A London court has found former Chief Executive Officer of the defunct Intercontinental Bank PLC, now Access Bank, Erastus Akingbola, GUILTY of stealing and diverting billions of depositors’ funds to buy properties in the United Kingdom and for buying shares for himself in order to manipulate its share price in the stock market.
The court ruled that Akingbola was liable for directing the bank to buy its own shares at a loss of about 145 billion naira ($902 million), siphoning money to companies controlled by him or his family and using Intercontinental funds to buy real estate in the U.K., Judge Michael Burton said in a ruling in London today.
“Quite apart from being contrary to Nigerian law,” Akingbola’s strategy for the bank to buy its own shares “was simply wrong-headed, and was plainly a substantial contributing factor to the collapse of the bank,” Burton said.
Akingbola, who was fired by Intercontinental and then sued after he moved to London, has been back in Nigeria since 2010 defending a criminal fraud case stemming from the bank’s failure.
“I have no doubt that all the staff in the bank were in awe of him and of his authority,” Justice Burton of the High Court of Justice, Queens Bench Division in London said in the ruling. While Akingbola “wasn’t a ‘details’ man,” the judge said he didn’t “accept or believe that anything major in the bank could have occurred or did occur without his knowledge.”
The judgment “sends a strong message to international investors in Nigeria that it is no longer ’business as usual’ in its banking sector,” Access Bank’s lawyer, Segun Osuntokun of Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP in London, said in a statement.
When 83 million pounds of his assets were frozen in January 2010, Akingbola claimed he had trouble paying his legal bills. Burton gave him permission at the time to sell an $850,000 home in Ghana or two apartments in London worth a total of about 1 million pounds to begin paying the remaining costs of his legal fees.
Under the freeze order, Akingbola was supposed to be able to pay for his defense using an HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) trustee account on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. The bank declined to release the funds after it was approached by Nigeria, possibly triggering another legal dispute, Akingbola’s lawyer said in court at the time.
Akingbola was managing director of Intercontinental from 1989 to 2009. It was one of Nigeria’s four biggest banks, employing about 20,000 people and running about 350 branches.