The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has released the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank Plc, Mr. Nnamdi Okonwo; the MD of Sterling Bank, Mr. Yemi Adeola; and the Group Managing Director of Access Bank, Mr. Herbert Wigwe.
This is as the anti-graft agency says it has launched a manhunt for billionaire businessman and MD of Aiteo Group, Mr. Benedict Peters, for his alleged role in the $115m bribe given to officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The bank chiefs were released on Friday evening with a condition to cooperate fully with the EFCC and return when needed.
“The three bank executives have been released but investigations are ongoing,” an impeccable source at the agency said.
It was also learnt that the EFCC would arrest more bank MDs in the coming weeks.
“The scam we are investigating is very huge but we are at a critical stage so we cannot divulge too much information now. It is one of the biggest probes in the history of banking in Nigeria and more people will definitely be arrested,” the source who spoke on condition of anonymity added.
Our correspondent learnt that the suspects were arrested in relation to some alleged sharp practices that took place in their banks in relation to the oil sector and Alison-Madueke.
The anti-graft agency arrested the Fidelity Bank boss on April 25 based on allegations that he helped Diezani to handle $115m and convert it to N23bn during the build-up to the 2015 presidential elections.
The money was allegedly said to have been used in bribing officials of the INEC.
However, Fidelity Bank last week, reportedly refunded N49.7m, its profit from the disbursement of the N23bn.
Similarly, Sterling Bank and Access Bank Plc were asked to return some money. It could, however, not be ascertained how much was involved.
All attempts to speak with the MD of Sterling Bank proved abortive as he neither picked telephone calls nor responded to a text message.
The EFCC had alleged that the MD of Fidelity Bank Plc, helped Diezani convert the $115m to N23bn after which it was disbursed to INEC officials.
The money was said to have emanated from four companies. They included: Northern Belt Gas Company Limited ($60m); Auctus Integrated ($17,884,000); Midwestern Oil and Gas ($9.5m); and Leno Laitan Adesanya ($1.85m) while Diezani allegedly gave the bank MD $25.77m (approximately $26m) in cash, bringing the total figure to N23, 299,705,000.
The companies were said to have deposited the monies into the bank based on Diezani’s instructions.
An EFCC source told our correspondent that Peters was the person behind Northern Belt Gas Company Limited.
The source said, “We have launched investigations into the four companies. However, only Adesanya of Leno Laitan Adesanya, who allegedly deposited $1.85m, came forward and he has been granted bail. During investigations, we tried to ascertain the identities of those behind the other companies.
“About $60m came from Northern Belt Gas Company Limited. We have not been able to ascertain the directors of the company. However, we found out that Mr. Benedict Peters is the sole signatory to the account at Fidelity Bank.
“All attempts to get him have proved abortive. We currently do not know where he is.”
Peters, who owns oil facilities in several countries, is rumoured to be one of the wealthiest men in Nigeria.
He is said to own tank farms in Lagos and Port Harcourt. Under former President Goodluck Jonathan, Peters reportedly acquired an 85-per cent stake in block OML 29 from Shell Gas Company for $2.56bn. OML 29 potentially holds up to 2.2 billion barrels of oil and about 300 million standard cubic feet of gas.
A spokesman for Peters, in a statement, denied the allegations levelled against the billionaire.
He said, “Mr Peters has not received any formal invitation to attend the EFCC. If and when required to do so, he will be able to cooperate fully to distinguish facts from fiction and conjecture. For the avoidance of doubt, Mr. Peters denies any knowledge or involvement in bribing any INEC or other government officials.
“It is enshrined in all Mr. Peters’ business entities globally that neither Mr. Peters nor any company officials shall engage in any unethical behaviour including giving inducements or bribery. It is extremely disturbing that the EFCC, by their own admission, have launched investigations which have clearly not concluded yet comments which are, at best, unsubstantiated are being attributed to them.”