Jim Obazee, the Central Bank’s special investigator, has called upon Babatunde Lemo, chairman of Titan Trust Bank (TTB), concerning the acquisition of Union Bank of Nigeria Plc by TTB. This summons holds significance in scrutinising transactions during Lemo’s tenure at the bank and their potential association with former CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele.
Lemo, a former CBN deputy governor, received a directive, dated December 24, 2023, to appear at the Department of Force Intelligence in Abuja on Thursday. The summons specifically requests his presence alongside Cornelius Vink and Rahul Savara, key figures linked to TTB.
“When we carried out our investigation, we discovered that some persons were used as proxies by Mr. Godwin Emefiele to set up Titan Trust Bank and acquire Union Bank therefrom, all from ill-gotten wealth,” Obazee said in a letter to Lemon.
“We were able to secure some documents, and the investigation reports will lead to the forfeiture of the two banks to the Federal Government. We have completed our investigation on this acquisition and have also held meetings with the relevant parties except for Mr. Cornelis Vink, (that is currently hospitalised in Switzerland).
“Otherwise, we are on the verge of recovering these two banks for the Federal Government.”
Lemon’s invitation follows Obazee’s final report submitted to the Presidency on December 20, 2023, alleging proxies connected to Emefiele facilitated the setup of Titan Trust Bank and its Union Bank acquisition using purportedly ill-gotten wealth.
However, in a recent interview with Punch newspaper, Kemi publicly defended the bank’s acquisition, insisting that the acquisition was in adherence to due process and meeting regulatory guidelines.
In response to Lemo’s defence, the investigator penned a letter titled “RE: CBN investigation activities: Invitation for a follow-up meeting with the Special Investigator,” disputing discrepancies in Lemo’s recent statements versus earlier testimonies.
The letter scrutinises Lemo’s statements in the media and an email providing clarification, questioning their alignment with previous statements made to the Special Investigator under caution in August 2023.
The letter read, ”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 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.”
The investigator indicated surprise at Lemo’s request regarding shareholders Vink and Savara, referencing prior invitations and delays in providing requested documents.
However, when Union Bank’s letter to the investigator was examined, it claimed submission of requested documents alongside the letter, raising doubts about the investigator’s claim of non-receipt.
The latest summons to Lemo for a follow-up meeting mandates attendance with Vink and Savara, emphasising the provision of requested documents from an earlier letter. Failure to comply could result in the forfeiture of their purported shares in TTB and Union Bank.
The investigator stated that the invitation aimed to ensure fair hearings and emphasised the consequences if attendees refused to participate or provide the required documents.
Amidst these developments, it remains uncertain if the Investigator’s Office has the authority to enforce share forfeiture without a court ruling, leaving questions regarding the investigation’s legal scope unanswered.