THERE’S tension at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) following the arrest and trial of some staff of the nation’s apex bank for alleged N8bn mutilated currency fraud.
As you read this, top officials of CBN involved in the scam, discovered at Ibadan, Oyo branch of the bank, have been running from pillar to post to avert being linked to the scandal currently rocking the bank.
ENCOMIUM Weekly learnt that before the arrest of the suspects -who are mainly junior staff- Nigeria had lost billions of naira to a syndicate who fraudulently swap mutilated currency with good ones.
Those familiar with the operations of the apex bank also didn’t rule out possibility of a thorough investigation to expose more CBN officials who have been in this for years.
“CBN usually sorts out old and mutilated currencies periodically. Before they started destroying deformed currencies with incinerators, the bank used to throw them away. I remember we used to go there to pick some of the fairly good ones when we were young. They also used to burn them openly. While this supposed to go on, some bad eggs in connivance with their bosses fraudulently convert them to real currency and smile to the banks. This is still going on, though everybody is now afraid,” said our source.
The anti-corruption posture of Muhammadu Buhari presidency has not helped matters, with the fear of holistic probe of the bankers’ bank gripping their directors and other staffers with suspicious record.
That was even the reason the EFCC hurriedly arraigned the suspects, while beaming a search light on others involved in the alleged N8bn currency mutilation fraud.
Reacting to the allegation, CBN, in a release by the Director, Corporate Communication, Mr. Ibrahim Mu’azu, however, said they nabbed the suspects through their routine internal audit.
In fact, CBN disclosed what it described as the chronology of events that led the management of the bank to hand over some unscrupulous staff to the EFCC for prosecution.
“During a routine internal audit of the Bank’s Cash Destruction activities in September 2014, the CBN panel comprising senior bank staff from different branches noticed some anomalies at the Ibadan branch, and immediately reported this to the bank’s management.
“On further investigation ordered by the Governor, it was discovered that a systematic scheme, which has been on for several years, was being run in which mutilated higher denomination notes originally meant for destruction were swapped with lower denomination currencies. This practice known as interleafing, basically labels a box with a higher value than its true content.”
The CBN spokesman said further that, “As soon as the bank’s internal investigations concluded beyond reasonable doubt that some wrongdoing had occurred, the affected members of staff who are middle-level officers were, depending on gravity of offence, either summarily dismissed or immediately placed on indefinite suspension on October 21, 2014, and all handed over to the EFCC for further investigation and prosecution.”
The apex bank gave assurances that it “has also conducted a nation-wide audit of all 37 branches of the Bank and found that this was an isolated scheme at Ibadan branch.
“The Bank will continue to collaborate with the EFCC to ensure that affected CBN staff, as well as their accomplices in some commercial banks, are brought to justice”.
The EFCC, last week, docked some CBN staff and others over an N8billion currency mutilation fraud.
The suspects drawn from various business units of the apex bank were charged by the anti-graft agency before a Federal High Court sitting in Ibadan, Oyo State, from Tuesday, June 2, 2015 to Thursday, June 4, 2015.
They include Patience Okoro Eye (Abuja), Afolabi Olunike (Lagos), Kolawole Babalola (Ibadan), Olaniran Muniru Adeola (Ibadan), Fatai Yusuf, Adekunle (Head, Security, CBN (Ibadan) and Ilori Adekunle Sunday (Akure).
On Wednesday, cases were heard before Justice Faaji in batches with the first set of accused persons slammed with a 28-count charge.
They are Kolawole Babalola, Olaniran Adeola, Toogun Phillip, Ayodele Adeyemi, Isiaq Akano, Oyebamiji Akeem, Ayodeji Alase, Ajiwe Adegoke and Idowu Oguntade, who is still at large. Three officials of the CBN were among the accused, while others were from Wema Bank Plc and First Bank Plc.
The prosecution counsel (Rotimi) told the court that the accused persons were charged with a 28-count charge which included forgery of documents, conspiracy and stealing.
According to the charge sheet, the accused persons were charged with intent to defraud and conspiracy to commit an offence punishable under the Nigerian law.
They were also accused of sharing among themselves mutilated currency meant to be destroyed and destroying and defacing some boxes used to move the currency from one bank to the other.
They all pleaded not guilty to all the charges and despite efforts of the counsel to the accused persons to secure bail for them through oral application, Justice Faaji ruled that they should be remanded in prisons pending further hearing.
The case was adjourned to June 8, 2015 for hearing of the bail application.
Contacted for comment on latest development in the N8bn fraud, the CBN spokesman didn’t respond to the SMS ENCOMIUM Weekly forwarded through his predecessor, Mr. Ugochukwu Okoroafor.
“ENCOMIUM Weekly wants CBN’s reaction to the N80 bn fraud allegation against some of its staff. What’s the latest development after the suspects’ arraignment? Has more staff been arrested?” the SMS we sent on Sunday, June 7 read.
We also couldn’t reach EFCC for comments.
– UCHE OLEHI