1 May 2017

Nigeria: Alleged Zinox Contract Fraud - Law Firm Removes Probed Justice Ministry Official's Profile From Website

Hours after PREMIUM TIMES report revealed that the Federal Ministry of Justice had launched a probe of its senior staff accused of working to stop the prosecution of Zinox Computers' top officials, the law firm at the centre of the scandal has moved to destroy evidence.

An investigation by this newspaper showed that Stella Anukam, the director of International & Comparative Law in the ministry, was named as a senior team member of Integrity Law Firm, a chamber linked to Zinox Computers.

Top management staff of the tech firm are accused of contract fraud and are facing federal charges.

But a recent petition filed by Integrity Law Firm is now seen as capable of further stalling the lengthy case that began in 2012.

Mrs. Anukam's role in the law firm violates a federal rule barring government workers on paid employment from engaging in private practice.

The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday the embattled director had been given 48 hours to respond to the allegations.

Earlier, the director of Public Prosecution, Mohammed Umar, had said the ministry had commenced investigations into the allegations against Mrs. Anukam.

Integrity Law Firm, which had previously edited the profile of Mrs. Anukam on its website, removed that detail entirely from its site by Friday after PREMIUM TIMES' report.

The profile of a Federal Capital Territory Customary Court judge, Femi Odeahan, which was also on the website, was equally removed.

They were earlier named as first and second management team members of the law firm.

The proprietor the firm, according to the Corporate Affairs Commission, is Innocent Eremionkhale, Mrs. Anukam's younger brother.

Ahead of this newspaper's report last week, the law firm had edited Mrs. Anukam's profile to reflect the status of "an external consultant", following a petition by Udah, Bala, James & Partners to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, raising issues of conflict of interest against Mrs. Anukam.

Udah, Bala, James & Partners, who are counsel to Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, an Ibadan-based ICT retail company, had accused Mrs. Anukam of using her office to frustrate efforts by the ministry to prosecute the management of Zinox Computers.

The managing director of Citadel Oracle, Joseph Benjamin, had petitioned the police accusing top officials of Zinox Group, including the Chairman, Leonard Stanley Ekeh, and wife, Chioma, of hijacking a N170.3 million contract awarded to his company by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, in 2012.

The other accused persons in the case 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 O. Kama.

Two staff of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu, were also identified.

Investigations into the case were completed by the police Special Fraud Unit, SFU, in 2014 and a case established against the suspects. But, prosecution was stalled after police refused to release the case file to the directorate for public prosecution.

However, while awaiting prosecution of the accused, the police arraigned the petitioner (Mr. Benjamin) for alleged false information in his petition against the suspects.

A petition by Mr. Benjamin's lawyers against his trial had compelled Mr. Malami to order the DPP to take-over the case and transfer the case file to the ministry to avoid a possible miscarriage of justice.

But a petition by Integrity Law Firm alleging that the police had an ongoing case against Mr. Benjamin made the director of public prosecution, Mr. Umar, to issue another letter to the police reinstating its prosecution, apparently in defiance of the minister's earlier directive.

Mr. Umar told PREMIUM TIMES the letter to the police was issued based on a fresh directive by the Attorney General, whom he said changed his mind on his previous decision.

Citadel Oracle's lawyers blamed the Attorney-General's reversal of his decision on police involvement in the prosecution of their client on Mrs. Anukam's role in the Integrity Law Firm's petition.

Nigeria

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