It’s mere blackmail, says anti-graft agency
By Omoh Gabriel, Business Editor
LAGOSâ€”Detained banksâ€™ chiefs, yesterday, alleged that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCCâ€™s operatives were asking them to bargain for their freedom with their shares in the five troubled banks.
They were said to have disclosed this latest development to their counsel, sayingÂ â€œthis is part of plea-bargain deals put forward by the anti-graft commission to secure the co-operation of the directors towards paying off their alleged debt. We were asked to surrender the shares in writing as a means of paying off our alleged indebtedness on one hand and receiving a â€œsoft landingâ€ from the commission on the other.â€
But in a swift reaction, spokesman for EFCC, Femi Babafemi denied the allegation, describing it as a blackmail to which the agency wonâ€™t succumb.
The full text of the message reads; â€œThe attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC has been drawn to an allegation making the rounds that the anti-graft agency has asked some detained bank directors to surrender their shares in their banks in exchange for their freedom.
â€œThe Commission wishes to state that there is no iota of truth in this allegation. It is a known fact that once an accused has been arraigned in court, it is solely the discretion of the court to grant such person bail.
â€œAs such, the fate of all the bank executives that had been arraigned in court for criminal charges lies in the court and the Commission has no control over them other than ensuring diligent prosecution of the case.
â€œThe attempt to blackmail the EFCC with a weak and spurious allegation will bring no gain for those behind it neither will it in any way stop the Commission from going ahead with the trial which has already begun.â€
However, the EFCC had placed difficult bail conditions on the way of the bank directors, making it impossible for them to get bail before they were arraigned last Monday.
According to a very influential director involved, all of the directors of Intercontinental Bank both individually and collectively rejected the plea-bargain arrangement and refused to surrender their shares due to the implications.
â€œSurrendering the shares has severe implications, one of which is that it will expedite CBNâ€™s move to sell the banks to new investors.
â€œAlso since the shares would be transferred in bulk, and the directors own 51 per cent, efforts by other shareholders to protest the CBN plans to sell the Banks to pre-determined foreign banks backed by their Nigerian cronies, would have been compromised and undermined, â€ the source said.
Keen sector watchers say this development, if true will confirm fears that the CBN and EFCC are on a mission to dispossess shareholders of the affected banks of their holdings in the banks with a view to selling them to preferred investors.
The CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has repeatedly said he was ready to sell the banks to new investors in order to recapitalise them.
Sanusi was quoted by Reuters to have reassured counterpart banks and foreign investors about the bailout while speaking in London at the apex bankâ€™s road show that he would not â€œstand in the way of any foreign banks taking a 100 per cent stake in the five Nigerian institutions.â€
He also said that the five banks would be run as going concerns until new investors can be found to recapitalise them.
The Central Bank two weeks ago injected N420 billion into five banks and sacked their senior management, saying lax governance had left them so weakly capitalised that they posed a systemic risk.
It will be recalled that on March 23, Vanguard reported that anti consolidation forces had regrouped with the hope of forcing a take over of the top five banks in the country.
The grand plan by the group is to cause panic and uncertainty in the industry and make the target banks look unsafe for depositors.
Their aim, Vanguard gathered, is to cause loss of public confidence in the banking industry and compel the Federal Government to move in by injecting funds. Further, they ultimately plan is to instigate government to take equity holdings in the targeted banks.
Bank debtors who paid this week
*Goody Ibru â€”N1billion to Union Bank Plc
*Dapo Abiodun of Heyden Oil Ltd â€” N150million to Oceanic Bank Plc
*Ibeto Cement Company- N400million to Union Bank Plc
*Rahamania Oil â€”N53million to Oceanic Bank Plc
*Damanax Cement â€” N1.8billion to Union Bank Plc
*MD, Dangote Industries, Kunle Alake in his personal capacityâ€” N41.5million to Oceanic Bank