N5.5B Debt : Ecobank Witness Reverses Self

* Logo source: www.ecobank.com


…Says Payment Of N3.5B Tied To Exit Of CBN’s Examiners



Story by Gbenga Ogunbufunmi



A defence witness in the hearing of the legal tussle between Honeywell Group of Companies and Ecobank Nigeria PLC over a disputed N5.5 billion Debt Mr Elemi Agbor today reverses himself from the earlier evidence he gave on Friday when he admitted that the payment of N3.5billion concessionary payment granted to Honeywell Group was tied to the exit of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN’s Examiners from the bank.

Giving evidence on Friday, Agbor had insisted that payment of the concessionary N3.5billion was not tied to the exit of the CBN’s Examiners.

However, when the matter resume today, Mr Elemi Agbor a staff of Ecobank Nigeria while under cross examination from Honeywell counsel, Mr Bode Olanipekun, SAN,  told Justice Ayotunde Faji of the Federal High Court, Lagos,  that after refreshing his memory, he will be changing his  line of argument as to his earlier testimony that the payment of the concessionary sum of N3.5 billion was not tied to the exit of the CBN’s Examiners from the bank.

Agbor who said the CBN Examiners came into Ecibank in July, 2013, but claimed not to know the numbers of the examiners nor have any personal interaction with them.

When asked if the plaintiff, Oba Otudeko was informed about the exit date of the Examiners from the bank,  the witness said the bank did not communicate the plaintiff on the ground that Otudeko being an astute banker was  believed to have known the exit date.

” Otudeko brokered the concession agreement,o n behalf of the three Honeywell Group’s subsidiaries and because of his knowledge of banking sector of over 23 years and being Chairman of the board of many banks , it was common knowledge that he knew the exit date”.

When asked if he knew one Mr Jubril Aku who was the Vice Chairman of the Banker’s Committee who gave judgement in favour of Honeywell when the matter came  before the committee, Agbor said he knew Aku as the then Managing Director of Ecobank , he however,  added that Ecobank participated in the committee’s activities in protest

Meanwhile, further hearing in the matter has been adjourned till Thursday 17th.

It would be recalled that when the matter came up for hearing on Friday, first plaintiff witness Oluwakemi Olanrewaju Owasanoye, Head of Treasury and Finance to Honeywell Group of Companies while being cross examination Ecobank’s counsel, Mr. Divine Agbua, told Justice Faji that by an agreement dated July 22, 2013, the company at a meeting with the then Oceanic Bank Limited agreed to merge all the indebtedness of the company’s three subsidiaries and put the total indebtedness at N3.5 billion.

Owasanoye added that part of the agreement was that N500 million of the debt must be paid immediately, while the balance of N3 billion must be paid before the exit of the Central Bank of Nigeria,( CBN) Examiners from the bank.

The witness said Honeywell Group complied with the agreement by paying N500 million same day, July 22, 2013 and also ensure the payment of the balance of N3 billion before the exit of the CBN Examiners from the bank.

Owasanoye said that after complying with the terms of the agreement, the company wrote the defendant, ( Oceanic Bank) informing the bank of its compliance with the terms of the agreement and the need for the bank to discharge her of any obligation.

The witness said the bank in its reply to the letter did not say anything contrary.

The witness added that the company was surprised when after a year, the bank came up via a letter to make further demand of the alleged indebtedness which had been fully liquidated.

Owasanoye also confirmed that the whole money was paid in four instalments of N500 million, N850 million, one billion, N1.15 billion and that all the money was paid before the  exit of the CBN Examiners in line with the terms of agreement.

She added that when the dispute arose the matter was referred to the Bankers’ Committee consisting of bank managing directors, representative of the CBN and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC and that the matter was resolved in favour of Honeywell.

However, in his own evidence, Ecobank’s witness, Mr Elemi Agbor, while being cross examined by Honeywell lawyer, Mr Olabode Olanipekun (SAN) Insisted that the agreement for the payment was for a two term payment only.

He said the agreement stipulates that N500 million must be paid that same day and the balance immediately.

Agbor said Honeywell breach the term that same day.

However, when asks about the time the first tranche of N500 million was paid, the witness said on the same day July 22, 2013, but with a letter.

When further asked about the importance of the exit of CBN Examiners to the terms of payment as contained in the terms of agreement, Agbor said ” I don’t know if payment were tied to the exit of the CBN Examiners”

When also asked to show where in his statement on oath it was stated that the payment must be made twice, the witness said “I can’t find it”.

The legal hostility over the disputed N5.5 billion debt commenced afresh on Thursday before Justice Ayotunde Faji following the the elevation of the former trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris to the Court of Appeal.

It would be recalled that at the last hearing of the matter before the former trial judge, Justice Idris (now Appeal Court Judge) adjourned the matter indefinitely following an interlocutory appeal filed by Ecobank Plc challenging his refusal to recuse himself from hearing the matter.

However, when the matter resumed last Thursday, both parties agreed to adopt all exhibits and statements on oath earlier tendered in the matter before the former trial judge, (Justice Idris) and the court consequently consented to the agreement.

Upon the consent of both parties, the first plaintiff’s witness, Oluwakemi Olanrewaju Owasonoye, Head of Treasury/Finance of Honeywell Group of Companies, who was led in evidence by Honeywell’s lawyer, Mr. Olabode Olanipekun (SAN), was subsequently asked to enter the witness box so as to adopt her earlier statements on oath, which she did.

Following the plaintiff’s witness adoption of her statements on oath, lawyer to Ecobank Plc, Mr. Divine Agbua informed the court of a pending motion to call additional witness dated March 7, 2018, this was moved and subsequently granted by the trial judge.

Ecobank Plc’s lawyer also sought for an adjournment till Friday, to cross-examined the plaintiff’s witness.

The suit which was filed by Honeywell Flour Mills Plc, and its sister company – Anchorage Leisures Limited against Ecobank Nigeria Limited is urging the court to hold that they are not indebted to Ecobank.

However, Ecobank Plc is claiming that Honeywell and its sister companies are indebted to it in the said sum, by refusing to comply strictly with the terms of agreement dated July 22, 2013 by which all the company”s indebtedness were merged and the company asked to pay a concessionary sum of N 3.5 billion.

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