Trial of 13 ex-bank chiefs begins today in Lagos

The Nation: There were indications yesterday that the suspects being held by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the bank loans crisis may be arraigned in court today. The Nation reported exclusively yesterday that charges had been filed against 13 suspects in Lagos. EFCC chairman Mrs Farida Waziri said yesterday in Lagos: “In a few hours from now, some of the suspects would have

their day in court.”

On why they have not been arraigned before now, Mrs Waziri said EFCC wanted to conclude investigation and identify the actual culprits, who plunged five banks into N747billion debts. Five former CEOs of the banks have been fired by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

“In fact, the reason we have not arraigned some of the bank executives in our custody is because we wanted to be sure about defaulters so that we can arraign them as conspirators alongside the bank chiefs,” she told reporters.

No fewer than 15 bank directors are in EFCC custody. Two sacked managing directors are still at large, Mrs Waziri said.

Asked whether it was not a violation of their rights to keep them beyond 24 hours, Mrs Waziri said “they’re not held in prison”, but are kept within the commission’s premises.

She added that the commission was working within the rule of law. “This is a complex matter. We explained to the court to allow us to keep them beyond 24 hours,” she said.

Mrs Waziri urged the courts not to grant “frivolous” injunctions that could jeopardise the commission’s effort.

Her words: “As you are aware, the Commission has been quite active in the banking sector in the past few weeks, following the sack of the chief executives of five banks by the Central Bank Governor over unwholesome activities that border on criminality.

“As you will recall, a week ago, I issued a seven-day ultimatum to all individual and corporate entities that are indebted to the affected banks to liquidate their debts.

“Today marks the expiration of that ultimatum and it is my fervent hope that those concerned took advantage of the ultimatum to pay their debts.

“For those who failed to do so, they must be prepared to face the consequences.

“We have information that many of them have been holding secret meetings and strategising to escape arrest and prosecution for economic crimes. Some are said to be preparing to go to court to seek protection.

“While it is within the right of every Nigerian to seek legal redress against perceived wrong, we would crave the indulgence of the respected members of the Nigerian Bench not to consider any frivolous interlocutory application from bank debtors as this particular point in time.

“Some of us may not know it but these are very critical times for the banking sector and our beloved nation.

“What some of these individuals and organisations have done is pure economic sabotage and we should not allow them to escape with their loot.

“We, therefore, appeal to all stakeholders to cooperate with the commission as we go all out after these defaulters tomorrow (today). We have compiled a comprehensive list of all defaulters.

“Our operatives are fully mobilised to ensure that this exercise is successful. The EFCC will keep you abreast of developments, in line with my policy to be open about our activities.”

Before she spoke to reporters, the EFCC Chairman had met behind closed doors with the new Chief Executive Officers of the five embattled banks in Lagos.

A statement by the head of Media and Publicity of the EFCC, Mr. Femi Babafemi, said: “The meeting, which began soon after the anti-graft agency’s boss held a long meeting with operatives who have been investigating the sacked five bank CEOs, was called to get their input into the list of defaulters the Commission is set to go after, with effect from Wednesday, following the expiration of the seven-day ultimatum given the bank debtors to offset their debts or face arrest.

“Those who attended the meeting include the CEOs of Union Bank, Intercontinental Bank, Oceanic Bank, Fin Bank, and Afribank.”

The meeting, which lasted for some hours, was meant to take stock of debts recovered so far by the banks.

A source, who spoke in confidence with our correspondent, said: “Mrs. Waziri met with the new CEOs to reconcile the accounts of the debtors to determine the defaulters.

“The meeting will enable the commission to get the actual figure of the recovered debts. You know the debts are over N700billion.

“We want to know those who could not meet the deadline so that we can apply the asset forfeiture clause, pending legal action against them.

“Already, our operatives have been assigned specific debtors and a list of their assets based on the collaterals for the loans they obtained.”

from The Nation