Nigeria News

NIGERIA: Akingbola Pleads Subjudice as FRC Probes Intercontinental Sale

A mild drama ensued yesterday when the former Managing Director/CEO of the defunct Intercontinental Bank, Mr. Erastus Akingbola; the immediate past Managing Director/CEO of Access Bank Plc, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imokhuede; and his successor, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, honoured the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria’s (FRC) invitation for questioning on the 2011 and 2102 financial accounts of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
 
 
Others present at the probe included Akingbola’s lawyers and Access Bank’s lawyers – the UK-based Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and Nigerian law firm, Usoro & Usoro.
A reliable FRC source informed THISDAY that at the first session of the two-day hearing, which commenced at exactly 11 am at the head office of FRC in Lagos, Akingbola declined to make his presentation when invited by the investigating panel, saying the matter was subjudice.
 
 
THISDAY learnt that when called upon after the introduction of the parties at the hearing, which had audio-visual equipment for ease of presentation by those invited, Akingbola informed the panel that he could not make any statement because the matter was currently before a court of competent jurisdiction, adding that based on the advice of his lawyers, it would be wrong for him to comment on the matter.
 
 
However, after repeated attempts by officials of FRC to make him talk, the former bank chief executive had a change of mind and decided to submit and sign a petition he had in his possession on the takeover of his bank by the CBN in 2009 and its subsequent acquisition by Access Bank in 2011.
According to the FRC source, the submission of the petition by Akingbola was the first time the former back CEO would make a copy of the document available to the council.
 
 
He disclosed that Akingbola’s decision to remain silent on the grounds that the matter was subjudice might have been informed by the presence of Access Bank’s international lawyers, as it was the same UK law firm that had represented the bank and secured a judgment against Akingbola from a London court in 2012.
“Akingbola submitted his petition to the FRC for the first time today (Wednesday). In fact, he started signing the petition and copies were submitted to the panel.
 
 
“I think that upon sighting Access Bank’s lawyers, he was counselled by his lawyers to keep quite as anything he said could have been used against him again, especially given the fact that a London Court had found him guilty and had ordered that he refund £654 million to Access Bank,” the source explained.
 
 
In fact, THISDAY learnt that one of Akingbola’s properties located at 19 Embassy Court, London NW8 9SX was sold yesterday for £5.7 million pursuant to the judgment of Mr. Justice Burton of the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London that had ordered him to refund the sum of £654 million to the defunct Intercontinental Bank which was acquired by Access Bank.
 
 
Given Akingbola’s refusal to speak at yesterday’s hearing, representatives of Access Bank and their lawyers were given seven days from the date of receipt of the petition, to prepare their defence.
“Initially, they were given 48 hours, but their lawyers asked for more time and they were given seven days. The seven days starts from the day the petition is made available to Aig-Imokhuede, Wigwe and others involved in the Intercontinental-Access Bank matter,” the source added.
 
 
Another source, who opened up on the matter, said it was obvious that there were so many procedural lapses on the part of the FRC.
He wondered why the officials of Access Bank who were not even informed by FRC as to why they were being invited prior to yesterday’s hearing, had to make an appearance when the council itself had not even been availed with copies of Akingbola’s petition.
He said FRC should have obtained the petition first from Akingbola and if it had any questions that needed to be answered, should have invited officials of Access Bank subsequently at some future date with a clear indication on the information it wanted.
“However, all that happened was Access Bank officials were invited like everyone else through the pages of the newspapers and were bereft of information on why they were required to make an appearance,” the source said.
 
 
However, the afternoon session of the hearing which featured the Managing Director of the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC), Mr. Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli and his predecessor, Mr. Ehi’ E Okoyomon, who was removed from the position last year, centred mainly on the differential in the “currency issue expenses” in the CBN financial accounts in 2011 and 2012.
 
 
CBN’s accounts had shown that the central bank paid a total of N38.233 billion to the NSPMC in 2011 for printing of banknotes, whereas in the same year, NSPMC reported a total turnover of N29.370 billion for all its transactios with all clients (including the CBN)
But the suspended CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had in his response to the alleged fraudulent activities and sundry payments of N38.233 billion in 2011 for the printing of banknotes, explained that the expense item of N38.233 billion to NSPMC was made up of: N28.738 billion payment to NSPMC in 2011; b) N6.587 billion accrued liability in 2011 but paid in 2012 when deliveries were received; and c) N2.829 billion audit adjustment journal entry into the account at the end of 2011 in respect of prepayments to NSPMC.
 
 
But while Okoyomon was ready to make his presentation yesterday, Bamalli demanded more time to prepare, so the matter was postponed to next Tuesday.
 
 
Nevertheless, the FRC investigation attracted heavy security presence at the Elephant Cement complex in Alausa, Ikeja.
Occupants and visitors to the complex were subjected to thorough searches as men of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the State Security Service (SSS) were present on the street. About five police vans were also patrolling the premises with sniffer dogs.
 
 
The FRC hearing continues today and is expected to feature Sanusi; the acting CBN Governor, Dr. Sarah Alade; Deputy Governor, Operations, CBN, Dr. Kingsley Moghalu; Deputy Governor, Corporate Services, CBN, Alhaji Suleiman Barau; the immediate past CBN Deputy Governor, Operations, Mr. Tunde Lemo; Managing Director of the Bank of Industry (BoI), Ms. Evelyn Oputu; Mr. Babatunde Dayo; Mr. Gabriel Okpeh; and Mr. Ezekiel Ejedele.

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