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Thursday, 19 October 2017

Alleged N170 million contract scandal: Businessman sues top Justice Ministry official


Alleged N170 million contract scandal: Businessman sues top Justice Ministry official
Nigeria’s Ministry of Justice ,Abuja

The proprietor of an Ibadan-based computer retail firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, Benjamin Joseph, has filed a one billion naira suit against a director at the Federal Justice Ministry, Stella Anukam, over alleged criminal conspiracy to subvert the trial of top officials of Zinox Computers for multi-million naira fraud.

Mrs. Anukam is the director of International and Comparative Law in the ministry.

She is being sued along with her brother, Innocent Eremionkhale, an Abuja-based lawyer and proprietor of a private law firm, Integrity Law Firm.

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Mr. Joseph had accused the director of not only using her official position, but also her link as a partner of the private law firm to prevent the prosecution of the Zinox Computers officials for alleged fraud.

The top officials of the company, including its Chairman, Leonard Stanley Ekeh, and wife, Chioma, were accused of complicity in the take-over of a N170.3 million contract awarded to Mr. Joseph’s Citadel Oracle by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, in 2012.

Other accused persons include the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and Technology Distribution, 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 Kama and two Access Bank Plc staff, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu.

In the writ of summons in suit No. CV/2678/17 before the Federal High Court, Abuja, Mrs. Anukam and Mr. Eremionkhale were asked to publish a public apology to Mr. Joseph in two online and four national newspapers as well as pay N1 billion as “aggravated damages for conspiracy, psychological trauma and pain” suffered.

The petitioner also want the duo to pay N5 million as cost of action.

PETITIONER’S CLAIMS

Bob James, Deborah Osaghede, Esq., of Bob James & Co., counsel to Mr. Joseph, said in the statement of claims that following the discovery of the alleged fraud by the suspects, his client had petitioned the Special Fraud Unit, SFU, of the police.

Although investigations found the accused culpable of the offence since 2014, prosecution stalled as the police refused to release the original case file, despite several requests by the then Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, Mohammed Diri.

Mr. Joseph on May 8, 2015 petitioned the then Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, to complain about his frustration to get the suspects prosecuted.

Curiously, the IGP in his response on May 14, 2015 advised the petitioners to allow the civil matter before the Lagos High Court run its full course, to prevent a miscarriage of justice.
A reminder requesting the IGP to direct the release of the case file was sent on January 11, 2016.

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PETITIONER TURN ACCUSED

However, on June 16, 2016, three days before the former IGP left office, the police charged Mr. Benjamin to court, accusing him of providing false information in his petition against the suspects.

On July 2, 2016, Mr. Benjamin was arraigned before the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo, Abuja. He was charged for “false petitioning”, to mislead IGP Arase over alleged identity theft, impersonation and criminal conversion of contracts against the accused, who now became prosecution witnesses.

A petition by Mr. Joseph against his trial compelled the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to direct the DPP, Mohammed Umar, to take over the case on December 7, 2016, to avoid miscarriage of justice.

The DPP had ordered the police to hands off the matter and transfer the case file to his office for the prosecution of the accused.

However, on February 28, the police presented in court a letter by the DPP, Mr. Umar, upturning the Attorney-General’s order and reinstating the police to continue the trial.

Mr. Umar later confirmed he wrote the letter reinstating the police on the instruction of the Attorney-General, whom he said changed his mind following a petition by counsel to the police, Integrity Law Firm, that its client had an ongoing case against Mr. Joseph.

The counsel to Mr. Joseph said a background check on Integrity Law Firm had revealed Mrs. Anukam was partner, who has been deploying her influence as director in the ministry to frustrate the quest for justice.

On April 11, another petition was sent to the Attorney-General, accusing Mrs. Anukam of working as an insider to “truncate” the case.

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Although Mr. Malami had on May 4 confirmed investigation against Mrs. Anukam was ongoing, subsequent attempts to get any update was rebuffed, as the minister refused to answer calls to his telephone or respond to inquiries through text messages.

Consequently, counsel to Mr. Joseph said the series of frustration has exposed his client to continued “severe psychological trauma, embarrassment and humiliation.”

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