 2020, discredited and disclaimed all those “reports” relied upon by Mr. Benjamin Joseph, which was used to convince the Attorney General to grant a Fiat in May 2022.
On this basis and upon a critical review of all documents relating to the case, the office of the Attorney General saw through the falsehood and issued a new letter to the Police dated 6th June 2022 directing the Police to continue the prosecution of Benjamin Joseph and bring the criminal charge against him to a logical conclusion. This letter was brought to the attention of the Court by Counsel to the Nigerian Police through their letter dated 26th September 2022.
Burkaa added: ‘‘Mr. Benjamin Joseph and his Legal Team were in Court on 27th September 2022 and were aware of this directive by the office of the Attorney General. It is therefore appalling that the referenced publications inundated the Press two days after that Court Proceedings with screaming headlines without stating the correct facts for the benefit of the general public.’’
While noting that the publications against the Zinox Chairman were made in bad faith, the SAN contended that they contained false, distorted and slanted narratives to mislead the public, while also stating that they equally contained half-truths carefully skewed to malign and embarrass Mr. Ekeh and hurt his business interests.