Panic Hits Access Bank Over Orji Kalu’s Deal… MD Sells Shares

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  • Jittery Shareholders Weigh Petitioning SEC, Allege Insider Trading
  • Threaten to Drag Mgt to Investment and Securities Tribunal

A few days after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) quizzed the the Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc, Mr Herbert Wigwe, over some assets belonging to Slok Nigeria Limited, a company owned to former Abia State governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu who is currently serving jail term, the former has put out his shares at the bank for sale at the Nigerian Stock Exchange obviously to raise funds or liquidity for unexplained purposes.

Investigations by The New Diplomat show that Wigwe may have sold well over N240m worth of his personal shares at Access Bank, which are either directly or indirectly held, since early January this year when he was quizzed by the EFCC.

Sources at the anti-graft agency confided in The New Diplomat at the weekend anti-graft interrogators grilled the Access Bank Managing director over alleged proceeds from the sale of a ship and some assets belonging to Slok Nigeria Limited. Said an insider: “We wanted to know where the money from the sale of that ship or asset belonging to Slok was. Where is the money?”

Sources hinted that Wigwe’s decision to sell his shares, a development which shareholders and investors see as curious corporate insider trading on the shares of Access Bank by the Managing director has reportedly triggered serious panic within the bank with the result that some concerned shareholders are said to be threatening to petition the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over what they perceive as unethical conduct.

The New Diplomat investigations reveal that this alleged misconduct which some insiders describe see as bordering on reputational issues has been the subject of intense discussion among concerned shareholders.

Some Shareholders have allegedly started accusing the managing director of using his position “ as MD of the bank to inappropriately suspend the closed-period to trade on Access Bank Shares as well as use insider information for his personal benefit without first communicating such information to shareholders as a public company.”

Concerned shareholders who spoke with The New Diplomat hinted that if this reputational and ethical issues are not satisfactorily addressed they would go to all length to ensure that this ethical issues are corrected. The New Diplomat gathered that some are mulling dragging the management of the bank to the Investment and Securities Tribunal (IST) should SEC fail to act on their petition.

According to a shareholder who spoke withThe New Diplomat in confidence shareholders won’t tolerate “ a situation where a group managing director would, without shareholders knowledge and approval, suspend a closed-period and begin to trade on the bank shares because the likelihood is that he now has some insider information about the state of the bank that is not available to us as shareholders.”

The shareholder added: “Once a company announces a closed-period, no director or corporate insider is allowed to transact on the company’s shares until the end of the closed-period. But in this case, the MD used his position as Managing director to suspend the closed-period to enable him bring up his shares( held indirectly) for trading. It is unethical. It is unacceptable and it borders on serious reputational crisis at Access Bank.”

The angry shareholder continued: “ The reason why closed-period is in existence or was introduced is to ensure that at the end of the year, every shareholder has seen the books, the financial statements and health of the bank. So in this case, what has been done by suspending the closed-period raises serious concern which borders on insider abuse and might lead to erosion of shareholders confidence.”

Repeated efforts to contact Wigwe were unsuccessful. The New Diplomat‘s Head of Business Desk put calls to his cell no but were not answered. However, in a statement issued by the Bank last Saturday following Wigwe’s invitation by the EFCC, the financial institution admitted that the Bank has some issues over Slok which was granted a facility by defunct Diamond Bank and that following the recent merger of Diamond Bank and Access Bank, the later naturally inherited the Slok credit facilities.

The statement read: “We wish to state that the issues essentially relate to the credit facilities that were availed Slok Nigeria Limited (Slok) by the defunct Diamond Bank Plc (Diamond) and which were secured by Slok Assets charged to Diamond. Access Bank had inherited the Slok credit following the recent merger of Diamond and Access Bank.

Given the differing interests of the commission and the bank on the assets of slok deriving from the court’s recent judgment on Slok, the commission had invited for interrogation officials of Access Bank who were handling the bank’s recovery efforts on Slok Credit including its Group Managing director.”

This is not the first time Access Bank would be walking the path of controversy. For instance, in 2011, the bank was accused of culpability in subsidy financing deals allegedly involving Spog, a firm reportedly owned by controversial businessman and Diezani Alison Maduekwe’s ally, Jide Omokore.

The controversial businessman who has since been indicted and forfeited various assets to the federal government via AMCON curiously had Access as its long-term financier, raising corporate and ethical questions as to whether Access Bank was actually vetting Omokore’s firms questionable contracts papers.

Since the emergence of Buhari’s administration, Omokore’s companies have been indicted for various financial infractions which are now public knowledge. Omokore’s wife, one Angela Jones, was a senior top official of Access Bank, and was responsible for Wealth Management section at the bank.

Another energy company, Ice Energy Petroleum Company Limited which allegedly had Aig-Imoukhuede, then Group managing director of Access Bank, on its board was similarly censured by the House of Representatives.

Curiously, Spog Petrochemicals which was accused of purportedly importing 3000 metric tones of petrol yet was paid a subsidy for 13,000 metric tones in early 2011 had received strong and patronizing recommendations from Access Bank. In its letter sent to the executive secretary of PPPRA, which was dated May 31, 2011 and signed by the duo of Tope Ogunfusika and Ojeifoh Okosun, Access Bank had categorically stated that it has had a great relationship with Spog since 2006.

Additional Report: The New Diplomat

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