The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is set to quiz the Managing Director of Zenith Bank Plc, Mr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu alongside other bank’s Chief Executives over a multi-billion-naira fraud scandal involving the Imo State government.
This is coming as a financial Advisory Committee set up by the immediate past Governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha has written a petition to the Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly and the anti-graft agency to intervene in the recovery of N111.5bn illegal charges made by Zenith Bank Plc on the State accounts.
The committee, headed by a former Director-General of the Debt Management Office, Abraham Nwankwo, was given the task to conduct a forensic audit of Imo State Bank Accounts to ascertain and document the location of balances of all bank accounts operated by the State, it’s Ministries Departments and Agencies as of May 29,2019.
It was also asked to review all financial transactions and where necessary, carry out a forensic audit with a view to ascertaining sources of funds and its application.
Also, the committee was given the task to review such disbursement of state resources to ascertain the propriety of charges levied on accounts, interests’ payments on loans and deposit as well as to conduct financial reviews of key agencies of government.
The committee said in the course of its assignment, it reviewed the state’s accounts with commercial banks during the eight years preceding the Ihedioha administration.
It said given the scope of work and the over-riding need to accomplish the task, the committee engaged the service of ten consulting firms, adding that after four months of work, a report was presented to the government on December 1,2019.
At the end of its assignment, the sum of N112,824,333,367.42 only was claimed against all the banks concerned.
The Banks are Zenith Bank Plc which is to refund the highest amount of N111.5bn, Fidelity Bank Plc N165.6m, First Bank Plc N43.41m, Ecobank N542.72m, Polaris Bank N5.28m, Access Bank N240.93m, Guarantee Trust Bank N317.48m, Union Bank N0.33m, and United Bank for Africa Plc N4.94m.
The EFCC is said to have invited the bank executives for probes.
Zenith Bank Plc was liable to refund the sum of N73.281bn only of the primary amount and all of the secondary amount of N38.221bn giving a total of about N111.5bn.
Also, the Committee in the petition to the State House of Assembly which was dated April 20 made it clear to the Governor of Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma that the Government needed to recover the money from Zenith Bank Plc as the State direly needed money to fund the provision of services and infrastructure to Imo people.
It also pointed out that it would be a historic disservice and insult on Imo people if Zenith Bank PLC was not made to return all the loot under any guise.
However, it said in the petition obtained by our reporter that after several months of correspondences and negotiations, involving the consultants, representatives of Imo State Government, and Zenith Bank PLC, the sum irrefutably established against Zenith Bank Plc as minimum recoverable was N27.093bn.
Surprisingly and strangely, the Committee said that out of this amount, N3bn was reportedly paid to Imo State coffers as full and final payment.
Worried by this development, members of the Committee said that it had become imperative as citizens of Imo State to demand that the House of Assembly, as part of its constitutional role, and the EFCC to investigate and establish why only N3bn was paid by Zenith Bank PLC out of the sum of N27.093nn which was already irrefutably established as minimum recoverable from the bank.
It also called for an investigation into why the same Zenith Bank which had been found to deliberately allegedly defrauded the State by booking and recovering a loan that was unrequested and undisbursed, including charging interest on the fictitious loan, amongst other infractions, has not been reported to the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Rather, the committee claimed in the petition that the bank is still being retained by the Government of Imo State as banker to the State.
The Committee expressed worry that despite all these allegations against Zenith Bank Plc and with no clarity as to the outcome of the review process, a staff of the same bank in the person of Dr. Doris Uzoka-Anite was seconded as Commissioner for Finance with the additional mandate of coordinating the economy of the State.
It stated, “While it is the prerogative of the Governor to make appointments, we believe they should not be inimical, antithetical or overwhelmingly against the progress of the State.
“This appointment clearly appears so and seems like a reward to Zenith Bank Plc for its fraud against Imo State.
“Indeed, it creates the grave impression that Imo State is being treated as a vassal territory of Zenith Bank PLC – a huge insult on every citizen of Imo State, which can only be assuaged by ending this type of malevolent marriage with Zenith Bank Plc refusing to have its officers seconded to oversee Imo State’s Treasury, thereby refusing to sustain the plundering of the State’s Treasury.
“It is worthy to note that all the infractions contained in the report were committed against Imo State Government under the stewardship of a former staff of Zenith Bank Plc, who was equally appointed Commissioner for Finance in the Governor Rochas Okorocha administration.
“The Committee also noted that most of the bank charges against the State were far more than that allowed by the extant banking regulations and guidelines underscoring the incestuous relationship between the then Honourable Commissioner of Finance and his former employer.”
The Financial Advisory Committee said it believed that a great injustice has been done to the State and needs to be given due attention and remedied through among other legitimate measures, restitution.
“Imo people are no fools and their sensitivity is being pricked beyond limit; their sensibility is being abused beyond limit; their tolerance is being stretched beyond limit.
History beckons the Honourable Speaker and the entire House of Assembly to pursue and recover these sums in the best interest of the State and for the sake of posterity so that the present and future generations of Imo State are not condemned to carry a mark of stupidity, subservience, derision, and indignity because of the nonchalant attitude of their elders,” the committee concluded in its petition.