The Managing Director of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, Benjamin Joseph, has accused the immediate past Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, of frustrating a case of fraud against some suspects.
Joseph said Arase allegedly refused to release the case file to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions which had ordered the prosecution of the suspects in its legal advice.
He said after the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, referred the case to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the ex-IG, three days to his retirement, ordered that he (Joseph) should be arraigned on trumped-up charges.
Joseph said his persecution started after he allegedly refused the plea of the former IG and the “powerful suspects” to take N10m as settlement for the case of fraud.
Our correspondent learnt that Joseph’s company had been awarded a contract worth N216m by the Federal Inland Revenue Service on December 6, 2012.
However, a syndicate reportedly approached Joseph, saying his company would not execute the contract, but that he would be paid N15m as settlement.
Our correspondent was told that Joseph refused the offer, saying he preferred to lose the contract than accept the arrangement.
He was reportedly told later that the contract had been awarded to another firm.
However, nine months later, the FIRS was said to have accused Joseph’s company of “under-declaring” during an audit of its account.
Our correspondent gathered that during an examination of documents, Joseph was told that the contract awarded to his company was actually executed in his company’s name and N216m paid into the company’s account.
PUNCH Metro was told in the course of investigation, Joseph discovered that a fraudulent account had been opened in his company’s name, with his signature forged to perpetrate the crime.
Our correspondent gathered that the names of those who opened the account were later discovered to be those of the suspected members of the syndicate.
The group allegedly begged Joseph to collect N5.7m as settlement, which was later increased to N10m.
Joseph told PUNCH Metro that he refused the offers because his company’s reputation was at stake over a project it did execute.
He said he had demanded a letter of apology and an indemnity from the suspects, but they refused, saying he should only take the money, assuring him that there would be no repercussions.
The matter was said to have been taken to the Special Fraud Unit, Lagos, which then wrote the DPP for legal advice at the end of its investigation.
Joseph said, “After the SFU concluded its investigation, it applied for a legal advice from the DPP, Lagos State.
“When I, however, saw the way the matter was going, I wrote a protest letter to the then Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, on July 3, 2014, and he asked that the case file be sent to him.
“I later went to see him on the case, together with my lawyers, to explain my plight to him.
“He said he had spoken with the suspects and they told him that they had offered me money, but I refused it. I said money was not my problem, but I just wanted to clear my name. He (Arase) said I should take the N10m and avoid trouble.”
Joseph said he asked Arase to put it into writing that he was the one giving the instruction, adding that he declined the request.
He explained that a few weeks later, the Investigating Police Officer assigned to handle the case in the office of the DIG, one Sergeant Dare Emmanuel, called sometime in March 2015, saying the DPP’s legal advice was out.
He added that the legal advice, dated March 9, 2015, with file number DPP/ADV:1009/14, signed by one Muhammed Diri and addressed to the Officer-in-Charge, Special Enquiry Bureau, established a prima facie case of fraud, forgery, among others, against the suspects.
Joseph said the IPO assured him that he had already drafted charges against the suspects based on the advice, adding that the case file would be transferred to the Ministry of Justice as soon as the DIG, Arase, gave his approval.
PUNCH Metro was told that the IPO, however, did not get back to Joseph.
As the case was going on, Arase was reportedly promoted to the post of the IG, and a new DIG, Dan Doma, assumed office.
“In May, I went to Abuja and met with Doma over the case. After narrating everything to him, he called the IPO and recounted my story, which the IPO confirmed.
“Doma stood up in anger and asked Emmanuel, ‘What is the case file still doing here?’ The IPO said it was because Arase had not given approval for the transfer of the case,” Joseph added.
Our correspondent was told that the DIG ordered Emmanuel to take the case file to the Ministry of Justice and arraign the suspects the following morning, with an instruction to Joseph to report to him the following day if the order was not carried out.
Joseph said he was, however, surprised when he got to the Force headquarters the following day and met the IPO in a sad mood.
He said, “His eyeballs were red from crying. I asked him what the matter was and he said Arase invited him that morning and threatened to dismiss him for wanting to embarrass him. Emmanuel said he didn’t know how the ex-IG got to know about the decision of the DIG to transfer the case and arraign the suspects.
“I couldn’t believe him, so I decided to see the DIG myself. I told the DIG what Emmanuel told me. He smiled and said the IG called him that morning over the matter, (saying) that I should hold on.”
That week, Emmanuel was reportedly transferred to Kano State.
Joseph said while returning to Lagos on a flight, he sent a text message to Arase to register his displeasure over the manner the case was being handled, adding that the ex-IG asked to see him three days later.
However, it was learnt that Arase refused to see him when he returned to Abuja with his lawyers.
The ex-IG was said to have asked him to conclude a civil suit he (Joseph) had instituted against the suspects before the criminal process would start.
Our correspondent was told that Joseph had filed a civil suit on May 14, 2015 against the suspects, but the matter had yet to be heard due to preliminary objections and applications filed by the defence counsel.
It was learnt that Joseph’s lawyers demanded that the case file be released to the DPP and when their appeals failed, a writ of Mandamus was filed before an FCT High Court, Abuja in July 2015.
PUNCH Metro was told that the court had also yet to hear the case.
Joseph said he engaged the ex-IG in another chat after he (Joseph) travelled to the US sometime in July 2015, saying his efforts were futile.
He said in December, he was told that the ex-IG wrote the DPP that there was no need to send the case file again as the suspects had already been arraigned by the police.
Joseph said, “I asked the DPP in Abuja to show me the case number the police were talking about. It turned out to be the case number of my civil suit, which had not been heard since 2014.”
He said he wrote a letter to Vice-President, Osinbajo, on the matter, who then referred the case to the EFCC.
A letter from the State House, Abuja, dated December 21, 2015 and signed by the Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the VP, Ade Ipaye, stated in part, “I have been asked to inform you that your submission has since been forwarded to the EFCC for due consideration.”
It was gathered that while the EFCC was inviting the parties for interrogation, Arase filed a charge against Joseph less than a week to his retirement.
The charge, which was filed before an Abuja High Court, and served on Joseph on Thursday, June 16, 2016, is slated for hearing on Monday, June 27, 2016.
The ex-IG, who retired on Tuesday, June 21, accused Joseph of lying that his signature was forged to open his account.
PUNCH Metro learnt that the police based the charge on a forensic report from Lagos, dated March 12, 2014 and issued by one R.A. Onwuzuligbo.
The report, which compared Joseph’s signature and the alleged forged signature, stated, “In my opinion, there are several features of similarity between questioned and standard signatures on documents marked appendix ‘X2-X3’ and ‘X1’.”
However, another forensic report, by one ASP Reginald Udunze of the Nigeria Police Force, Forensic Section, Imo State, dated June 11, 2015, said, “The writer of the signature on the document dated June 20, 2008 and marked A3, did not sign the signature on the document marked A1-A2 (alleged forged document).”
On the impending arraignment, Joseph wondered why he would forge his own signature to open an account in Ikoyi, Lagos, when he had two accounts already opened in Ibadan, Oyo State, where he was based.
The spokesperson for the Nigeria Police Force, Abuja, Olabisi Kolawole, asked Joseph to face the police charge and clear his name.
She said, “Though I am not privy to the details of this case, but if he has been asked to go and face a charge, then he should do so and clear himself. It means that is the outcome of police investigation into the case and he should not start finding faults. There have been cases where complainants became suspects.”
The spokesperson for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, promised to get back to our correspondent on the case, but he had yet to do so as of press time.
Efforts to reach the immediate past IG, Arase, were abortive as he didn’t pick his calls or reply to a text sent to him on the matter.