A businessman has accused Heritage Bank Plc of using his company (Oofortech) account with the bank to launder N4, 660, 000, 000.00 (Four Billion, Six Hundred and Sixty million Naira), even as he alleged threats to his life and that of members of his family from people that the bank’s officials gave his contact details, including his office and residential addresses to, without his consent
The businessman, Curtis Chris Odekpe, who is the Managing Director of Ofortech Investments Limited in his statement exclusively obtainedby OrijoReporters, said Ofortech operates a corporate current account with Heritage Bank Plc with account number: 6000981458 at the bank’s Central Business District Abuja branch.
Odekpe stated that he was left stunned on February 12, 2016, when Ofortech’s account that was dormant, and had only N7,000 balance, was credited with N4.6bn by Ellington and Brooks in two tranches. The first tranche was N1.6bn and the second transfer was N3bn hit the account.
Odekpe said he hurriedly contacted the company’s account officer with Heritage Bank Plc, and the branch manager but their explanation did not add up.
The statement read, “Thereafter, Ofortech Managing Director started receiving threatening telephone calls, urging the company to transfer the United States Dollar equivalent of$20m to an account based in Dubai.
“The Managing Director of Ofortech was telephone by a lady by name(sic) Denisia from the United States of America insisting that $20m transfer must be made and sent to the Dubai account. To make matter worse, the Heritage Bank in Abuja have(sic) been pressurising the Managing Director of Ofortech to do according to the bidding of the US based lady Denisia.
“And since then, the account details of Ofortech has been a public knowledge online where pressure is been(sic) mounted that Ofortech should transfer the equivalent of $20m out of the N4.6bn transferred to the account of Ofortech on February 12, 2016.”
Odekpe concluded that Ofortech reported the suspicious transaction to the police to unravel the source.
The company however, in a petition dated July 29, 2016, claiming it wrote to the Director, Banking Supervision of CBN, which was made available to OrijoReporters, contradicted the statement that he knew nothing of the transaction.
A critical study of the documents pertaining to the transaction in our possession suggested a botched deal.
The petition that Odekpe, allegedly wrote to the Director of Banking Supervision at the Central Bank of Nigeria read in part thus: “We wish to formally forward this petition to you, Sir, to officially detail and report fraud of N4,660, 000, 000. 00 (Four Billion, Six hundred and sixty six million naira), and myriads of professional misconducts perpetrated by Heritage Bank Plc and its principal officers at Central Business District, branch coordinated by one Ms Nike, a brand manage (sic) against myself and my company.
“We are Estate Developers and Consultants, affiliated to reputable foreign firms who have over time indicated willingness and interest in Nigeria’s property sector.
“Our company was involved in a tripartite business transaction with : (a) Sheik Zamani – an Arab national and a businessman. (b) Ellington & Brooks Limited (Account number withheld). (c) Hiltrans Global Investments Ltd – accounts detail withheld.
“The representatives of the two companies approached me through one Danisa Vanuatu, a Nigeria who claimed residency in the United States of America. The meeting was facilitated by our bankers – United Bank for Africa … they made an offer to us, of using our contacts in Dubai to assist them to source for the sum of US$20 million for and on behalf of their principals who needs (sic) the money for their business in China.
“And my company have been seeking for ways of bringing into the country, almost the same amount of money for our building projects in Karishi, Abuja. We agreed to explore the opportunities. And our bankers are aware of our foreign exchange needs, having made our intentions known to them in the recent past”, he stated.
Continuing, Odekpe stated that the transaction was later switched to Heritage Bank Plc by Danisa Vanuatu, allegedly on the instruction of her principals on the claims that “(a) That her principals –Ellington & Brooks and Hiltrans Global have huge cash deposits in Heritage Bank, (b) That they enjoy tremendous relationship with top management of Heritage Bank, (c)And they have business with the bank.
“On the 11th of February, 2016, a strange man came over to my house without invitation and introduced himself as Barrister Babriel, legal adviser to Mrs. Danisa Vanuatu and two companies that are transacting business with me. That he only came to authenticate my address and know me in person. On how he got my address, he said that their contact at Heritage Bank gave it to Danisa Vanuatu, who in turn gave it to him for the purpose of the visit …
“On the 12th of February 2016, the transaction commenced in earnest by Ellington && Brooks, when it transferred the sum of N1.66 billion (One Billion Sixty Hundred Million) to our account. Later that day, I received another payment alert on my phone of N3,00 B (Three Billion Naira) from Hiltrans Global Investments Limited. The grand total stood at N4, 660, 000, 000.00 … at the close of business on that day -12th of February 2016. And my account officer confirmed the credit to me and our instruction to lien the account was also complied with.
“On 15th February 2016, my foreign partner – Sheik Zamani who have been in touch with me over the transaction, and coordinator of business activities, in Dubai, email my statement of account to me , requesting me to confirm the availability of N4,66 billion in my account, as shown in my statement. I was nonplussed and shocked. On how he got my statement of account, he said Mrs. Danisa Vanuatu goy it from Heritage Bank and sent it to her agent in Dubai, one Mr John Tomaye, who brought it, to confirm to him that her principal –Mrs Danisa & Co. have paid me, and requested for the Dollars equivalent as agreed earlier, on Danisa instruction.
“Having confirmed the availability of the funds in my account and received credit alerts earlier, I confirmed to him and also authorized him to release the Dollar equivalent instrumentally (sic) to Danisa via John Tomaye, which he did accordingly.
“On the 12th of February 2016, I received a call from the Branch Manager of Heritage, one Ms Nike, seeking my permission to manage the funds in my account for my company. Doubting her identity, and credibility because of the previous ugly developments , she told me that the branch manager, where my account is domiciled in Abuja will visit my house or office with other senior officers to further discuss the issue with me, on her behalf. Later that day, the Branch Manager, Miss Alek Chichi, came in company of my account officer – Miss Uche to my house. I assured them that I will discuss with my Directors and revert to them.
“So, on the 17th day of February 2016, worried about these constant infractions and safety of the funds deposited in my account on trust, I went to the bank, armed with letter authourising them to defroze (un-lien) the account to enable me transact but I was informed by Mrs Alek Chichi (the Bank Manager) that the funds was no longer in my account and promised to find out for me, which she never did.
“We believe, this is a fraud syndicate operating in collaboration with top officials of Heritage Bank Plc who have used their official position of trust, to defraud myself and my company, bringing untold hardship and financial burdens to my family.”
When OrijoReporters sent an e-mail to Ofortech’s MD asking him which of his stories to believe, he emailed his reply, claiming that of the second was the true story.
However, the bank’s Group Head, Corporate Affairs, Mr. Fela Ibidapo, absolved the bank of any wrongdoing when OrijoReporters sought the bank’s side of the story.
“It is a transaction between people, who want to sell dollar, and people who want to buy, and both found the banking environment as a convenient place. Heritage Bank only played the role of a commercial bank as a financial intermediary”, Ibidapo stated on phone.
Ibidapo explained that Ofortech had dragged the bank before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, where according to him, the company was told it had no case. He also said that they would be going to ICPC this week (last week Thursday).
But findings revealed that Heritage Bank and Ofortech MD were lying through their teeth, and are enmeshed in a monumental money laundering scandal.
OrijoReporters gathered from financial experts that Heritage Bank contravened money laundering act for failing to report the transaction to CBN. They said reporting the payment of N4.6bn into Ofortech’s account to CBN became a must for the bank given the status of the account.
Prior to the suspicious transaction, the account was dormant and had only N7,000 (Seven Thousand Naira) balance(see statement of account right.).
“Under the money laundering act relating to such an account, a deposit of N5m ought to be reported by the bank to the CBN,” experts said.
Another banking industry source said “the account may have been used as a conduit for money laundering.”
OrijoReporters was told by those who know that granted Ellington and Brooks and Ofortech had a forex deal, and the money paid by the former to the latter’s account was in relation to it, the bank breached the oath of secrecy it entered into with Ofortech as its customer.
It was said that it was unethical banking practices, and contravention of an aspect of Banks and Other Financial Institution Act that Heritage Bank revealed Ofortech’s address to a third party, and moved out the controversial N4.6bn from its account without the consent of the account owner.
“If the bank claimed that it merely played the role of a financial intermediary, then the bank should have obtained an instruction to the effect from Ofortech before giving its address to a third party, and debited its account. In fact it was an abuse of internal process”, one financial expert explained.
When OrijoReporters sought the reactions of the bank to charges of breaches raised by banking industry experts from Ibidapo, he requested that OrijoReporters send our enquiries to his email address, which he forwarded to us.
The enquiries were sent to his official email account which he provided on Monday last week. He was yet to reply as at the time of going to press.
However, a couple of media minders have been reaching out to OrijoReporters to drop the story. One of them was a former Corporate Affairs Manager at one of the banks whose management were recently sacked and replaced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).