By Taiye Agbaje
Abuja – Four years after her petitions against Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) over alleged illegal withdrawals of 11,765 Euro from her account, a bank customer, Mrs Gbemi Erinoso-Babalola, has expressed concern over the inability of the EFCC and CBN to investigate the matter.
Erinoso-Babalola, a director at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), through her lawyer, Cornelius Nwapi of Midland Chambers, expressed her disappointment over the reluctance of the anti-graft agency and the CBN to probe the matter she lodged in 2017.
Nwapi lodged the complaint in two separate letters written to the Area 3, Abuja Branch Manager of the GTB on Feb. 27, 2017 and March 10, 2017.
The letters titled: “Re: Concealment of In-Flows and Illegal/Unauthorised Withdrawals from Mrs Gbemisola Olutope Erinoso-Babalola’s Euro Account No: 0168272520”, informed the bank’s management about its non-disclosure of credit lodgments and illegal withdrawals from the said Euro account.
“We have been instructed to write to you by Mrs Erinoso-Babalola in connection with your non-disclosure of credit lodgments and illegal/unauthorised withdrawals from her Euro account.
“The facts of this case, succinctly put, are as follows:
“Our client is a facilitator and/or distributor of Kangen machine and the supplement, more particularly called Ukon Tumeric tea, for which she earns commission from Enagic Europe GmbH, from time to time.
“Consequently, she operates a domiciliary Euro account number 0168272520 with your bank since 2015, and the said account is specifically designated for the payment of the said commission.
“Further to this, our client left an instruction that her statement of account be forwarded to her every month.
“The essence of this instruction, which has been kept by you in the breach, is to enable her monitor transactions pertaining thereto.
“Perturbed by the seeming absence of payments from Enagic Europe GmbH due to lack of notification, our client called for her statement of account from Enagic Europe GmbH, so as at least to know the status of in-flows into her said euro account,” the first letter read in part.
Nwapi said that when her client received details of the said account, it was discovered that some payments were made into her account in 2016 but withdrawn by someone else.
Listing the dates of the illegal transactions, the lawyer queried why the bank failed to alert his client as to either the receipt and/or the debit of such amount from her account.
Nwapi, therefore, demanded a forensic audit of the account with a view to unraveling how the withdrawals were made, who made the withdrawals and why the bank failed to send SMS messages to his client concerning the transactions.
However, when the GTB management did not reply to the letter, the counsel wrote a second letter to the bank on March 10, 2017, threatening to activate both criminal and civil machineries of the law toward recovery of the money if no action was taken within two days.
“Clearly, on the criminal front, we shall, after the expiration of the two days deadline, refer this matter to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and also to the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigerian Police for full investigation.
“In addition, we shall also send a petition to the Department of Banking Supervision, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for a determination of the Issues raised by us, and at the end of the day, we shall file a civil claim before a court of competent jurisdiction to seek redress and an award of aggravated damages for your breach of duty and professional negligence,” Nwapi said in the letter.
GTB, in its response letter dated March 10, 2017, jointly signed by Damilola Falade and Denike Ajitena of its legal group, said that after careful review of the contents of the letter and her account, it confirmed that there was no infraction on the part of the bank.
“Please note that contrary to the allegations contained in your letter under reference, your client is duly profiled for receipt of text messages (SMS) and email transaction alerts, when transactions are conducted on her account.
“Therefore, she was receiving prompt updates on all transactions on her account through SMS and by e-mails as they occur
“We have further conducted a forensic audit of your client’s account and summarised our findings,” the letter read.
With the development, Nwapi petitioned the EFCC and the Consumer Protection Department of the CBN for their prompt intervention on March 21, 2017, and April 10, 2017, respectively.
He said that upon receipt of the petition, the CBN, on May 25, 2017 gave GTB an ultimatum to investigate, resolve the issues and report the outcome in its June 2017 Consumer Complaints Management Report.
The counsel, however, expressed surprise that the GTB neither adhered to the directives of the CBN nor did the apex bank’s Consumer Protection Department investigate his client’s claim or sanction the bank for its misconduct.
The lawyer also said that it was disheartening that while the petition was pending before the Bank Fraud Unit of the EFCC for investigation, another inflow of €500 was again unlawfully withdrawn from his client’s account in April 2017.
“And we think that, that particular incident does not need much forensic evaluation to unravel,” he said.
The lawyer told NAN that even though the anti-graft agency investigated the matter, it had yet to conclude the case, issue its report or communicate its findings to his client.
He further urged the anti-corruption agency and the apex bank to conclude their investigations and “unmask the masquerades” behind the serial withdrawals.
But reacting in a telephone interview, the EFCC’s spokesman, Mr Wilson Uwujaren, said if money was withdrawn from Erinoso-Babalola’s account without her authorisation, the bank should be notified through a letter.
“It is only when your bank fails to refund the money that you can now complain to the EFCC or other law enforcement agencies,” he said.
When NAN told Uwujaren that the anti-graft agency had not taken any action inspite of two petitions sent to it since 2017, he explained that if directed to the appropriate office, the commission would have reacted to the letters.
“If the petition has merit, we will investigate the matter and if it does not, we will also tell you that we cannot act on this.
“The fact that nobody contacted her shows that she probably didn’t route the letters to the right place.
“When people write petitions to the commission, we have a process of looking at petitions.
“Though writing a petition does not mean one’s case will be handled, I wonder why Erinoso-Babalola’s petitions has not been acted upon.
“If those who vetted it believe that it is a matter the commission can investigate, it will be investigated and if they feel otherwise, they will not proceed.
“If she had been invited to throw more light on the issues that were raised, that would have given me an indication that the commission accepted to do that matter.
“We can now be asking why from then till now no progress was made since from the word go, nobody called her.
” I cannot even assume now that the matter is before the commission because I don’t have evidence to show that the matter was brought to the commission,” he said.
On what advice he could give to such a bank customer, Uwujaren said: “If she is sure that she was defrauded by her bank, then she should write a petition alleging that her bank defrauded her by stating the amount and the nature of the transaction
“She should submit a proper petition to the commission and it will be looked into; if the commission believes it is a matter that is worthy of further investigation, the bank will be contacted.”
Also reacting, Mr Isaac Okorafor, Director, Corporate Communications of CBN, who acknowledged that the Consumer Protection Department (CPD) of the apex bank handles such cases, said the issue had lingered for a long time.
“The process is not for me to handle; it is for our CPD to handle so that the matter can be resolved.
“She should follow a process. First, she will send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. If she had had a communication with those people, she will scan the interaction or snap it and attach it to that mail. They will reply.
“When that mail is sent to the bank, they will copy her. There is nothing we can talk about that will resolve it unless Consumer Protection Department goes into it.
“The department, after receiving the mail, will invite the bank and it must respond; if there is any problem, they will not only refund her money, there will be a penalty.
“The best I can do is what I have told you; let the person write to CPD and if after two weeks nothing happens, she should call me,” he said.
NAN, however, reminded Okorafor that Erinoso-Babalola had already written to the CPD of the apex bank twice and that inspite of the CPD’s directive to GTB to investigate what went wrong, the commercial bank had done nothing.
Okorafor responded thus: “Let her articulate this in a message, not too robust, stating some facts about it and that the CPD has refused, till this day, to act.
“Let her send it to my WhatsApp on this my phone number and I will forward it directly to the Director, Consumer Protection Department, and they will take it up from there.”