How First Bank provided cover for senior managers implicated in N355 million fraud

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    Hires SAN to defend staff in Supreme Court 

    Former dispatch rider with First Bank Nigeria (FBN) Limited, Omelie Humprey Darlington, who was falsely accused as sole suspect in a N355million humongous fraud attempt is crying loud for justice to be executed having won the law suit against FBN and Others in three lower courts.

    Time will tell whether justice will be served, at last, in favour of the victim as the landmark case moved to the Supreme Court at the instance of First Bank management bent on providing cover for its senior managers adjudged guilty by the lower courts in a case of gross and acute violation of Omelie’s fundamental rights.

    Appellate court had upheld High Court judgment in the suit number LD/1991MFHR/15 which found that “the respondents (Jaiyesimi and Majasan) “used Omelie as a shield and a scapegoat in grand cover up bid to conceal insider involvement in N355million failed fraud,” and awarded him aggravated damages of N17.7million.

    Desperate on providing cover for the managers, the flagship member of First Bank Nigeria Holdings Plc, proceeded to the Supreme Court to contest appellate court decision in the case marked CA/L/425/16- Mr. Abimbola Jaiyesimi & Others Vs. Mr. Omelie Humphrey Darlington.

    Delivering judgment, the Justice W. Anumahun of Federal High Court, Igbosere Lagos, exonerated First Bank on the ground that Jaiyesimi and Majasan concealed the monumental fraud incident from their employer. Yet the lender went ahead to engage the services of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to defend the Appellants-  Abimbola Jaiyesimi and Mojisola Majasan at the Supreme Court.

    At the time of the incident in 2013, Jaiyesimi and Majasan are the Relationship Manager (RM) and Business Manager (BM) respectively with the Iganmu Brach of First Bank while Mr. Omelie was a dispatch rider, all under the Institutional Banking Group (Manufacturing).

    In a letter addressed to the law firm of Karina Tunyan & Co. dated February 27, 2019 First Bank is seeking for the legal services of the Managing Partner, Karina Tunyan (SAN), to defend Jaiyesimi and Majasan, at the apex court.

    The letter signed by a certain Silas O. Nwaulune for the General Counsel, First Bank & Subsidiaries, read: “Further to our previous discussions and correspondences with your firm on the subject, we hereby instruct your law firm, particularly your learned Silk Karina Tunyan, SAN, to leader Emmanuel Okorie of Okorie & Okorie to prosecute subject appeal at the Supreme Court.”

    At the end of the three-page letter obtained by our correspondent, the FBN General Counsel wrote: “Please let us know in earnest your proposed fee for representing us in the suit to enable us to review same for the Management’s consideration. We await your early response to the above.”

    The background story

    Omelie, a dispatch rider, narrated how he was framed up as the sole suspect in a N355million failed fraud against Olam Nigeria Limited.

    Omelie Humphrey Darlington

    He said he was subsequently detained, tortured, and humiliated at the Lion Building Police Station Lagos for three days and at then Ikoyi Police Station Lagos State for further period of eight days, all at the instigation of Abimbola Jaiyesimi, Mojisola Majasan (both of whom the Judge described as “Principal Actor and Actress”), and others.

    Omelie’s near tragic ordeal in the hands of his accusers and the police is better imagined. He told our reporter that after his release on bail by one of the security men at FBN, the same people that came to bail him from Lion Building Police Station, pretended to offer him help by dropping him off at the office. To his surprise, the driver of the company vehicle with an armed police officer started driving towards an unknown destination prompting him to resist the movement.

    In his frantic resistance to frustrate a plot to kill and dump him on the road ostensibly to cover up the fraud incident, the police officer hit him severally on his right ear with the butt of his gun until blood started gushing out. He succeeded to attract attention of other motorists who intervened and insisted that they should take him to a nearby police station. That was how the same people who obtained his bail from Lion Building took him to Ikoyi Police Station less than two hours after. “Their intention was not to take me to Ikoyi Police Station. The plot was to kill and dump me on the road side. They would have succeeded if I had not resisted,” Omelie told our reporter.

    Later on, he was arraigned before Magistrate  A. T. Omoyele of the Magistrate Court of Lagos on three count charge of conspiracy to steal, attempt to steal N355million from an account belonging to Olam Nigeria Ltd, and forgery of transfer document bearing Olam Nigeria Ltd letter head. He was committed in prison pending the perfection of his bail bond.

    The case with the charge number L/137/2013 which was instituted by the Police: Commissioner of Police Vs Omelie Humphrey Darlington on November 18, 2013 was struck out and defendant (Omelie) accordingly discharged on February 24, 2014 for want of diligent prosecution after FBN and staff who are the complainants repeatedly failed to appear in court. Omelie proceeded to sue FBN and Others in High Court.

    The N17.7million High Court ruling: What the Judge said

    In the Suit Number: LD/1991MFHR/15 seeking for the enforcement of fundamental rights, Omelie (the Applicant) joined FBN (1st Respondent), Abimbola Jaiyesimi (2nd Respondent), Mojisola Majasan (3rd Respondent), Okon the Internal Security Officer at FBN Head Office (4th Respondent), and  Abidemi another Internal Security Officer at FBN Head Office (5th Respondent).

    Others joined in the suit were the IPO and DPO of Lion Building Police Station as well as those of Ikoyi Police, the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State and the Inspector General of Police. These were joined as the 6th – 11th Respondents in that order.

    In his ruling, Justice Animahun said “It’s curious that among all the persons that could be responsible for the attempted fraud, only the Applicant (Omelie) was arrested, investigated and put on trial. Nothing was heard or said about the other people. Even the 1st – 5th Respondents’ Counsel that used the word CONSPIRACY in formulating his issue number one did not suggest the names of the people the Applicant conspired with. Everybody kept mute on them.

    “I therefore agree with the Applicant (Omelie) that the 2nd Respondent (Abimbola Jaiyesimi) insisted at the Police Station that the Police should not bother about any investigation but just hold me (Omelie) responsible for the fraud,” the Judge affirmed.

    After thorough examination of all submissions made by the Respondents, Justice Animahun concluded that the reasonable inference and conclusion to be made from the facts of this case is that made by the Applicant in paragraph 38 of his Affidavit in support, where he says “That I solemnly believe that First Bank of Nigeria Ltd knows the culprit behind the N355million fraud and the Bank is shielding them from investigation and prosecution by scapegoating me – a common dispatch rider, a mere messenger in order to cover up and protect the insiders who are complicit in this fraud.”

    Continuing the Judge concluded thus: “I therefore hold that the claims of the Applicant are well founded and should succeed. I now proceed to consider the liability of each of the Respondents.”

    In awarding damages against the Respondents, the Judge exonerated First Bank (1st Respondent) from complicity in the travails of the Applicant but held Abimbola Jaiyesimi (2nd Respondent) and Mojisola Majasan (3rd Respondent) liable.

    “What raises my conviction in the complicity of the 2nd and 3rd Respondents in the attempted fraud is that, even though they were at the head office of the Bank, there is no single evidence that any of their superior in the head office was informed of the fraud and of the presence of the Applicant at the head office. I …… found that though the Applicant was allegedly summoned to the head office, no officer therein played any role in the decision to take the Applicant to Lion Building Police Station.”

    He further held that “the facts of this case do not show that the Bank participated in the infringement of the Applicant’s rights. This is understandably so because the would have been a victim of the attempted fraud if it was successful and would have been liable to refund the N355million to Olam Nigeria Limited. This is why I think that the Bank would have been interested in seeing to the arrest, investigation, and prosecution of the suspects to a logical conclusion if it was aware of the attempted fraud. I therefore hold that the 1st Respondent (First Bank) had no knowledge of the fraud and was not responsible and liable for the infringement of the Applicant’s rights,” the Judge ruled.

    On the 2nd and 3rd Respondents, the Court held that “These two are the principal actor and actress in the concealment of the people behind the attempted fraud. They took charge immediately the fraud was discovered by the Fund Transfer Officer and made sure that it was not properly investigated and prosecuted.

    “Common sense dictates that the 2nd Respondent should even have personal interest in seeing the case to logical conclusion if truly he knows nothing about how his signature got endorsed on the transfer forms.

    “I once again agree with the Applicant that the 2nd and 3rd Respondents used him as a shield and as a scapegoat. I wish to condemn these in strong terms. It is unacceptable, it is wrongful, it is unlawful, it is devilish and sinful. This is a case in which the court should award aggravated damages.

    “Aggravated damages are awarded whenever the Defendant’s conduct is sufficiently outrageous to merit punishment, as when for instance, it discloses malice, fraud, cruelty, insolence, or fragrant disregard of the law.

    “In all, the Applicant was castrated for about fifty-two days. He was in two different cells, and later on a prison until he was granted bail. I have considered the motive of the 2nd and 3rd Respondents and the ordeal the Applicant went through. I have also considered the different roles played by the 2nd and 3rd Respondents and hereby award aggravated damages against them, as follows-

    1. N10million (Ten Million Naira) damages against the 2nd Respondent.
    2. N7.5million (Seven Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira) is awarded against the 3rd Respondent.

    The sum of N100, 000 costs is awarded against each of the 2nd and 3rd Respondents, the Court ruled.

    Conclusion:

    After court ruling which exonerated the Bank from complicity in the travails of Omelie on the assumption it had no knowledge of the fraud attempt, common sense dictates that the Bank would have initiated investigation or a process to unravel those behind the fraud and get to the root of the matter.

    But several years after, there was no evidence that First Bank instituted any form of inquiry into this monumental case of insider fraud. Instead, the Bank has remained resolved on its suspicion that a common dispatch rider perpetrated the humongous fraud attempt.

    The Bank is expected to launch an investigation to unravel the owners of the four corporate accounts to which the N355million would have been transferred. Who are the directors of the firms with the account names: Jemmalex Properties Development Ltd; Lekas Oil Venture; Nuhu Buhari Enterprise; and Akorda Property & Investment Ltd?

    Rather than allowing Police to uncover the actual criminals behind the fraud attempt, the Bank has taken undignified choice of engaging the service of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria to defend its managers implicated and adjudged by both High and Appellate courts as complicit. The principal actor and actress, as the Judge described Jaiyesimi and Majasan, are still enjoying the comfort and pecks of their office, underlining Management’s attitude to insider abuse.

    Several messages and calls to the Bank’s Head of Corporate Communications/Media and External Relations, Ismail Omamegbe, elicited no response more than three weeks after he was contacted for comments on the issue.

    Will justice be eventually served to the victim of this grand cover up? Only time will tell.

    Exclusive Reporters.

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