AMCON debts: How debtors used distressed firms to move N5trn loans abroad
•Probe still ongoing —EFCC
PRELIMINARY investigation by a presidential panel put in place to recover the N5 trillion owed Nigerian banks by 20 influential citizens has reportedly revealed that most of the loans were being allegedly shipped abroad, using a foreign oil company and some ailing companies, Sunday Tribune has learnt.
The debtors include serving senators, media moguls, celebrated businessmen, senior Federal Government appointees and billionaires.
Names have been mentioned in the media space and a couple of the affected billionaires have threatened lawsuit, if formally connected to the probe.
But the Federal Government has promised to recover the debt to the last dime, vowing tougher actions on the alleged defaulters.
In a recent move against the debtors, Federal Government agencies are collaborating to deny them access to their deposits in all Nigerian banks, until they pay up.
While it could not be confirmed if their accounts with Nigerian banks have been frozen and seized as threatened, information flowing from a top source close to the probe shows that the debtors may be in for a harder time than what has been witnessed so far, regarding the recovery efforts.
Though their deposits in Nigerian banks are said to be grossly disproportionate to their debts, taking over their accounts is said to be an act of forcing them to bring back their money in foreign accounts, believed to include the unpaid loans, which were largely depositors’ funds.
The seizure in Nigeria, though insignificant to the money owed, is also reportedly targeted at making it impossible for the debtors to keep running their home-based businesses, while holding on to other people’s money in form of supposed bad loans.
The implications of possible crisis at home are expected to force compromises that could facilitate early and full payment of the controversial loans.
Findings reportedly showed that most of the loans possibly went into deliberate investment in firms in crisis situation or with visible signs of distress, as a way of turning them into bad debts that would be very difficult to recoup.
This is said to be the main reason the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) has found it difficult, over the years, to recover the said debts.
“However, the said investments did not likely go down the drain with the major foreign oil company and distressed companies,” a probe source noted.
The failed firms, including a telecoms firm which had gone under, were allegedly used as investment decoy to reportedly move some of the loans abroad.
The probe panel is said to have been tracing the likely movement of the money and in the recovery bid, some other big names in the country would likely be pulled in for alleged money laundering.
The failed telecoms firm was said to have moved huge fund out of the Nigerian system in the guise of profit, even when signs of distress were visible all over it.
Such “fantastic” revenue-yield and profit are now being suspected to be proceeds of crime, especially by companies that collapsed not long after such celebrated business outings.
On the presidential panel are the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and the Ministry of Justice.
Sunday Tribune had also reported that a joint operation had commenced to secretly trace all the assets of the debtors, especially those not publicly linked to, and known with, them.
It was gathered that assets being targeted include those with high economic and commercial values like private jets owned by some of them, well-placed investments and high-yield properties.
When all hidden and known assets are traced, each of them would be called in and given the options of either paying up or losing listed assets.
Aftermath the collation of their assets, an order of temporary forfeiture will likely be sourced from court of law, in the event that debtors are not willing to pay back willingly and deciding for litigation.
The targeted assets, according to findings, would either cover the value of their debts or be very close, a situation expected to compel the debtors to lay payment plans before the joint investigation team.
Operatives from both the ICPC and EFCC are reportedly leading the recovery efforts.
Huge depositors’ funds were equally said to have been channeled to political causes, thereby leading to the collapse and near death of some banks.
Underhand dealings are also said to have been perpetrated over the loans to be recovered, with certain senior executives of financial institutions and their alleged collaborators in government circle, allegedly sharing certain percentages for everybody in the know to keep quiet.
The sharing was reportedly done with the thinking that the loans would eventually be written off as bad loans.
We are looking into it —EFCC
Meanwhile, spokesperson of the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, said investigation had been on since the presidential panel was put in place.
“I know the probe is on. That is all I can say for now,” Uwujaren told Sunday Tribune.