…Says Its Action Based On Protecting Depositors’ Funds
Access Bank Plc has denied any wrongdoing in the civil transaction which led to a criminal charge filed by the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigeria Police Force against its Managing Director, Mr Herbert Wigwe and two others before an Ogun State High Court.
The SFU had preferred a N2.5billion charge against Wigwe and others alleging fraud in a bank transaction involving a firm, Metal Africa Steel Products Limited.
But in a statement to the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) on the matter signed by the company Secretary, Sunday Ekwochi, the bank denied the allegations contained in the charges, saying there was no material fact to justify the alleged stealing of metal billets said to belong to MMCE Bank International Plc, the petitioner in the matter.
Access Bank said it was constrained to make the clarification pursuant to its duty to shareholders, saying that its actions were solely based on protecting depositors’ funds.
Giving background to the case, the bank said in 2015, it availed credit facilities to Metal Africa Steel Products Limited to finance the importation of billets and machinery for the expansion of its factory, while upon the grant of the facilities, Form M and Letter of Credit (“LC”) to facilitate the importation of the said billets for which the shipping documents were consigned to the bank were consequently opened.
According to the bank, the facilities were secured by a Debenture Trust Fund over the customer’s assets shared with other lenders.
Explaining further, the bank said: “Upon arrival of the billets, the Bank (Access Bank) released the shipping documents to the Customer (Metal Africa Steel Products Limited)
to enable it clear the goods. The Bank subsequently discovered that the Customer had cleared the goods from the port without payment of appropriate Customs Duty.
“The Bank, in line with its duty to protect its depositors’ fund, reported the alleged crime to SFU which obtained a court order to take over the Customer’s business operation.
“Furthermore, the Bank petitioned Interpol which is presently taking steps to repatriate the suspects involved in the alleged fraud from India. Subsequently, the beneficiary banks (including the Bank) under the debenture Trust Fund, appointed a Receiver/Manger who took over operations of the Customer’s business and paid the appropriate Customs Duty on the billets. The Receiver/Manager subsequently obtained court order from the Federal High Court and sold the billets and distributed the proceeds amongst the beneficiary banks (including the Bank).”
The bank added that it was also aware that the petitioner (MMCE Bank International Plc) also laid claims to the same billets following which there were attempts at settlement between the petitioner and the Receiver/Manager, while the said petitioner subsequently filed a complaint at SFU following the failure of settlement.
“Based on the foregoing, we were surprised to be served with the charges by the SFU alleging, amongst others, that the Bank stole the billets and forged the shipping documents covering the billets.
“We hereby state at no time did the Bank or any of its executives officers commit any of the alleged offences. The Bank has continued to maintain the position that it financed the importation of the billets and that the Receiver/Manager appointed by the Bank and a syndicate of other lenders had the right to sell the goods. We are aware that there are civil matters in court on the same subject.
“We are also aware that there are on-going settlement negotiations between the Receiver/Manager appointed by the Bank and civil matter. We reiterate that the Receiver/Manager appointed by the Bank and a syndicate of other lenders acted within its power to sell the billets.
“We wish to assure our stakeholders that the Bank will continue to take necessary steps to protect its depositors funds in line with its fiduciary duties as well as extant rules and regulations,” Access Bank said.