- The Legal Tangle in this case may leave the courts as the ultimate loser
Former Managing Director of the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc, Dr Erastus Akingbola is back on the dock as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had reopened his ten year old case. GODWIN DUNIA, reports on the travail of the former bank boss.
The former Managing Director of the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc, Dr. Erastus Akingbola, is back on trial, as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), recently reopened his 10 year old fraud case before the Federal High Court in Lagos. The case had cooled off and appeared to have been abandoned by the EFCC which suddenly woke up its seeming slumber and dusted the files.
It would be recalled, that the travail of Akingbola, started as an allegation of Advanced Fee Fraud (popularly referred to as 419) case that involved the sum of N47.1bn, in 2011. And he had been on it for well a decade. Though, the former bank boss recorded some legal feat, but that won’t compared to his loses and travails.
For instance, Akingbola at moment had to heaved a sigh of relief in December 31, 2014, when the Court of Appeal in Lagos discharged him alongside the General Manager of Tropics Security Limited, Bayo Dada, of the advanced fee fraud charges proffered against them before the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Before then, in May 31, 2011, Akingbola and his wife, Anthonia, who was at large at the time, was accused of conspiring to defraud the Intercontinental Bank Plc by allegedly transferring funds belonging to the bank to Dada’s company, Tropics Security Limited, under the guise that the bank was offsetting a debt it owed Dada’s firm, from
purchasing shares quoted or traded on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange on behalf the bank. And he was arraigned before Justice Habeeb Abiru of the Lagos High Court.
The case could not go far with Justice Abiru because of his elevation to the Appeal Court in November 2012, about few days to hearing the final written addresses in the case and to fix a date for judgment. And the case was transferred to Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo who also heard the case between February 26, 2013 and July 2013 and was
transferred also from the criminal division to the civil division of the Lagos State High Court.
Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo subsequently took over the case but the defendants objected to being arraigned as scheduled for March 24, 2014 as Akingbola had got a new lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who challenged the jurisdiction of the Lagos State High Court to entertain the case.
Olanipekun had argued that since the alleged fraudulent transactions were capital market-related, the Federal High Court, and not the Lagos State High Court, was the appropriate court where charges relating to the said transactions ought to have been filed. The SAN argued further, that in a situation whereby the EFCC failed to file the case before the Federal High Court, it would have rendered the charges against (his client) Akingbola incompetent and liable to be struck out.
Olanipekun described the charges against Akingbola as an abuse of court processes since another charge was simultaneously filed against Akingbola by the EFCC at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
On May 2, 2014, Justice Lawal Akapo dismissed Olanipekun submission and contentions and assumed the jurisdiction of the case. He appealed the ruling of the judge and subsequently filed an application for stay of proceedings pending the decision of the Appeal Court.
However, in December 31, 2014, Akingbola’ appeal was successful in a unanimous judgment by Justices Amina Augie, Samuel Oseji and Abimbola Obaseki-Adejumo when it agreed with Olanipekun and quashed the charges against Akingbola and Dada.
The lead judge, Justice Augie, in delivering the judgment, berated Justice Lawal-Akapo for turning a blind eye on the November 21, 2013 decision of the Court of Appeal in the alleged N18bn fraud case of a former Managing Director of Finbank, Okey Nwosu, where the appellate court held that the Federal High Court and not the state high
court had exclusive jurisdiction in such matters.
And it declared that Section 251(1) (s) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 7(3) of the Federal High Court Act, Cap. F12b, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria had donated exclusive jurisdiction to the Federal High Court to entertain the kind of charges filed against Akingbola and Dada by the EFCC.
Sequel to the December judgment of the Court of Appeal, Akingbola and Dada were relieved of their prosecutorial encumbrances that were brought upon them by the EFCC and which lingered for three years. The pronouncement by the Appeal Court also brought consolidated victory against the EFCC.
Before then, in 2012, Justice Charles Archibong (retd.) had struck out the case containing 26 counts bordering on an alleged fraud of N5bnwhich the EFCC filed against Akingbola before the Federal High Court in Lagos. Justice Archibong struck out the charges for what he described as lack of diligent prosecution and described the EFCC lawyers who prosecuted the case as a ‘drain’ on the public purse.
Also in 2013, Akingbola recorded another victory as the Lagos State High Court refused to domesticate a judgment of Justice Michael Burton of the Queens Bench in London, which on September 13, 2012 ordered him to make a restitution of £654m to Access Bank, which acquired Intercontinental Bank on January 31, 2012.
Justice Babajide Candide-Johnson of the Lagos State High Court had held that registering the foreign judgment in Nigeria would violate the ‘Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgment Act’ of 1958.
The case of Akingbola travail for a decade now can be likened to a situation where the more he tries to arise and free himself from the wreckage of legal battles, the more he gets enmeshed in it. In February 22, 2015, the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal in a judgment by Justices Amina Augie, Samuel Oseji and Abimbola Obaseki-Adejumo, revisited the ruling of Justice Archibong, which in 2012 struck out the 26 counts of alleged N5bn fraud pressed against Akingbola by the EFCC at the Federal High Court. Justice Augie, in the lead judgment, declared that even a mere bystander who observed the proceedings before Justice Archibong, would readily agree that the EFCC did not get fair hearing before the charges were struck out.
She decried Justice Archibong for throwing decorum, composure and the standard expected of judges to the wind in the case. Justice Archibong’s conduct in the handling of Akingbola’s case was part of why the National Judicial Council subsequently retired him compulsorily from the bench.
The Appeal Court ordered the return of Akingbola case file to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, for re-assignment and expeditious retrial before another judge. This unfortunate development brought back Akingbola before the dock for more travail in the hands of the Anti graft Agency.
But his lawyer, Chief Felix Fagbohungbe (SAN), was not satisfied with the judgment, and rejected the verdict ordering a fresh trial of his client, and subsequently, he appealed to the Supreme Court to quash it.
As if all these were not enough, Access Bank had also had a breakthrough in its battle against Akingbola. In November 2014, Access Bank had announced that it had sold Akingbola’s London houses known as Flats 17, 18, 19 and 20, Embassy Court London, NW 8, pursuant to a judgment it obtained from Justice Andrew Jones of the Grand Court of Cayman Islands, United Kingdom.
The judge had on September 4, 2014 ordered Akingbola to pay Access Bank the sums of N238, 471,484,162 and £1,800,000, being the sum which the bank claimed that Akingbola diverted and misappropriated from Intercontinental Bank. Access Bank announced that it realised £11m out of the judgment sum from the sale of the houses.
About three weeks ago, precisely in March 12, 2019, the Economic and
Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) reopened the case in a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos after 10 years of respite for the former boss of the defunct bank. The trial, in the file marked FHC/L/CS/443c/09, bearing 26 counts charge by the EFCC and filed before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun, the prosecution alleged that while as MD and Chief Executive Officer of Intercontinental Bank, Akingbola, between November 2007 and July 2008, he was involved in reckless approval of credit facilities without adequate security for a number of firms.
The prosecution alleged that for instance, Akingbola recklessly approved a credit facility of N8 billion each to Soo-Kok Holding Limited, Tofa General Enterprises, Cinca Nigeria Limited, Harmony Trust and Investment Limited, and Stanzus Investment Limited. The EFCC said the illegal transactions were carried out between May 2008 and May 2009 in contravention of “accepted practice or Intercontinental Bank Plc’s regulations”.
It said Akingbola violated Section 15(1)(a)(i) of the Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act, Cap F2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and was liable to be punished under Section 16(1)(a) of the same Act. In another instance, the prosecution alleged that under Akingbola’s watch as MD/CEO, Intercontinental Bank Plc had N87.6billion non-performing credit burden.
It said Akingbola failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the requirement to maintain, at all times, the minimum capital adequacy ratio specified by the Central Bank of Nigeria in compliance with Section 13(1) of the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, Cap B3 Laws of the Federation 2004. But the ex-bank
chief pleaded not guilty to the 26 counts.
During the proceedings, the second prosecution witness, Abdulraheem Jimoh, an investigator, told the court how he uncovered, among others, an alleged fraudulent transaction of N10 billion by Akingbola. Jimoh, was led in evidence by Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC.
Jimoh said: “The management of the bank gave me a letter dated May 8, 2009 from Tropics Securities Nigeria Limited, a company owned by Dr Erastus Akingbola, his wife and some other shareholders.
“The letter was addressed to the Group Managing Director, Dr Erastus Akingbola and the letter was signed by a Mr Bayo Dada and one Jackson. The letter was claiming payment amounting to N10 billion for shares purported to have been bought by the bank.”
The investigator said based on the letter, Intercontinental Bank issued three cheques amounting to N10 billion in favour of Tropics Securities Nigeria Limited.
“Upon further investigation, I discovered that the cheques were cleared in Access Bank for Tropics Securities Nigeria Limited and Tropics Properties Limited. Dr Akingbola has substantial interests in these firms. Further investigations revealed that the money was used to clear Dr Akingbola’s indebtedness to Access Bank”.
Also in his respond to the prosecutor question on, whether the N10 billion was a loan from Intercontinental Bank to Akingbola, Jimoh said: “There was no loan granted to any of the companies or Dr Akingbola but they claimed it was for shares.”
As it stands it is another uncertain journey to the courts of justice and only time will tell how it would end.