CBN investigator summons Lemo, others over Union Bank deal

CBN investigator summons Lemo, others over Union Bank deal
Tunde Lemo

The Special CBN Investigator, Jim Obazee, has summoned the Chairman of Titan Trust Bank, Babatunde Lemo, in connection with the acquisition of Union Bank of Nigeria Plc by TTB.

The TTB chairman, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, was directed to report at the Department of Force Intelligence opposite the Force headquarters, Shehu Shagari Way, Abuja on Thursday, where he is expected to be questioned over the UBN acquisition.

Lemo was further instructed to come along with the promoters of TTB, Messrs Cornelius Vink and Mr Rahul Savara, to meet with the team of special Investigators.

Lemo was invited in a letter dated December 24, 2023, and signed by the Head of Operations, Office of the Special Investigator, DCP Eloho Okpoziakpo.

Obazee had in his report alleged that some persons were used as proxies by a former CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to set up Titan Trust Bank and acquire Union Bank.

Obazee, who was appointed special investigator in July, 2023, submitted his final report tagged, ‘Report of the Special Investigation on CBN and Related Entities (Chargeable offences) to the Presidency on December 20, 2023.

In two separate reports on the acquisition of UBN and Keystone Bank submitted to President Bola Tinubu last Wednesday, the Special Investigator also alleged that Emefiele used proxies to acquire Keystone Bank without evidence of payment.

’When we carried out investigation, we discovered that some persons were used as proxies by Mr Godwin Emefiele to set up Titan Trust Bank and acquire Union Bank therefrom, all from ill-gotten wealth.

‘’We were able to secure some documents and investigation reports will lead to the forfeiture of the two banks to the Federal Government. We have completed our investigation on this acquisition and have also held meetings with the relevant parties except for Mr Cornelis Vink (that is currently hospitalised in Switzerland).

‘’Otherwise, we are on the verge of recovering these two banks for the Federal Government,’’ Obazee claimed in his letter.

Following media reports on the UBN deal, Lemo in an interview insisted that the acquisition of the bank followed due process and met all regulatory requirements, including that of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Central Bank of Nigeria.

He insisted that the establishment of Titan Trust Bank and the subsequent acquisition of Union Bank were transparent and duly verified by the relevant regulatory bodies.

However, in furtherance of the investigation into the UBN deal, and in response to Lemo’s defence, the investigator in the letter titled, RE: CBN investigation activities: Invitation for a follow-up meeting with the Special Investigator,’ took the TTB chairman to task on his defence.

The letter read, ‘’Please, refer to your discussion with the Special Investigator earlier today regarding the offensive defence that your good self issued in PUNCH newspapers, on behalf of TTB which you chair, as well as the email you sent to the Special Investigator today wherein you tried to provide clarification on your reaction to the report on TTB.

‘’The defence seems contrary to the statements, made under caution, by the persons connected with these transactions, including your good self, before the Special Investigator at the Department of State Service in August 2023.

‘’In the said newspapers, you referred to both Cornelius Vink and Rahul Savara as “prominent global entrepreneurs and having thriving businesses in Nigeria…”

‘’In your email as well as your earlier discussion with the Special Investigator, you suggested that both of them be invited to provide clarification on their share ownership and given seven days to make such clarification; failure which they will forfeit their shares to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

‘’We are surprised at your request with regard to these two shareholders. They were given this opportunity via a letter to them dated 28th August 2023 (copy attached as Appendix 1).

‘’Instead of honouring the invitation and providing the requested documents, we received a letter from the Company Secretary of Union Bank, Somuyiwa Sonubi, dated 1st September 2023, informing the Special Investigator that Mr. Cornelius Vink was out of the country on medical grounds and that both “Messrs Vink and Savara will be available for the meeting as soon as they are in Nigeria which will be soon” (copy attached as Appendix 2).

‘’Up until this offensive defence that you put in the public domain, the Special Investigator has neither heard from them nor received the requested documents.”

However, upon examination of the letter written by Union Bank to the Special Investigator (referenced Appendix 2 above), the lender stated it was submitting all “the documents/information requested for in printed and electronic formats for ease of your review and analysis” alongside the letter.

As of press time, it could not independently verify why the special investigator did get the documents as claimed above. Also, it could not verify if the Special investigator replied the Union Bank to demand explanation as to why the documents claimed to have been submitted alongside the letter were not attached.

Meanwhile, in the latest letter summoning Lemo for a follow-up meeting, the Office of the Special Investigator said, ‘’Accordingly, you are hereby invited to come along with Messrs Cornelius Vink and Mr Rahul Savara to meet with the Team of Special Investigators by 2pm on 28th December 2023 at the Department of Force Intelligence, Opposite Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, Shehu Shagari Way, Area 11, Garki, Abuja; without fail or excuse. ‘’

The letter added, ‘’Please, inform them to come along with all the documents/information requested from them by the letter to Mr Cornelius Vink dated 28th August 2023 (attached herewith as Appendix 1). You will also be required to make additional statements to your earlier statement on that day.

‘’Kindly note that if Messrs Cornelius Vink and Rahul Savara refuse to attend this meeting and provide/defend the requested documents/information, it will be construed that they have decided to forfeit their purported shareholdings in TTB and Union Bank of Nigeria; irrespective of which vehicle that they are using to own the purported shares.

‘’Should you also refuse to attend the meeting to provide additional statement to your earlier statement made in August 2023, it will be construed that you misled the Nigerian public with your reaction in the PUNCH Newspapers today which has gained wide publicity in both electronic and print media.’’

The investigator explained that the invitation was to further ensure that ‘’it is beyond reasonable doubt that the Federal Government of Nigeria has given you a fair hearing.’’

Meanwhile, It is unclear whether without a court ruling, the Special Investigator’s Office has the powers to make investors lose their shareholding should they fail to attend the meeting for whatsoever reason.

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