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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Akingbola returns, goes to EFCC today

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Court re-affirms agency’s power to probe states’ accounts
THE former Group Chief Executive Officer of Intercontinental Bank Plc, Erastus Akingbola, has returned to the country, 355 days after his departure into self-exile abroad.
He arrived in Abuja early in the morning on a British Airways flight and was received by friends and relations.
Akingbola was later seen consulting with his lawyers and other experts on his expected response to charges levelled against him in absentia by Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
His friends affirmed that he returned to the country on his own volition and would voluntarily submit himself to EFCC this morning.
In the meantime, a Federal High Court, Lagos has re-affirmed the powers of the EFCC to investigate finances of the federating units with the intent to prosecute corrupt officials.
The court, presided over by Justice Mohammed Idris made the affirmation in a judgment delivered on the suit filed by the Attorney General of Delta State against the anti-graft agency over alleged interference of EFCC in the state’s account necessitating a letter to the Oceanic Bank Plc, bankers to the state.
EFCC spokesman, Femi Babafemi also said that the commission got a hint of Akingbola’s return, adding that necessary steps were being taken to arrest him, “as he is on our wanted list”.
But a close associate of Akingbola affirmed that he was in the country to prove his innocence, through due process of the law.
Akingbola was removed from office by CBN on August 14, last year over alleged violation of corporate governance code and other financial infractions as helmsman of Intercontinental Bank.
He was immediately replaced by Mahmud Alabi, a former Chief Executive Officer of Wema Bank Plc.
The former-bank chief was later charged for the alleged offences even as he continually claimed innocence.
Akingbola, who was later declared wanted by EFCC, explained that he could not immediately return to the country as he claimed that his eventual trial might not be fair.
According to one of his lawyers, “our client (Akingbola) was not evading arrest all along.  Indeed, as soon as it was alleged that he was evading arrest, he notified the UK authorities of his whereabouts and provided full contact details.”
He added: “Our client believes that the prime object of detaining his colleagues was to prevent them from presenting their side of the story”.
Akingbola, who has also challenged his removal from office, may have to face a 23-count charge already levelled against him, which included money laundering to the tune of N27 billion.
Already, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, on December 31, granted a mareva injunction, freezing his local and international assets.
Mareva injunction is a type of court order of intercountry relief, designed to freeze the assets of a defendant, in appropriate circumstances, pending determination of a plaintiff claim.
Intercontinental Bank also obtained similar injunction from the High Court of Justice, Queens Bench Division, Commercial Court, London, dated December 24, 2009, to freeze his assets worth $10.5 million
Akingbola’s travails started on August 14, when the CBN sacked him, along with four other bank chiefs, on accounts of what the apex bank called “excessively high level of non-performing loans in the five banks”.
This was attributed to poor corporate governance practices, lax credit administration processes and the absence or non-adherence to the bank’s credit risk management practices and having acted in a manner detrimental to the interest of their depositors and creditors.
Specifically, Akingbola is also facing charges that include conspiracy to grant unsecured credit facilities, conspiracy to manipulate share prices, reckless consideration of credit facilities without adequate security and failure to present monthly statement of account to the Central Bank, among other charges.
The assets on which the order was granted include, but are not limited to: shares held in listed companies in Nigeria, including, but not limited to, Intercontinental Bank Plc and Access Bank Plc, among others; shares held in other companies in Nigeria including, but not limited to, Tropics Securities Limited; Tropics Property Limited; Tropics Holdings Limited; Summit Finance Company Limited; Tropics Finance and Investments Company Limited; Yankuri Nigeria Limited; Regal Investment Nigeria Limited and Bankinson Nigeria Limited.
In the judgment, Justice Idris held that EFCC, which came into effect through the Act of the National Assembly has the right to investigate any state’s account with the purpose of prosecuting those found liable to corruption.
In dismissing the application, Justice Idris held that whereas the state House of Assembly has no powers to investigate with the view of legislation, EFCC has the powers to investigate the state’s funds for prosecution purposes.
According to the judge, though the constitution guarantees the rights of each federating unit to act independently and confers on the states’ Houses of Assembly the power to investigate the Executive with the objective to aid legislations, it however does not confer the Assembly the right to prosecute.
On the issue of whether the Delta State’s statement of account marked exhibit (A) qualified to be a public document and needed to be expunged from the records of the court for not being properly secured, Justice Idris held that the document qualified as a public statement since it contains acts of public officers in line with section 109A of the Evidence Act.
The judge also awarded the cost of N10, 000 against the plaintiff.
In the suit, Delta was challenging EFCC’s powers through its letter dated July 11, 2005 to the Oceanic Bank Plc requesting for details of the state’ account domiciled at the bank.
Delta State government in the suit which also had Oceanic bank as the second defendant wants the court to declare that the said letter contravenes the principle of customer and client relationship.
The state also averred that the job of investigating the finances of the state is a preserve of Delta State House of Assembly and not that of the EFCC, which came in existence through an Act of the National Assembly.
The state argued that the constitution recognises the independence of the three tiers of the government, which cannot be compromised. It urged the court to determine whether the bank's statement of account qualified as a public document.

The Guardian

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