N219m Fraud: Sterling Bank Loses More Customers

Victim Drags Bank to Court

By Bayo Bernard

Just barely two months after his elevation as Managing Director of Sterling Bank Plc. Abubakar Suleiman faces a striking point in his career. Suleiman had held the position of Executive Director, Finance and Strategy from May 2012 till January this year when he was appointed the Chief Executive Officer, CEO following the retirement of Yemi Adeola, the former managing director of the bank.

As the bank’s chief strategist for five years between 2012/2017 the new CEO cannot be unaware of a financial transaction, totaling N219m ( two hundred and nineteen million naira only) carried out un-behalf of the bank by one of its staff, Oliver Anidiobi of the bank’s Market Road branch, Enugu with OHHA Microfinance bank same in Enugu state.

Therefore, the bulk now rest on his table to crack the Gordian knot of the transaction, now gradually becoming a scam for the bank, and if not well handled is capable of dragging Sterling Bank’s reputation in the mud. The enormous task before Suleiman now is to get to the root of the matter, because this will go a long way in also assuring the bank’s numerous customers that they can go to sleep after putting their hard earned money in his bank.

Already, some notable customers of the bank are beginning to reconsider their relationship with the bank that prides itself as the “one customer bank. The magazine learnt that some big customers with the bank have become panicky following the incident that seems to have cast a slur on the image of the bank in the last few days.

Some Sterling Bank customers in Lagos told the magazine that the ‘scam’ has affected the perception they have about the bank. While some of them said they are already drawing down their deposits, other disclosed that they are simply waiting to see how the bank’s management handled the matter. “The manner the bank handles the issue will determine my future relationship with them. If a customer could be treated this way, it also means that other customers are not sparred, as they could also be victims to this type of scam because the bank simply failed to employ staff with impeccable reputation,” one customer in Lagos said in response to Sterling Bank’s defense that the staff in question did not carry out the transaction un-behalf of the bank.

Whatever further actions the management took on the matter, since it has already resolved the issue against the unsuspecting customer, will therefore go a long way to prove whether indeed, the Suleiman-led Sterling Bank cares about its customers in line with the Bank’s signoff “Your One-Customer Bank.”

It all started in 2008 when the micro finance bank opened a two Fixed Deposit account with account number 514/1152015/74/0 and 514/11520505/1/74/1 with Sterling Bank, Market Road branch, Enugu state. The Deal Reference Slip no for the two accounts is DD number 0133059 and 0133059 respectively.

The relationship between the two parties blossomed to a point that the bank assigned Anidiobi, one of its senior staff as Account Manager to handle transactions with the micro finance bank. Since then the micro finance bank has been paying huge sums of cash into the accounts with Sterling through Anidiobi who acted as point’s man.

The depositor had no reason to be suspicious of the Bank until the deposit had grown to a whopping N219 m when the Micro finance bank demanded for its money alongside interest accrued in other to meet an urgent need.

Surprisingly, the Suleiman led bank failed the integrity test. Problem started when Sterling Bank was instructed to “terminate the Fixed Deposit and credit” OHHA Microfinance bank’s “Current Account on maturity with the principal and accrued interest but Sterling Bank “remained adamant,” refusing to act as directed, said the micro finance bank in a petition to the bank’s managing director, by its lawyer Festus Keyamo Chambers, titled ”Unlawful Conversion of the Sum of N219,000,000 ( Two hundred and Nineteen Million Naira) Belonging to Ohha Micro Finance Bank Ltd.: Demand to Credit Ohha Microfinance Bank Ltd Current Account Number 0023325543 With the Sum of N219,000,000.00( two hundred and Nineteen Million Naira.”

The experience of the Petitioner getting its money back could now be likened to the thespian camel passing through the eye of a needle. This is however so, despite all evidence pointing to the fact that the money was deposited with the bank through Anidiobi.

According to the letter, there are documented evidence to show that the transactions took place. Ohha Microfinance Bank have been operating” the said accounts with you for some years and deposited the sum of N219,000,000.00(two hundred and nineteen thousand naira) in the said deposit account through your Brach Manager, Market Road Branch, Enugu state, Mr Oliver Anidiobi who also doubles as its Account Manager.”

That “while operating the said Accounts, our client exchanged several correspondence with you wherein you confirmed the existence of the said Accounts and also informed them that their investment would be rolled over at the bank’s prevailing money market rate.”

That never happened. In fact the Bank has now denied ever having such transaction with the micro finance bank, because, as it claims Anidiobi never at any point deposited the money collected from the customer with the bank.

While the Bank never denied the fact that Anidiobi was acting on its behalf, it said the Account Manager who handled the transaction have been diverting the money to his private pocket, as such the bank could not be held responsible for any liability.

Whatever documents in possession of the Customer to show that it actually lodged the said fund with the bank, were fake and could not have emanated from the bank. In short, the Bank said Ohha Microfinance Bank is on its own, admitting that Anidiobi may have successfully duped the unsuspecting customer.

Consequently, Sterling Bank will not “accede to your demand for a refund of” the N219m “as there is no evidence that it was ever initiated with the bank” Sterling Bank said in a statement.

Now that the bank has foreclosed any chance of Ohha Microfinance Bank getting its money back, the only available window left is “to set all the machineries of law in motion to ensure our client’s investments with accrued interest in the above mentioned accounts are duly recovered,” the victim’s lawyers said.

Meantime, there are big questions for Sterling Bank to answer in the light of its position that the staff in question duped the victim without the bank’s knowledge. The first poser: is it not a negligent on the part of Sterling Bank management that some of those in its employ lack simple integrity?

Does it mean that the bank does not carry out background check on individuals before they are employed in the payroll of the bank. And if it takes an unsuspecting customer to be duped before such fraudulent practices are discovered, how many Mr Inidiobis are still working with Sterling Bank waiting for another customer to fall into their trap? The answers to these posers will go a long way to prove the bank’s culpability or otherwise on this scam.

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