When a Lagos-based real estate company, Grant Properties Ltd. took a syndicated loan from Sterling Bank Plc. years back, to develop an estate in Lekki axis of Lagos, it was in good faith.
But years after, the company is groaning under the pangs of the bank’s unethical sharp malpractices, having been conned of their collateral to the tune of whopping billions of Naira. The ugly story has it that when the cash crunch hit the banks, they could no longer provide funding for the project so it was stalled. Soon, it became a bad loan, and no sooner than the AMCON was created, the banks hurriedly “sold” the loan to AMCON to unburden their books. The real estate company claimed that Sterling Bank kept part of its land asset security out of the sale to AMCON and promptly sold 10.3 hectares of the security to one of its director's companies at a significantly outrageous discount. All these were without the knowledge of the other banks involved and this was after the loan portfolio had long been transferred to AMCON. By keeping the 10 hectares out of the loan portfolio it transferred to AMCON, Sterling Bank had indirectly shortchanged Grant Properties of available assets they could use to liquidate or pay off their exposure, they claimed. Of course, the real estate company protested vehemently the sale of its asset without its consent, especially as the buyer was a rival real estate developer who had shown interest in buying the land from them, which they had severally rejected. The bank and its director immediately sold about 2.4 hectares of the land to a corporate developer at a premium, profiting on a fraction of the illegally-acquired property and proceeded to develop the rest of the choice asset! No doubt, the sale did not follow the due process of publicizing and auctioning of the asset, and that is even supposing they had the rights to sell. Naturally, frustrated and feeling outsmarted and cheated, the company sued Sterling Bank. But, while the case was still in court, the bank, in defiance, continued with the perfecting of the documents for the sale, in utter violation of sub-judicial principles. In the course of this altercation, AMCON attempted a settlement by collecting additional money to cover for the undervaluation from the bank, (a fact that established that the asset was actually acquired at a ridiculously devalued rate), to regularize the illegal sale which the company stoutly said they didn’t consent to. So, when the stalemate could not be amicably resolved, Grant Properties Ltd. proceeded with its court case. After six years, a Lagos High Court ruled in favour of Grant, declaring the insider trading between the bank, its director's company and the corporate developer null and void! Armed with the judgment, Grant approached AMCON to open settlement discussions, because the estimated value of the 10 hectares had jumped to a whopping N30bn in 5 years. Again, even while the case was still in court, Sterling Bank and its real estate director continued with development on the disputed land, which was considered an arrogant posture by many, since the court gave two separate injunctions to stop all forms of construction on the land pending judgment. As it stands now, over 300 housing units have been built on the disputed property; thus, now that the court has ruled in favour of Grant, everything on the land automatically belongs to the owner of the land. This was where and when the saga turned curious. One would expect that AMCON’s singular interest would be to get its loan paid and recover tax payers funds AMCON used to purchase these loans in order to keep the bank’s books healthy right. But instead of honoring the court judgment which is clearly in its favour, AMCON put the loan portfolio into receivership 24 hours after it received the court judgment in its own favour. The appointed receiver, in a Gestapo style, shut down all Grant Properties’ offices, evicted the Chairman and Directors from their rented homes, carted away their goods and refused them access to their medication all as a “leverage” to force them to sign an undertaking, which demands that they must “compromise” the court judgment, let go of the 10 hectares illegally sold by the bank to its director and must not seek any further justice from any court of law or security agencies. In essence, if their “posture” had been cooperative, then their debt would have been pegged at N8.5bn, but if they continue to be hostile, they will be made to pay N22bn! This is how Sterling Bank extra-judiciously outsmarted, hoodwinked and defrauded an innocent and very reliable customer. So sad, and one hopes the appropriate authorities are reading this. Because, how long will the regulatory authorities continue to look the other way, while banks enrich themselves and their officers at the expense of their largely helpless customers? Another poser here is: Where was the apex bank, CBN, when all these sharp malpractices and malfeances were going on?