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Wema Bank in N5.2bn oil deal scandal

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EFCC wades in, detains, releases bank officials

‘Our hands are clean’ – Wema

Staross Energy Limited and Wema Bank Plc have engaged each other on allegations and denial of dud cheques infraction involving about N5.2 billion transactions in crude oil sales. The allegation of Staross Energy Limited was contained in its petitions sent to the Senate, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This was however denied by Management of Wema Bank Plc in a response sent to this newspaper by the Manager, Brand & Marketing Communication, Mr. Abiodun Aderibigbe.

The petition was initiated after presentation of two cheques issued to Staross Energy Limited by an alleged front of Wema Bank Plc- Lucky Ojenike of Lucky Best Nigeria Limited bounced at the banking hall. This was after both parties had earlier  allegedly agreed that if the buyer and the bank or any person(s) or company circumvented the company, the N346 million commitment deposit would be forfeited as penalty to the company and in addition, the money equivalent to any loss suffered by the company (Starross Energy Ltd) in the event of any false pretence or circumvention would be paid to the company as provided for under Articles 8.5, 8.6 and 8.7 of the Sales and Purchase Agreement dated Oct. 28, 2014.

However, Mr. Aderibigbe stated that Wema Bank Plc. was a bank licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to carry out the business of banking. According to him, “It is not and has never been involved in the business of buying and/or selling petroleum products. The Bank could not therefore have sought to obtain any petroleum cargo or property under any pretense (as alleged in the referenced report) for any purpose”.

Aderibigbe also explained that the business for the sale and purchase of petroleum products alluded to in the petition and in the subsequent report was between Starross Energy and Lucky Best Nigeria Limited/Lucky Ojenike. He said the bank did not at any time execute any agreement in relation to the business with Starross Energy, neither did the Bank ever represent to Starross Energy that it was in partnership with Lucky Best Nigeria Limited.” Starross Energy alleged claim for the loss suffered in its business (whether real or imagined) against the Bank is therefore misdirected and very strange, “ he stated.

He added that the dishonoured cheques issued to Starross Energy, as admitted by the company, belonged to and were issued by Mr. Lucky Ojenike. The cheques, according to him were not issued by the Bank, neither did the Bank inform Starross Energy at any time that Lucky Best Nigeria Limited/Lucky Ojenike accounts were sufficiently funded to satisfy the value of the cheque. In fact, Lucky Best Nigeria Limited does not maintain any account with the bank. The bank’s relationship with Mr. Lucky Ojenike is not beyond that of a normal banker-customer relationship.

In a detailed investigation which resulted in the arrest of three officials of Wema Bank Plc, the bank was accused of using unethical and overly aggressive cross-selling tactics- pressuring customers to purchase additional financial products or services that they didn’t need – to meet sales goals.

Outraged by the alleged fraudulent practice of some officials of Wema Bank in a N5.2 billion crude oil deals, Starross Energy Limited asked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to intervene and sanction the bank.

In a petition to the Apex Bank, the company also wants the CBN to compel the commercial bank to pay the outstanding money and sanction it for issuing dud cheques to the tune of N346 million.

Our correspondent  obtained copies of the petition sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation (DPP), Mr Muhammed Saidu Diri, and the Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Sen. Utazi Chukwuka Godfrey, over the alleged fraud committed since October 2014.

The petitioners’ National Coordinator, Philip Odekeye, and Messers Wole Abdulkadir & Co., solicitors to Starross Energy Ltd, alleged that the anti-graft body has failed to arrest and prosecute issuers of the dud cheques totalling N346 million reported to it.

The letters were received and stamped also on Dec.14, 2016 at both offices at the Federal Ministry of Justice, while the Offices of Senate President and Senator Utazi received and stamped the letters on Dec. 9, 2016.

Contrary to Starross Energy’s claim,  Mr Aderibigbe said the company was not at any time induced to attend the meeting held on October 28, 2014 at the Bank’s head office by any officer of the Bank. “In fact, it was the Managing Director of Starross Energy (who had expressed the intention to open a corporate account with the Bank) that proposed meeting with one of our staff members at the head office, ostensibly to avoid the Apapa traffic. Our staff readily agreed to the meeting, hoping to receive instructions and documents to enable the accounts officer open a corporate account for Starross Energy. Surprisingly, Mr. Lucky Ojenike showed up at the meeting. Mr. Lucky Ojenike’s attendance at the meeting was not at the instance of our staff but at the behest of Starross Energy.”

Subsequently, Aderibigbe said the Bank received a letter from solicitors to Starros Energy wherein the lawyer raised the same spurious allegations. In a bid to resolve the issues, he disclosed that the bank invited the lawyer and his clients for a meeting in a genuine attempt to address their complaints and alleged claims from the Bank’s stand-point. “ But to our surprise, neither the lawyer nor his clients showed up for the meeting,” he lamented.

He also disclosed that the management of Wema Bank also received a letter dated February 17, 2015 from the Legion of Aggrieved Nigerians Against Crime, alleging fraud and intimidation of Starross Energy. “In our reply, we clearly stated the bank’s position, averring also that there was no threat to Starross Energy or to any other person from any of the Bank’s officers, as alleged”.

Aderibigbe alleged that:”In a further attempt to propagate falsehood against the Bank, Starros Energy again reported the alleged claims to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The EFCC in the course of their investigation arrested and detained two of our staff members for three days. Further to this, the EFCC wrote to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to confirm whether the alleged vessel (MT Cosmic Jewel) was in Nigerian waters with the alleged volume of crude oil during the period stated by the complainant. The report received by the EFCC from NIMASA was to the effect that no such ship or vessel was within Nigerian waters during the period, nor could such a vessel have carried the volume of crude oil alleged by the complainant.

“Based on their investigation, the EFCC released our officers with explanation. We request that you write to the EFCC to confirm the outcome of their investigation on the unfounded allegations made against the bank by Starros Energy. When the EFCC caught the petitioner in a web of his own lies, he refused to show up for a roundtable meeting at the EFCC office. His lawyers equally refused to show up.

The petitioners had stated that Staross Energy Limited  legally registered under the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) for buying, selling, marketing and distributing all kinds of petroleum products, including crude oil, executed an agreement or MoU with its suppliers, who were the vessel handlers/managers of the crude oil tanker — MT Cosmic Jewel — and who were also marketing about 2,000,000 barrels of Bonny Light Crude Oil (BLCO) loaded in the vessel in October 2014 for NNPC/Joint Venture Operators, the owners of the crude.

They also stated that under the agreement or MoU, that the company as an affiliate or middleman was to bring “a ready, willing and able buyer’’ to buy the crude and that the difference between the price given in the MoU by the suppliers to the company and any price given by the company to any buyer brought to buy the crude was the consideration or profit for the service of the company in the transaction.

It was further agreed that any buyer brought shall pay the full cost of the cargo in dollars or naira equivalent to the nominated bank account of NNPC/Joint Venture Operators which in turn shall issue all the documents for the sale and transfer of ownership of the crude oil to such buyer after making full payment.

According to them, in October 2014 the company allegedly got a buyer who was acting as a frontman or agent for Wema Bank, the Chairman, the Managing Director and the Management of the bank showed great interest in the crude oil deal.

“Several meetings were held at the conference room at the Head Office of the bank with the company officials and the lawyers on Oct. 27 and 28, 2014 respectively where they assured the company that the bank was actually buying the crude oil using the frontman as the buyer to resell to their Foreign Off takers and make profit.

“In preparation for the meeting on Oct. 27, the company on the eve of the meeting, tracked the loaded vessel — MT Cosmic Jewel — on the internet and printed out the AIS colour photographs and live ship map showing that it was on the Nigerian waters at about 8.39 p.m. on Oct. 26.

“The company took the photographs and other documents to the meeting, but would not release them unless the bank’s buyer made a commitment deposit of $2,000,000.00 and they agreed and accepted to give the company two cheques totalling N346 million (the Naira equivalent of $2,000,000.00 at that time) after they must have tracked and confirmed the cargo and agreed that the cheques would be cashed immediately by the company.

“The bank initiated the preparation of the Sales and Purchase Agreement (SPA) of Oct. 28,2014 at the bank’s Head Office which reflected the two cheques totalling N346 million and asked the company to open a corporate account at the bank’s Head Office branch for instant transfer.

“On the strength of the repeated assurances given to the company by the bank and its buyer that the bank had paid sufficient funds into the buyer’s account to buy the crude oil, the company released the photographs of MT Cosmic Jewel map showing its location on Nigerian waters, Bills of Lading, Cargo Manifest, Certificate of Origin, CPA and other documents containing the telephone numbers, contact address and other vital information of the company’s suppliers to the bank and its buyer.

“After obtaining the cargo documents from the company, the bank and its buyer used the bank’s Head Office machines and computers to reproduce, scan and sent the documents by email to their Foreign Off Takers, and also used the Head Office’s internet facilities to track the cargo and confirmed that it was real.

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