Fraud investigation at Sierra Leone’s largest commercial bank

A court denied bail to the two heads of Sierra Leone’s largest commercial bank accused of fraud.

Mr Crispin Deigh, the Managing Director of Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (SLCB) and his deputy were detained last week in connection with investigations of a controversial property developer accused of milking the banking sector of billions of Leones.

The property developer, Mr Simeon Kabba Khalu, was detained following a joint police and Anti-Corruption Commission operation against a ‘grand network of financial fraud’ targeting government’s coffers.

Four other senior managers of the same bank are in detention, suspected of involvement in the scheme.

A total of nine people, including a senior Nigerian banker, were sent to the notorious maximum security Pademba Road Prison after the magistrate court denied them bail on various counts, including conspiracy to defraud and failure to report suspicious transactions.

Mr Khalu allegedly issued cheques against insufficient funds in his account, state broadcaster SLBC cited the prosecution charge sheet late Wednesday.

The Nigerian banking executive, Chief Tony Chineyere, a senior manager with the Nigerian subsidiary First International Bank (FIB) SL (Ltd), is accused of conspiring with Mr Khalu to defraud his bank in a fraudulent loan scheme.

Chief Tony, as he is popularly known in Sierra Leone, is alleged to have used his influence as a board member to ensure the approval of the loan in exchange for a bribe.

Media reports cited police sources as saying FIB’s Managing Director, Mrs Aisatou Abadjie, had alerted the police as part investigations following last week`s mass arrest.

The local press has since been awash with reports of banking fraud.

A police restriction on international travel for employees of the commercial banking sector, as well as staff of the National Revenue Authority (NRA) and shipping agencies, remains in force.

On Wednesday, the head of the ACC, Mr Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, told journalists that a total of 17 people had been indicted in the Ecobank- NRA case, which involved tax fraud.

An opposition politician has called on the police to “thoroughly” investigate board members of all banks named in the fraud investigations.

At the beginning of the week, a Freetown magistrate court reportedly denied bail to a businessman in a separate case of banking fraud at the United Bank of Africa, another Nigerian subsidiary, involving over 100m Leones ($25,000).

Leading Freetown daily, Awoko, on Wednesday also published an open letter addressed to ACC by some anonymous SLCB staffers alleging a separate fraud, involving unnamed senior officials and the Germany-based Commerzbank.

They urged the anti-graft body to investigate it.

SLCB, the leader in the market in terms of both customer share and annual profit, is a 100 per cent government-owned.

“Such incidences will put doubt in the minds of citizens as to how secure their monies are in the face of such massive loan frauds,” said Mr Mohamed Bangura of the opposition United Democratic Movement, who also questioned the effectiveness of the Central Bank’s supervision role.

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