Access Bank Plc has denied the fraud charges filed against it and its chief executive officer by the police alleging a ₦2.5 billion fraud.
The police special fraud unit (SFU) had charged the bank, Herbert Wigwe, its CEO, alongside two others with 21 counts of conspiracy and stealing of 23,754.413 metric tonnes of steel billets allegedly belonging to BMCE Bank International Plc.
But the bank in a statement on Monday said it financed the importation of the billets and that a receiver/manager it and other lenders appointed had the right to sell the goods.
According to the charges filed before an Ogun State High Court, the police alleged that the defendants falsely presented themselves as the owners of the billets, with forged bill of ladings, and sold them to Metal Africa Steel Products Limited in 2017.
Access Bank, in its statement to the Nigerian Stock Exchange, said their involvement in the deal began in 2015 when it availed credit facilities to Metal Africa Steel Products Limited to import billets and machinery for the expansion of the company’s factory.
“Consequent upon the grant of the facilities, the Bank opened Form M and Letters of Credit to facilitate the importation of the billets for which the shipping documents were consigned to the Bank,” Access Bank said in the statement signed by its secretary, Sunday Ekwochi.
“The facilities were secured by a Debenture Trust Deed over the customer’s assets shared with other lenders.”
Upon arrival of the billets, the bank said it released the shipping documents to Metal Africa Steel Products Ltd to enable it clear the goods and later discovered the company cleared the goods without payment of the appropriate customs duty.
“The Bank, in line with its duty to protect its depositors’ funds, reported the alleged crime to SFU which obtained a court order to take over the company’s business operations.
“Furthermore, the Bank petitioned Interpol which is presently taking steps to repatriate the suspects involved in the alleged fraud from India.
“Subsequently, the beneficiary banks (including Access Bank) under the Debenture Trust Deed, appointed a Receiver/Manager who took over the operations of the Customer’s business and paid the appropriate Customs Duty on the billets. “The Receiver/Manager subsequently obtained a court order from the Federal High Court and sold the billets and distributed the proceeds amongst the beneficiary banks.”
The bank further said it was aware the petitioner also laid claims to the billets and that attempts had been made at a settlement between the petitioner and the receiver/manager.
It, however, said it was surprised to be served with the charges by the SFU alleging theft of the billets and forgery of shipping documents.
“We are also aware that there are ongoing settlement negotiations between the receiver/manager and the petitioner. Without prejudice to the settlement discussions and the civil matter we reiterate that the receiver/manager appointed by the bank and a syndicate of other lenders acted within its powers to sell the billets.”