1 January 2010

Nigeria: Lagos, London Courts Freeze Akingbola's N346 Billion Assets

Lagos — Justice Tijani Abubakar of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday ordered the freezing of the accounts of the former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO)â-àof Intercontinental Bank Plc, Mr. Erastus Akingbola, for offences amounting to N346 billion and £10 million.

Also ordered to be frozen by the court pending the final determination of the 28-count charge filed against him are accounts belonging to Akingbola's wife, his companies and those of his agents.

The orders which were sequel to an ex-parte application brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and argued by its counsel, Konyin Ajayi (SAN), was filed under sections 6 (D), 7(2), 24(11), 26(1), 28 and 34(1) of the EFCC Act 2004.

The anti-graft commission had sought, among other things, the hearing of the originating motion within the shortest possible time to prevent Akingbola from dissipating the assets.

Intercontinental Bank Plc had obtained a similar injunction from the High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division, Commercial Court, London dated December 24, 2009 freezing Akingbola's assets worldwide up to the tune of £10.5 million.

That prohibition included the following assets in particular: £8,540,134.58 and £1,300,000.00 which were transferred to Fuglers Solicitors; any money held in an account of Fuglers Solicitors; the property on 26 Chester Terrace, London, NW1 4NB; the property on 65 Grove End Road, London, NW8 9NH; and the property on 8 Connaught Street, London, W2 2AH.

Akingbola had fled the country last August to London, the United Kingdom, shortly after he was sacked as the CEO of the bank by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. The anti-graft agency had long issued a warrant for his arrest.

The EFCC has also simultaneously filed a 28-count charge against the former bank chief at the court bordering on money-laundering and other economic crimes amounting to a staggering N346 billion in his capacity as the Executive Vice-Chairman of the bank and Group MD of the bank. The move is aimed at trying the former bank chief in absentia.

In the affidavit in support of the originating motion obtained by THISDAY yesterday, the anti-graft commission revealed that prima facie evidence unearthed in the course of investigation showed that Akingbola engaged in serious economic and financial crimes including money laundering, theft, market manipulation, tax fraud, obtaining by false pretences, criminal granting of loans and facilities, insider abuse, insider trading and abuse of office.

It disclosed that the cumulative total amount comprising the charges and allegations against the former banker was more than the annual budget of most states in the country.

Apart from the N329.6 billion and £9.8 million stated in the charge sheet as stolen by Akingbola, the anti-graft commission also said he was named as an accomplice in each of the charges preferred against the non-executive directors of the bank who were arraigned on August 31, 2009 at the court.

It said sometime in March and July 2009, Akingbola by an elaborate scheme converted, stole and caused to be laundered by way of transfer the sum of £8.5 million and £1.3 million belonging to the bank to one Fuglers Solicitors Client Account in London even when the firm was not a solicitor to Intercontinental Bank and was never retained by the bank for the provision of any service and that the transfers had no direct bearing or connection with the bank.

The EFCC also revealed that given the level of loss suffered by the bank and the massive scale of economic crimes perpetrated by the former bank chief, a team of examiners from the CBN joined in the investigation into the affairs of the bank and by its report dated September 15, 2009, unearthed more economic crimes he perpetrated running into billions of naira and millions of pounds.

He was also accused of illegally withdrawing money from the bank to some of the companies he was director and converting and stealing from the bank and its subsidiaries for the benefit of, and laundered through, his companies.

It argued that there was good reason to believe that Akingbola used his wide knowledge of banking and finance to secure and collect the proceeds of his crimes in various investments, instruments, assets and holdings in the country and various parts of the world which it was making efforts to trace.

Stating that investigations were still ongoing into the web of economic crime committed by the former CEO, the anti-graft commission urged the court not to refuse giving orders for his assets to be frozen, saying that without the orders, he would dissipate, alienate, diminish the assets and make restitution impossible.

It argued that but for his absconding, he would have been arrested, statements taken from him on caution, and his assets disclosed, seized or attached pursuant to powers under the EFCC Act, 2004.

Submitting that if the orders of the court were not granted, the EFCC would not be able to effectively carry out its statutory function, it added that it was of utmost and urgent public interest and aid the administration of justice to order the seizure or interim forfeiture of all the known assets of the former bank chief.

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