The Federal Government, and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami have lamented that 19 banks in the country are frustrating the anti-corruption drive of the government.
They stated that the banks in conjunction with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) are frustrating efforts of the government to confiscate bank accounts without the Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) because they (Banks) are trading with funds in such accounts, and making huge profit from them.
These are contained in court documents filed by the government and the AGF in response to an objection filed by the commercial banks to a suit government filed seeking, among others, to ensure a total implementation of the BVN policy or the forfeiture of funds in accounts without BVN, in furtherance of the government’s war against corruption.
Danjuma Tyoden, lawyer to the Federal Government and the AGF filed the suit before the Federal High Court, Abuja on September 28.
Tyoden stated, “The applicants have filed this motion to frustrate the plaintiffs’ constitutional responsibility to ‘abolish corrupt practices’ and the clear directives and regulations of the Central Bank of Nigeria on the BVN scheme so that they can continue to keep the funds in the accounts BVN and be trading with and declaring fat profits for their various shareholders.
“Is it not worrisome that, while the banks are happy not to allow the customers, whose accounts are not covered by BVN, to operate the said accounts, yet they want the interim order of this court, directing them to disclose these accounts and their holders, dismissed and or struck out?”
He further asked, “In fact, if the defendants/applicants have nothing to hide, why are they refusing to file the affidavit of disclosure as ordered by this court?
“The funds in the accounts not covered by BVN is not their (banks’) property, why are they now scared of forfeiture and crying more than the bereaved, when the law allows opportunity to be given to the account holders to show cause after publication, before a final forfeiture order is made?”
The government also maintained that it was the customers who owned the funds in the accounts without BVN that ought to complain and not the banks.
It wondered that banks which admitted that they had the responsibility to enforce the due diligence and Know Your Customer provisions of the Money Laundering Act were now, by their application, seeking to shield their customers and fighting their case for them.
Defendants in the suit are 19 commercial banks and the CBN.
The commercial banks are: Access, Citibank, Diamond, Ecobank, Fidelity, First, First City, Guaranty Trust, Heritage, Keystone, Skye, Stanbic IBTC, Standard Chartered, Sterling, Union, Unity, Wema and Zenith.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba had on October 17, granted some reliefs in an ex-parte motion for interim injunctions filed by the plaintiffs, including ordering the banks to provide information on the accounts without BVN, temporary freezing of the accounts and for the owners to show cause why funds in the accounts should not be forfeited to the government.
The banks had in return, filed a notice of objection, querying the competence of the suit, the October 17 orders by the court and the court’s jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit.
In the joint notice of objection filed by their lawyers – Paul Usoro, Babatunde Fagbohunlu and Adeniyi Adegbonmire (all SANs) – the 1st to 18th defendants asked the court to decline jurisdiction over the suit, dismiss it and vacate the order made on October 17.
The AGF had then filed a counter to the banks objection, accusing them of, among others working to frustrate the anti-graft war by shielding rogue customers, who have refused to acquire the BVN because of dirty funds in their accounts.
In a supporting affidavit deposed to by Usman Dakas, the government and the AGF said: “The applicants (the banks) do not wish to comply with the interim order of this court and disclose the accounts without BVN and their holders in order to frustrate the plaintiffs’ anti-corruption policies that would benefit the entire nation.”
On the banks’ request that the court should decline jurisdiction to entertain the suit brought under Section 17(1) of the Advance Fee Fraud Act (AFFA), which could only be prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the plaintiffs argued that the law did not bar them and other government agencies tasked with the responsibility of fighting corruption from suing under it.
Justice Dimgba in his interim order, on October 17, 2017, directed the banks to freeze all the said accounts by stopping “all outward payments, operations or transactions” pending the hearing of the substantive application seeking the forfeiture of the balances on the accounts to the Federal Government.
The court also directed the CBN and the Nigeria Interbank Settlement Systems “to validate the information contained in the affidavit of compliance/disclosure filed by the respective 19 banks” within seven days from the date of service of the orders on them.
It also, among others, ordered the banks to advertise the accounts without BVN in a widely circulated national newspaper as notice to those who might have any interest in any of the accounts.
Justice Dimga, during the last proceedings on November 15 modified its orders made on October 17.
Following a compromise reached between the lawyers to the Federal Government and 19 commercial banks during the proceedings, the judge “revised” the earlier ruling by directing banks to immediately unfreeze accounts that had since been linked to a BVN after the orders were made.
The judge also revoked the order number 5 in the ruling, which had directed an interim forfeiture of the proceeds in all the accounts without BVN pending the determination of the substantive suit.
Justice Dimbga has adjourned the suit to December 11 for the hearing of all pending applications.
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