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Seven banks ordered to remit hidden funds to government

Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court, Lagos on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 ordered seven commercial banks in the country to temporarily remit a total of $793,200,000 to the Federal Government (FG).

Godwin Emefiele

Godwin Emefiele, Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)

The funds were allegedly hidden with the banks in contravention of the Federal Government’s policy on lodgment of funds into the Treasury Single Account (TSA).

The judge ordered the seven banks to remit the various amounts being allegedly kept illegally in their custody to the designated Federal Government’s Asset Recovery dollars account domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The concerned banks are United Bank for Africa, Diamond Bank Plc, Skye Bank Plc, First Bank Limited, Fidelity Bank Plc, Keystone Bank Limited and Sterling Bank Plc.

According to court papers filed by counsel to the Attorney General of the Federation, Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), a total of $367.4 million was illegally hidden by three government agencies in UBA, while a sum of $41 million was illegally kept in a NAPIMS fixed deposit account with Skye Bank.

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The court papers stated that $277.9 million was hidden in Diamond Bank, $18.9 million in First Bank, $24.5 million in Fidelity Bank, $17 million in Keystone Bank and $46.5 million in Sterling Bank.

A lawyer from Akinseye-George’s law firm, Vincent Adodo, who deposed to a 15-paragraph affidavit in support of an ex parte application filed by the AGF, stated that seven banks colluded with Federal Government officials to hide the funds in breach of the government’s TSA policy.

The funds, he said, were revenues, donations, transfers, refunds, grants, taxes, fees, dues, tariffs etc, accruable to the Federal Government from different ministries, departments, parastatals and agencies.

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Adodo said the banks had failed to remit the funds TSA domiciled in CBN in violation of the guidelines issued by the Accountant General of the Federation, which fixed September 15, 2015 as the deadline for such funds to be moved.

He said: “The 1st to 7th respondents (banks), in collaboration with and/or collusion with unknown officials of the Federal Government, conspired to disobey the relevant constitutional provisions, thereby depriving the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of funds belonging to it, which are needed urgently to fund pressing national projects under the 2017 budget.”

Among the allegedly culpable government agencies is National Petroleum Developing Company (NPDC).

Akinseye-George while moving the ex parte application, said it would best serve the interest of justice for Justice Obiozor to order the banks to remit the funds to the Federal Government, to prevent the funds from being moved or dissipated.

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His words: “The withheld funds are urgently required for the implementation of the 2017 budget. The budget has a lifespan of 12 months and we are already in the middle of the year. By hiding these hidden funds, the Federal Government is being forced to borrow money from these commercial banks at exorbitant interest rate.”

After listening to the government’s counsel, Justice Obiozor granted the interim orders.

He directed that the order should be published in a national daily newspaper.

He, subsequently, adjourned till August 8, 2017 for anyone interested in the funds to appear before him to show cause why the interim orders should not be made permanent.

By Chinyere Obia

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