Ecobank Nigeria has written to First Bank Holdings, asking it not to accept the acquisition of 4.7 billion shares by businessman Oba Otudeko.
The former Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria Ltd recently bought the shares in a cross deal of N87.8bn to potentially become the largest shareholder in the firm.
However, Ecobank said in a letter dated July 7 and written by its legal representatives, Kunle Ogunba & Associates, that Otudeko, through his affiliated entities, owed the bank N13.5 billion. Ecobank is in court to recover the money.
The letter signed by the Principal Partner of the law firm, Oludare Amusan, said Otudeko personally guaranteed the loan leading to the indebtedness of the companies affiliated with him.
The letter read in part, “Whereas, the prior-mentioned entities had initially disputed their indebtedness to our client and had consequently filed an action in court to that effect, the Supreme Court on the 27th day of January, 2023 in Appeal No. SC/CV/210/2021 delivered Judgment (Certified true copy of which is herein attached) affirming the indebtedness of the above persons to our client and further commanded that they must pay all the outstanding debts that have accrued under the loan contract between the parties; the same debt personally guaranteed by Dr Oba Otudeko, which said indebted stood in the sum of N13,507,052,417.99.”
The bank, through its lawyers, alleged that instead of taking urgent steps to repay their indebtedness in line with the mandate of the Supreme Court, it had come to its notice that Otudeko, who had personally guaranteed to pay the said debt, had taken steps to divert his assets/funds using a company known as Barbican Capital Limited as a special purpose vehicle.
The letter read, “We state that the said Dr Oba Otudeko has via the said Barbican Capital Limited allegedly purchased 4,770, 269, 843, (Four billion, Seven hundred and seventy million, two hundred and sixty-nine thousand, eight hundred and forty-three) shares of FBN Holdings Plc.”
The letter said the bank had been informed that the said shares were purchased via 19 business entities and were currently being held by 10 different companies.
The law firm said that it was beyond doubt that the actions taken by Otudeko were targeted as diverting his assets and that of the Honeywell Group of Companies through the said Barbican Capital Limited, in order to frustrate the enforcement of the judgment of the Supreme Court against him and the Honeywell companies, towards recovering his/their unđisputed indebtedness to Ecobank.
The letter also demanded the details of the said transaction within the ensuing seven days, noting that as a responsible corporate entity, FBN Holdings was not expected to take an action that would encourage the violation of a Supreme Court ruling.
PUNCH learnt that some FirstBank shareholders are already concerned about the consequences of having Otudeko back in control of the bank in any capacity, especially after being unceremoniously removed by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2021.Sources: Punch, Qed