Thursday , July 25 2024
Alleged Blackmail of Zinox Chairman and Access Bank by Benjamin Joseph: The Full Story

Alleged Blackmail of Zinox Chairman and Access Bank by Benjamin Joseph: The Full Story

By Adamu Sanni, Public Affairs Analyst

An undue reprieve came the way of Mr. Benjamin Joseph, an indigene of Enugu State and Managing Director of Ibadan-based Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, on Thursday, 20TH June 2024, when the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi SAN, discontinued Charge No. CR/216/2016, wherein the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) has been prosecuting Mr. Joseph since 2016 before Honourable Justice Peter Kekemeke of the FCT High Court Abuja, for giving false information to the Police but which the said Joseph failed to prove his case in a matter he reported to the police.

On three previous occasions, Mr. Joseph had appealed to the past Attorneys-General of the Federation to discontinue the said criminal proceedings against him but all the Attorneys-General refused his plea and rather directed the Police to prosecute him to a logical conclusion. Their refusals are contained in the letters dated 10th February 2017, 7th May 2018, and 6th June 2022, addressed from the Office of the Attorney-General to the Inspector-General of Police.

Although he was visibly excited when the court acquitted him of the charges following the intervention of the Attorney-General, it is to be noted that the acquittal of Mr. Joseph was not on the merit of the case, as the trial was not concluded and the court did not give a judgment of its own. It was rather based on the prerogative of the Attorney-General in the exercise of his constitutional power to discontinue any case with or without reason. This is more so considering that a subsisting judgment was given by Honourable Justice Senchi of the FCT High Court in Charge No. CR/244/2018 which dismissed as false all the allegations made by Mr. Joseph against Technology Distributions, Access Bank, and other persons and imposed the sum of N20million as damages against him for false petitioning. Despite the acquittal of Mr. Joseph which has saved him from a possible jail term, it still does not derogate from the judgment of Honorable Justice Senchi that had already found Mr. Joseph liable for false information. Indeed, the acquittal was made in utter defiance of another subsisting order given on 14th June 2024 by Honourable Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/376/2024, which had restrained all parties including the Honourable Attorney-General from tampering with the said Charge No. CR/216/2016 pending the determination of the suit before him.

Campaign of Calumny

What is very bewildering in the whole scenario is that Mr. Benjamin Joseph, since 2014, intensified a media campaign against Technology Distributions Limited and Zinox Technologies Limited who had nothing to do with the problem between him and his partner and representatives, Princess Kama and Chief Igbokwe. He engaged the services of one Bassey Udo, the publisher of a relatively unknown online newspaper, Mediatracnet. It is to be noted that the publications of Mediatracnet are all falsely skewed and biased in favour of Mr. Joseph because Zinox Technologies and its Chairman, Leo Stan Ekeh have taken court actions against the said Bassey Udo. He is, therefore, acting on a vendetta.  The paradox is that neither Zinox nor its Chairman was involved in the transaction. Indeed, in the course of all the investigations, reports and judgments, there was nowhere Zinox was mentioned as being involved. Moreover, Mrs. Chioma Ekeh, the wife of Mr. Leo Stan Ekeh, has never been cited as a suspect or accused in all the Police reports, both from the SFU and the Police headquarters. Neither her nor her husband ever made any statements to the Police and were never invited.  Yet, all publications orchestrated by Mr. Joseph bear ‘Zinox’ as its title with the photograph of its chairman, Leo Stan Ekeh (and sometimes with his wife – Chioma Ekeh) prominently featured as if they had any personal dealing with Mr. Joseph and his company. Technology Distributions and Zinox Technologies are totally different companies with different shareholders, boards, and management. More importantly, the judgment of Honourable Justice Senchi in the said Charge No. CR/244/2018 unequivocally stated that Technology Distributions and its staff were not liable for any fraud; that they were entitled to receive the proceeds of the laptops supplied on credit to Citadel which were delivered to the FIRS. The judgment fully absolved Mr. Chris Eze Ozims and Shade Oyebode stating that they never acted as directors of Citadel but only as signatories to the account that received the proceeds of the FIRS contract, which was the only security for the laptops supplied on credit.  Moreover, the final Report by the Legal Department of the Police Headquarters on the matter dated 1st December 2020 absolved Technology Distributions and its said staff of any criminal liability and disclaimed as spurious a certain 2015 report of one Police Special Enquiry Bureau (SEB) headed by CP Olufemi Oyeleye and a certain 2015 report by the then Director of Public Prosecution, Mohammad Saidu Diri. These so-called reports made in 2015 were disclaimed and discarded by the Police Legal Department in their said final report on 1st December 2020 because they were made based only on the petition and statement of Benjamin Joseph without giving an opportunity to the so-called suspects by way of invitation or extracting written statements from them. How do you find a suspect liable without hearing from him after you heard only from his accuser? Yet, these are the documents being paraded online by Mr. Joseph as having indicted the staff of Technology Distributions and the Chairman of Zinox, and some staff of Access Bank.

In the publications, Benjamin Joseph claims that the Police SFU had found Technology Distributions and its staff liable but that the Police refused to prosecute them. This is totally false because in the criminal trial in Charge No. CR/216/2016, the Investigative Police Officer (Inspector Stephen Ogira) from the SFU who handled the investigations, testified against Benjamin Joseph and stated that their report had absolved TD and its staff of any wrongdoing. Similarly, the forensic analyst of the Forensic Science Laboratory D. Dept, Force CID, Alagbon Close, Ikoyi, Lagos, (ASP Raphael Onwuzuligbo) who conducted the forensic analysis of the disputed Board resolution and other documents testified that the documents were not forged but were actually signed by Benjamin Joseph. So, it is false of Mr. Jospeh to still write that the SFU Report indicted the staff of Technology Distributions and Chief Leo Stan Ekeh of his wife, Chioma Ekeh. It is in this context that, perhaps, the motive of Benjamin Joseph in this inexplicable focus in his online campaign of calumny on Chief Leo Stan Ekeh and his wife, Chioma Ekeh, is probably motivated by a quest to blackmail them and tarnish their reputation, allegedly at the behest of their competitors, and bring down their business which they have strenuously taken more than 35 years to build resulting into Technology Distributions Limited (now TD Africa Limited) as the foremost distributor of ICT products in the West African subregion.

How it all began
This chequered issue arose from a business transaction in December 2012 between Citadel Oracle Concept Limited (Mr. Benjamin Joseph’s company) and their appointed staff/representatives, (Princess Kama and Chief Igbokwe), when they won a contract for the supply of HP laptops to the FIRS that same year. Just as other retailers who won similar contracts but had no funds to execute the contract, their said staff/representatives approached Technology Distributions Limited (now TD Africa Distributions Limited), the biggest authorized HP distributor in Nigeria, to supply them the laptops on credit pending payment by the FIRS. In view of previous bad experiences and to avoid exposing the business to bad loans, Technology Distributions Limited, as it is their policy in the normal course of business, insisted that its staff, Mr. Chris Eze Ozims and Mrs. Shade Oyebode, would have to be signatories to an account opened for the purpose of receiving the proceeds of the FIRS contract as security for the laptops supplied on credit. After the contract was executed and payment effected by the FIRS, TD Africa deducted the pre-agreed invoice sum of the laptops and had its staff resign as signatories to the said account. A similar procedure applied to the other customers who had similar contracts with FIRS for the supply of similar HP laptops at the time.  Technology Distributions and its named staff have no reason or motive to hijack the contract as falsely alleged by Benjamin Joseph because they had other retailers who had similar contracts with FIRS and were ready to take the same laptops at the same uniform price for supply to the FIRS at the same profit. So, what’s the motive to hijack his contract as he alleged?

Sharing Formula Problem

Exactly one year after the conclusion of the contract and the parties had gone their ways, Mr. Joseph petitioned the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigerian Police (SFU), Milverton Road, Ikoyi, in 2013, against Princess Kama, the representatives of Citadel and her uncle, Chief Igbokwe (the owner of Ad’Mas Technologies Limited) who equally won similar FIRS contract. Because Citadel was unknown to Technology Distributions and had no credit rating with them, Chief Igbokwe, an old customer of Technology Distributions, stood as their guarantor.  Mr. Joseph claimed that his company was used without his knowledge and that the account opened by his company in Access Bank was not to his knowledge and that the Board resolution used to open the account was forged. The Police thus subjected the documents, including the Board resolution bearing Mr. Joseph’s signature, to forensic analysis and confirmed that the signature was actually his. He would later join Technology Distributions and its staff as part of those who he claimed hijacked his contract.

However, in the course of the investigations, it emerged that after the execution of the contract, a disagreement arose between him and Princess Kama when they could not agree on the formula for sharing the profit earned from the transaction. While he insisted on diverting the entire proceeds of the contract to his company, Princess Kama insisted on letting Technology Distributions take the invoice value of the contract because her uncle, Chief Onny Igbokwe had guaranteed the credit. Mr. Joseph’s then lawyer and legal luminary, Afe Babalola SAN tried to intervene to resolve the issue between them and they held meetings at Ibadan. However, when they could not reach an amicable settlement, Mr. Joseph changed the narrative – claiming that he had no knowledge of the transaction and reported the case to the Police SFU as a fraud. The question is: if his company was actually defrauded, why hold settlement meetings first, and when it failed then report to the Police a case of fraud?

Further Investigations by the Police (Force CID) Headquarters Abuja

Not satisfied with the report of the investigation by the Police SFU, Benjamin Joseph went ahead to lodge another petition with the Nigerian Police (Force CID) Headquarters, Abuja, in 2014, on the same set of facts and allegations. The then Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase instructed a detailed investigation.  The investigations by the Force Headquarters also came to the same conclusion as the SFU Report. It was this deceit that informed the Police to commence criminal proceedings against Mr. Joseph for false and misleading information and waste of Police resources and time, in Charge No. CR/216/16 (IGP vs. Benjamin Joseph), at the FCT High Court, Abuja before Honourable Justice Peter Kekemeke.

Investigation by the EFCC

Again, in 2016, Mr. Benjamin Joseph petitioned the Office of the then Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on the same facts, insinuating that his company was used to defraud the Federal Government of Nigeria of over N200m. In this case, he claimed that though payment was made, no computers were supplied to the FIRS.  The EFCC acting on the instruction of the VP launched a nationwide investigation and confirmed that all the laptops were supplied and their assigned users identified at FIRS, and again, showing that Benjamin Joseph lied. The EFCC report also exonerated Technology Distributions Limited and its staff, Chris Eze Ozims, Shade Oyebode, and Charles Adigwe,  of any fraud, as the money received by the company was the actual invoice value of the computers supplied to Mr. Joseph’s company, Citadel, on credit. It was also noted that Zinox Technologies Limited and its Chairman, Mr. Leo Stan Ekeh, had no involvement, whatsoever, with the transaction.

However, following the insistence of Benjamin Joseph, the EFCC charged the said representatives of Citadel, Chief Igbokwe and Princess Kama in Charge No.CR/244/2018 before Honourable Justice Senchi. But in a considered judgment, Honourable Justice Senchi dismissed all the allegations put forward by Benjamin Joseph in his petition to the EFCC as false and imposed damage of N20million against him. The EFCC did not appeal the judgment and indeed saw no reason to do otherwise.

Intervention by the current AGF

In the criminal charge contained in Charge No. CR/216/2016 before Honourable Justice Peter Kekemeke, while the Police Prosecutor, Simon Lough SAN, closed his case since 2018, Mr. Joseph has used all manner of alibi to delay the fair trial of the case.   He first filed a No-Case Submission, but to which the trial judgment ruled against him to the effect that the Police had established a triable case against him and requested him to enter his defence. He then started petitioning the office of the past Attorneys-General to withdraw the charge against him but they refused his request and rather directed the Police to prosecute him to logical conclusion.  However, in a curious twist, the current AGF, the respected Lateef Fagbemi SAN, withdrew and discontinued the prosecution of Mr. Joseph.

The volte-face by the AGF is seen as utter disobedience of a subsisting court order given on 14th June 2024 by Honourable Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/376/2024). Recall that on Friday, 14 June 2024, a fresh case (Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/376/2024), came up before Honourable Justice Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja. It was a case brought by the duo Chief Onny Igbokwe and Princess Kama (as Plaintiffs) against the Attorney General of the Federation and Inspector General of Police (as Defendants), challenging the directive given by the Attorney General to the Police to withdraw and discontinue the criminal proceedings against Mr. Benjamin Joseph pending before Honourable Justice Peter Kekemeke of the FCT High Court in Charge No. CR/216/2016. The basis of this new case is that there is a subsisting judgment made by Honourable Justice Senchi of the FCT High Court in Charge No. CR/244/2024, which dismissed as false the same facts and allegations by Benjamin Joseph and imposed a N20million damages against him for giving the EFCC false information. Since there is a subsisting judgment on the merit of these facts, the Attorney-General overreached himself to now acquit Benjamin Joseph, as if he never gave false information to the Police. It is not in public interest as certain demands as contained in the 1999 Constitution were not met to justify the withdrawal of the case by the Attorney-General.
However, to the shock of lawyers appearing for the Prosecution, when the other case with Charge No. CR/216/2016, came up before Honourable Justice Kekemeke on Thursday, 20 June 2024, a lawyer from the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Barrister F. N. Umoh, Assistant Chief State Counsel, announced an appearance for the Prosecution and said she had the instruction of the Attorney General to withdraw and discontinue the case.  In the circumstance, Honourable Justice Kekemeke was constrained into making a ruling striking out Charge No. CR/216/2016, and acquitting Benjamin Joseph.  As aforesaid, though Mr. Joseph got the reprieve he long begged and craved from the Attorney-General, it does not derogate from the judgment of Honourable Justice Senchi which dismissed as false his allegations against Technology Distributions Limited and other persons, and held him liable for false information with a N20milliin damages still hanging on his neck.

In effect, Mr. Joseph was not acquitted because he did not provide false information to the Police, he was acquitted on the prerogative of the AGF to apply nolle prosequi in any case he wishes.

About Bukola Olanrewaju

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