N20bn salary bailout: ‘Sterling Bank opened account without our authorisation,’ says Kogi Govt

Controversy surrounding alleged misappropriation of a N20 billion Federal Government bailout fund for the Kogi workers’ salary, Wednesday, took another twist as the Sterling Bank, where the said money was domiciled, had opened an account for the state government without its authorisation.

Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State

Anti-graft agency of the federal Government, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had reported, last Friday, that Kogi State had returned the said money to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) upon its pressure on the state having allegedly traced the hidden money to the commercial bank.

However, in a twist, the state government has tendered documents before the CBN proving that Sterling Bank had opened the account where the money was kept without the approval of the Kogi Government.

Sterling bank in a letter dated October 5, 2021 which was addressed to the Kogi Commissioner of Finance, Budget and Economic claimed that the account was not opened by the Kogi State Government, as claimed by the EFCC.

The bank further told the Kogi Government, in the letter, that the Account number 0073572696 is an internal account and was opened for internal administration of the bank.

The Bank claimed that the interest payable at 2 percent to CBN in line with terms of the bailout facility.

Sterling Bank had stated that the account is not an operational one.

It would be recalled that CBN on Friday acknowledged the receipt of the sum of N19, 333,333,333.36 recovered by the EFCC from the Kogi State Salary Bail-out account domiciled in Sterling Bank Plc.

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This effectively put to rest the campaign of misinformation and unconscionable denials by the Kogi State Government that no fund was recovered from its bail out account. The apex bank in a letter referenced, DFD/DIR/CON/EXT/01/099 and dated 9th November, 2021 informed the Executive Chairman, EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa that it has received the money.

The letter reads in part: “We refer to your letter dated November 5, 2021 with Ref. No: CR:3000/EFCC/LS/CMU/REC-STE/VOL.4/047 on the above subject and wish to confirm the details of the receipt of the amount as stated below: Bank: Sterling Bank Plc; Amount: N19, 333, 333,333.36; Date of receipt: 04 November, 2021”.

The return of the money to CBN is in compliance with the October 15, 2021 Order of a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi Lagos directing the unfreezing of the Kogi State Salary Bail-out account to enable Sterling Bank to remit the balance in the account to the Central Bank of Nigeria. Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke gave the Order pursuant to an application filed by the EFCC.

The Commission had told the court that the management of Sterling Bank Plc, where the account was domiciled had acknowledged the existence of the said account with the staggering sum of N19, 333,333,333.36 in its books.

The Commission further brought to the attention of the court that “The sum of N19, 333,333,333.36 is still standing in the credit of the account frozen”, adding that “the management of Sterling Bank PIc, has, pursuant to a letter dated 15 September, 2021, signed by its Managing Director, indicated intention to return the total sum of N19, 333,333,333.36 back to the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

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The EFCC prayed The court that it “is expedient for the instant suit to be discontinued and the account unfrozen to enable the management of Sterling Bank PIc effect the transfer/ return of the sum of the sum of N19, 333, 333, 333.36 back to the coffer of the Central Bank of Nigeria , where the said bailout funds was disbursed.”

The transfer has put paid to any further controversy regarding source and ownership of the funds and most importantly, aborted the funds dissipation.

On August 31, 2021, Justice Tijani Garba Ringim, a vacation Judge, had ordered the freezing of the account, following an ex-parte application filed by the EFCC.

The EFCC, in a 13-paragraph affidavit in support of the ex-parte application, had stated that it received a credible and direct intelligence, which led to the tracing of the funds reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities in account No. 0073572696

However, while presenting the documents before the CBN, the Kogi State Commissioner for Finance, Budget and Economic Planning, Asiwaju Asiru Idris, charged the bank’s Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, to meticulously investigate the allegation as falsely raised by the EFCC and to also look deeply into the books of sterling bank for possible infractions.

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The Commissioner Asiru Idris, who was at the CBN Office in Abuja, Wednesday, to submit all documents as regards the bailout loan facility from Sterling bank, the account status and the details of the disbursement as at October 2019, said the EFCC may perhaps have acted on false information, wants the CBN to asked critical questions about the returned fund and where it generated from.

Idris said considering the procedure involved in opening any account, ‘neither the EFCC, nor the said bank has been able to present to court of public opinion, at least, the mandate from Kogi State Government to open such bail out fixed deposit account in the name of Kogi state, BVN of those that opened it, their phone number and the names of personnel’s that opened the said account. We all know that a fixed account can’t be opened without a mandate from the intended customer, agreement of terms such as tenor to fix, interest rate and many more.’

 “Until Justice is done and truth unclad for the public to see, the Commissioner said it is no retreat no surrender.

“Nobody can mischievously tarnish the image of the state with corruption allegation and expect us to stay aloof, we won’t only uphold the truth, we will make sure the present artificial entanglement is demystified,” said Idris.

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