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HomeNEWSProbe Into $500 Million Union Bank Acquisition Widens

Probe Into $500 Million Union Bank Acquisition Widens

The dust over the probe of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is yet to settle.
Titan Trust Bank Chairman, Mr. Babatunde Lemo, and two others have been invited by the Special Investigator on CBN, Mr. Jim Osayande Obazee.

The other invited shareholders are Mr. Cornelius Vink and Mr. Raul Savara.

Lemo, who was CBN deputy governor between 2004 and 2014, is expected to appear with the shareholders for further grilling on Thursday.

It was learnt that the big stick might be wielded should those invited fail to honour the invitation to enable the investigator to unravel other details on the $ 500 million acquisition of Union Bank by Titan Trust Bank (TTB).

A conglomerate, the Tropical General Investment Group (TGI), on Sunday, said the USD500 million capital used to pay for the transaction was transparent and unimpeachable.

TGI insisted that it is the majority owner of TTB and Union Banks.

Obazee and his team of crack detectives alleged that their findings proved otherwise.

In a report to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Investigator alleged that the two banks were owned and bought by the proxies of the former CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, who has denied the claim.

But attempts by the investigators to interact with the Chairman of TGI, Vink, since August have not succeeded.

TGI said Vink, who has been in Nigeria since 1978, is an elderly person and has recently been medically advised to limit his movement.

The Special Investigator insisted that since TGI assured his team that the two shareholders would “soon” honour the invitation, it was time for them to come for interaction.

In a December 24 letter, the Special Investigator asked Lemo and the two others to appear before his team on Thursday.

The letter, titled: RE: CBN INVESTIGATION ACTIVITIES INVITATION FOR A FOLLOW-UP MEETING WITH THE SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR, said Obazee has not heard from the two shareholders or received the requested documents from them.

The letter was signed by the Head of Operations, Office of the Special Investigator, Eloho Okpoziakpo, a deputy commissioner of police (DCP).

The letter, which was addressed to Lemo, reads in part: “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 (DSS) in August.

“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.

“Instead of honouring the invitation and providing the requested documents, we received a letter from the Company Secretary of Union Bank, Somuyiwa Sonubi, dated 15 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’.

“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.”

Obazee said he and his team have decided to give a timeline for Lemo and others to come for interaction.

The letter added: “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 without fail or excuse.

“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.

“You will also be required to make additional statements to your earlier statement on that day.”

The Special Investigator said if Vink and Savara refused to honour the committee’s investigation, they may forfeit their shares in the Titan Trust Bank and Union Bank.

The letter said: “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 the 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.

“This invitation is to further ensure that it is beyond reasonable doubt that the Federal Government of Nigeria has given you a fair hearing.”

Earlier in a 28th August 2023 letter to Vink and the Managing Directors of Titan Trust Bank and the Union Bank, the Special Investigator made a seven-point demand from them.

In the letter, signed by Dr.Ojogbe Rueben U, some of these requests included the documentation on the licensing of Titan Trust Bank, minutes of Board meetings and foreign exchange dealings transacted with the CBN.

The August letter read in part: “The Federal Government of Nigeria is currently investigating some activities of the CBN and Related Entities as well as some key Government Business Entities (GBEs).

“The investigation is led by a ‘Special Investigator’ appointed by the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria. They have since commenced the assignment.

“To this end, kindly avail the Special Investigator with the under-listed documents/ information:

“The details of the under-listed entities which should include company registration, ownership, shareholding structure, profile, particulars of directors and related entities:

· Luxis International DMCC, Unit 1141, DMCC Business Centre, Level No. 1, Jewellry & Gemplex 3, Dubai, UAE (Magna).

· Magna International DMCC, Unit 1024, DMCC Business Centre, Level No.1, Jewellry & Gemplex 3, Dubai, UAE Magna.

“Further details of the said companies should include the documentation that led to the licensing of Titan Trust Bank and the acquisition of controlling shareholding of Union Bank of Nigeria by these entities, proof of funds, internationally verifiable bank statements (from the incorporation of the entities to date) and the shareholder that gave interest-free loans to the two entities separately (names, nationality, source of the fund, proof of such funds, bank statements as well as the relationship of the entities with Mr. Andrew Chukwudi Ojei, Jerome Olagunju Shogbon, Rahul Savara, Winston Odeh, Adaeze Udensi, Ekene Samuel Louis, Godwin Emefiele, Macombo Omoile, Tunde Lemo, Mudassir Amry, Faruk Gumel, Oluremi Oni, Vink Corporation Middle East FCZ (together with the details of the shareholder that also gave Vink Corporation interest-free loan) and your good self.”

Other demands were:

· Details of how Trust receipts (from Standard Chartered Bank), Zenith Nigeria Plc and Zenith Bank (UK) were involved in the entire arrangement.

· Minutes of the Board meetings, copy of the audited financial statements and management letter that arose from the Audit of the financial statements of the two entities listed in (1) above as well as those of TTB and UBN from 2018 to date.

· Details of any forbearance received from the CBN for UBN (before acquisition by TTB) and why. “Should you not know, please come along with anyone who knows about it (with evidence).”

· Details of the loan capital from Afrexim Bank (Egypt), collaterals thereto and the involvement of the CBN in the entire arrangement.

· Any Foreign Exchange dealings that transacted with the CBN as a retail or wholesale facilitator with TGI, TTB, UBN, Luxis, Magna and other related entities no matter how remotely connected.

· Any other document(s) that can assist the Special investigator in arriving at an informed decision on the investigation of TTB, UBN, CBN and any person(s) of interest in the entire arrangement.

“You are to come along with Mr. Rahul Savara (in person) along with the requested documents to the National Headquarters of the Department of State Services (DSS) in Abuja by 4pm on Friday, 1st September 2023 for interaction in connection with this investigation. Accept the assurances of the utmost regards of the Special Investigator.”

The Investigator also showed that he gave the Union Bank of Nigeria ample time to prevail on Vink to appear before it.

He said although the bank complained of a “short notice period,” it said “Messrs. Vink and Savara will be available for the meeting as soon as they are in Nigeria.”

The bank’s response was contained in a September 1st, 2023 letter to the Special Investigator by the Company Secretary of the Union Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Somuyiwa Sonubi.

It said due to Vink’s medical condition, he was unable to make the appointment as proposed.

The letter was titled “CBN INVESTIGATION ACTIVITIES: INVITATION FOR A MEETING WITH THE SPECIA INVESTIGATOR.”

The letter said: “We write in response to your letter dated 28″ August 2023 on the above subject matter and to submit the documents/information requested in printed and electronic formats for ease of your review and analysis.

“Furthermore, and with all due respect to your office, we wish to inform you that Mr. Cornelius Vink is currently out of the country on medical grounds.

“Given the short notice period in the said letter and Mr. Vink’s medical condition, he is unable to make the appointment as proposed and craves your indulgence in this regard.

“Please find attached copies of Mr. Vink’s medical report for your kind review. Messrs. Vink and Savara will be available for the meeting as soon as they are in Nigeria which we hope will be soon.

“Mr. Vink sends his sincere apologies in this regard, whilst assuring you of his commitment to support your mandate. Please accept the assurances of our highest regards.”

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