BVN: Nigerian banks working against anti-corruption war – FG, AGF tell court

The Federal Government and the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), have alleged that the opposition of the 19 commercial banks to an order of the Federal High Court in Abuja on the Bank Verification Number is a sign that the banks are working against the anti-corruption policy of the current administration.

The court last month ordered the banks to freeze all accounts without Bank Verification Number.

The government and the minister made the allegation in their response to an application by the banks challenging the jurisdiction of the court to make the freezing order of October 17, 2017.

Nigerian government stated in its response to the banks’ application that the banks also refused to comply with the court order directing them to disclose the accounts in their custody without BVN.

A counter-affidavit deposed to by Usman Dakas,  on behalf of the Federal Government and the AGF, stated, “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.”

The government’s lawyer, Mr. Danjuma Tyoden, also canvassed similar argument in his written address filed along with the counter-affidavit.

He argued that the banks were not only frustrating government’s constitutional responsibility to abolish corrupt practices, but were also  opposing the court’s order so that they could continue to keep the funds in the accounts without BVN, trade with funds and at the end declare fat profits for their various shareholders.

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?”

The government also argued that the banks refused to comply with the court order directing them to furnish the court with details of accounts without BVN in their custody because if done, the suspicion against them would be proved.

The government’s paper stated in part, “We submit that the refusal of defendants/applicants (the banks) to furnish the plaintiffs with the facts relating to the accounts in their custody without BVN is because, if produced, the suspicion of the plaintiffs would be proved.

“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 doing their case for them.

The government’s court paper stated, “It is ironical that they (the banks) are fighting the order of the court asking them to disclose accounts without BVN. Does it lie in their mouth to defend customers, who are in violation of the CBN regulation that constitute part of the due diligence and know your customer requirement of the MLA.

“Indeed, banks occupy a position of trust and must act in the overriding interest of the public where and when necessary in the fight against crime, expose people with dual personality and must not benefit from willful complicity, given that the person, who steals is just as guilty as the one, who keeps the stolen funds.”

The government also faulted the banks’ contention that the government’s suit filed under Section 17(1) of the Advance Fee Fraud Act could only be prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

The AGF and the Federal Government argued that the law did not bar them and other government agencies, taxed with the responsibility of fighting corruption, from suing under the said law.

Justice Nnamdi Dimgba had, on October 17, 2017, upon an ex parte application by the AGF and the Federal Government, ordered the CBN and the 19 commercial banks in the country to disclose all accounts without BVN  in their custody and the balances in such accounts.

The court, among others, ordered the banks to disclose the details of all such accounts, their owners and their proceeds in their affidavit of compliance deposed to by their Chief Compliance Officers.

It also made an interim order directing 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.

But instead of complying with the court order specifically directed at them, the banks chose filed a notice of objection, querying the competence of the suit, the court order itself and the court’s jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit.

The banks, through the joint application filed by their lawyers, who are Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Messrs Paul Usoro, Babatunde Fagbohunlu and Adeniyi Adegbonmire, asked the court to decline jurisdiction to entertain the suit, dismiss it and set aside the order made on October 17.

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.

The applicants in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/911/16 – the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abuakar Malami (SAN) –  were represented during the  proceedings by Mr. Joseph Tobi, while the 19 commercial banks, were represented by Mr. Adeniyi Adegbonmire (SAN).

Only the Central Bank of Nigeria (the 20th respondent in the suit)  was not represented by a lawyer during the Wednesday’s proceedings.

Justice Dimbga adjourned until December 11 for the hearing of all pending applications.

 

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