•As Sterling clears air on N258m

From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) says that as part of ongoing efforts to ensure that commercial banks comply with the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) directive on distribution of redesigned Naira notes, its operatives found the sum of N258 million stashed in the vault at the head office of Sterling Bank in Abuja. 

This finding came as a result of one of the operations the Commission carried out to ensure that commercial banks and other interest groups did not disregard the apex bank’s direction says a statement by ICPC spokesperson, Mrs. Azuka Ogugua. 

According to her, the ICPC monitoring team visited the bank on Friday and found the hidden new Naira notes in the bank’s vault.

“It was informed that the cash was the remnant of what the CBN had given the bank for onward distribution to its branches.

“The team however found out that only the sum of Five N5million each was distributed to their various branches.

“Both the Regional and Service managers were arrested and later granted administrative bail while investigation continues. 

“In a similar vein, the Commission has effected the arrest of the Head of Operations, Keystone Bank, Mararaba in Nasarawa State for frustrating its customers at getting the new Naira notes.

“The ICPC team, while on its routine operation, found out that the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) at the branch were not dispensing to its customers, while other bank customers were accessing only One Thousand Naira.

“It was only after the arrest was made and clarification received from CBN that the position of the officers of the bank was not correct, that the ATMs started dispensing N5000 to non-customers and N10,000 to its customers.

“The team also arrested one Abdulkareem Shaibu, a Security Guard with a bank at Gwarimpa.

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“While Shaibu, a security guard was arrested for being in possession of five ATM cards which he was using to collect money for different unknown persons who were not within the bank premises at that time two other officials of another commercial bank in Ogo-Oluwa, Osogbo were reportedly taken into custody for assault on officers of ICPC and CBN Cash Swap Monitoring Team.

It was reported last week that the said branch was caught twice for loading wrapped bank notes inside its ATMs.

“The team, on a follow up visit to ascertain the bank’s compliance level, was assaulted right inside the Branch Manager’s office by the bank officials who vehemently refused to allow ICPC carry out its lawful duty, and then held hostage for about two hours.

“By the time the reinforcement of Police and NSCDC officers arrived the scene of the incident, the masterminds of the assaults had gone into hiding, leading to the arrest of two bank officers who were also complicit.” Ogugua disclosed. 

Meanwhile, Sterling Bank, has released information disproving claims made by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) over the newly designed Naira notes and its Central Business District (CBD) Complex in Abuja.

A signed by the lender’s Chief Operating Officer, Raheem Owodeyi, stated, Sterling Bank submitted that “This report is developed for the purpose of providing the true representation of events to the misleading narrative as expressed by the ICPC in a tweet late on Tuesday, 07 February 2023.” The statement proceeds to share details of a standard regulatory monitoring exercise conducted at the CBD Abuja branch of the bank.

According to the statement, a monitoring team visited the regional centre of Sterling in Abuja on 3 February 2023. During the inspection, the monitoring team observed that the bank’s Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) were dispensing all denominations of the newly designed banknotes and also allowed customers to withdraw cash Over-The-Counter (OTC) in accordance with stipulated pronouncements.

Owodeyi stated that officials of the bank informed the monitoring team and officials of the ICPC of the presence of the sum of N 258,000,000 in the vault -as the branch serves as a hub for the distribution of cash to other branches in the region. The branches serviced by the CBD branch includ Utako, Wuye, Seda Close, Kotangora, and National Assembly offices. This, along with additional information on the branch’s function, was captured in the statement with a mention of the monitoring team’s visit to other branches to confirm reports reviewed and detailing the disbursement of cash.

The statement further disclosed that “Upon their visits to the Utako and Wuye branches, the monitoring team reviewed the records submitted for the movement of cash from the CBD branch to other branches served within the region. It is important to state that cash was being paid OTC at the branches, and the ATM terminals were dispensing the newly designed denominations during the monitoring exercise.”

The statement proceeds to clarify that to the bank’s knowledge, all responses provided were satisfactory, as no further queries were raised and the monitoring team promptly left the premises upon concluding the inspection. Approximately one hour later, officials of the ICPC accompanied by the monitoring team, returned and invited two of the branch’s staff for further questioning at the ICPC headquarters in Abuja; the two bank representatives returned to their offices on the same day with no charges levelled against them.

The statement closed by stating that “Members of the regulatory monitoring team were informed of the sums contained in the branch’s vault prior to the inspection. These sums were confirmed with a review of the records as presented by representatives of the Bank. The assertion of a “discovery”, as presented in the narrative, is inaccurate and misleading. It must be noted that no cash was “stashed” in the vault of the regional office, and for emphasis, Sterling Bank has complied with all the guidelines on the distribution of redesigned notes from inception to date.

In the midst of the ongoing difficulties associated with the distribution of the newly designed currency policy, Sterling Bank has been praised for a number of initiatives, as evidenced by videos from the previous week, when the bank’s branches distributed bottles of water to customers patiently waiting to withdraw cash. The following week, other banks decided to follow suit after observing the move.