February 5, 2015

Ecobank rejects Togolese labour court jurisdiction, affirms dismissal of former CEO

Ecobank rejects Togolese labour court jurisdiction, affirms dismissal of former CEO

By Omoh Gabriel

Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI), parent company of the Ecobank Group, said yesterday that it is appealing a Togolese labour court decision awarding its dismissed former Chief Executive Officer Thierry Tanoh $11.6 million in alleged damages for supposed ‘wrongful dismissal.’

In a statement signed by Richard Uku Group Head, Corporate Communications

The bank said that “The decision is disappointing but not surprising.

“ETI does not accept the legitimacy of the Togolese court’s ruling because the court does not have legal jurisdiction over Mr Tanoh’s employment contract. Mr Tanoh signed this contract before assumption of his post as Ecobank Group CEO in July 2012 in the full knowledge that it was governed by English law.

According to him “The contract expressly provides that all disputes shall be settled by international arbitration in London by an arbitrator appointed by the President of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. The contract grants exclusive jurisdiction to the English courts in relevant matters. Mr Tanoh, an Ivorian national with permanent residence in the United States during his tenure as ETI Group CEO, rejected these express provisions of his contract, preferring instead to pursue litigation in a Togolese court for reasons best known to him.

Continuing the statement said “This is the second time in as many months that Mr Tanoh has sought to extract substantial sums of money from Ecobank on claims which he knows would not stand up in most courts of law. Last month, an Ivorian commercial court, before which he filed a civil suit against ETI, Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and Dr Daniel Matjila for ‘defamation,’ ruled in his favour in the amount of $15 million. This decision is equally being appealed.

According to the statement “Jurisdiction technicalities aside, and on substantive matters alone, Ecobank stands firm on the decision to relieve Mr Tanoh of his responsibilities and rejects the excessive sums of money that he is demanding in local courts in Togo and Cote d’Ivoire. His removal from office was fully justifiable. Many of ETI’s founders, shareholders, directors and a number of Ecobank’s regulatory authorities were resolute in their calls for Mr Tanoh to step down. This was after due consideration of an overwhelming amount of compelling material, which showed that his dismissal was clearly warranted.

“ETI has lodged a criminal complaint against Mr Tanoh for taking away all official files that he handled as Group CEO of Ecobank, and for deleting all electronic files from the official computers that he used. These unbelievable decisions by the local courts in Cote d’Ivoire and Togo amount to self-inflicting damage, for they send unambiguously negative signals to the business community. They are a deterrent to local and potential foreign direct investment in both countries. They raise serious questions for any business entity about how independent or objective a ruling they could obtain in potential litigation. The ETI Board will hold a special meeting next week to consider its options in the wake of these decisions.

“ETI is confident that it will win its appeal of this judgment, and it continues to keep its focus on its most fundamental priorities, which include the business of banking, doing well by its staff, its customers and its shareholders. Ecobank continues to enjoy strong performance and high shareholder confidence. Ultimately, it is a unique pan-African institution that remains committed to contributing to economic development and financial integration in Africa.”