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Fresh dust over Union Bank’s sale as CBN Investigator summons Tunde Lemo

The Special Investigator appointed by President Bola Tinubu to probe the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has summoned the Chairman of Titan Trust Bank (TTB),…

The Special Investigator appointed by President Bola Tinubu to probe the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has summoned the Chairman of Titan Trust Bank (TTB), Tunde Lemo, and two other shareholders of the bank over the controversial acquisition of Union Bank of Nigeria.

This comes after Lemo, a former deputy governor of the CBN, faulted the investigator’s findings on the issue.

Recall that Tinubu had on June 9, 2023, suspended former Governor of the CBN, Mr Godwin Emefiele, and thereafter named the Chief Executive Officer of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria, Jim Obazee, as the special investigator of the CBN.

In a report submitted to the president at the end of the probe, Obazee said Emefiele used “ill-gotten wealth” to establish TTB and subsequently acquired Union Bank and Keystone Bank through his proxies.

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Also, the special investigator recommended that the banks be forfeited to the federal government.

However, reacting, Lemo insisted that his bank followed due process and met all regulatory requirements in its acquisition of one of the oldest banks and iconic brands in Nigeria.

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

In an interview, the former deputy governor of the CBN said: “The core shareholders and the banks will respond appropriately. Due process was followed in the establishment of Titan Trust Bank and every process that led to the acquisition of Union Bank was verified by the CBN, SEC and other regulators. The core shareholders will respond to the specific allegations against them.”

Lemo warned that the publication of unverified information on banks could have adverse effects on the banking industry.

“I sincerely recommend caution in the publication of unverified information about these financial institutions as they are both deposit-taking institutions. The good news is that the banks are healthy and stable,” he added.

The Corporate Communications Department of TTB, in a more detailed statement also on Sunday, said the establishment of the bank and its acquisition of the larger Union Bank complied with Nigerian laws.

Responding to Lemo’s defence in a December 24 letter, the Special Investigator asked Lemo and the two major shareholders in the bank 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: “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 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.

“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 2 p.m. on 28th December 2023 at the Department of Force Intelligence DFI), Opposite Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, Shehu Shagari Way, Area 11, Garki, Abuja; without fail or excuse.

“Kindly note that if Messrs Cornelius Vink and Rahul Savara refused 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 an 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.

“Accept the assurances of the utmost regards of the Special Investigator.”

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