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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Forensic firm, CBN, First Bank clash over fraudulent charge allegations in $54.2m facility

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Lensview Consulting Services, a Lagos-based forensic and auditing firm, has alleged bias, open fraud, deliberate cover-up, and impersonation of persons by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, in the handling of fraudulent transaction charge refund by Nigerian money deposit banks with First Bank of Nigeria Plc (FBN) as a case in point.

This position was made public by Mr. Henry Foss, Managing Consultant of Lensview whose client is a victim of the alleged fraudulent charge.

Lensview had in 2022 approached the CBN on behalf of its clients to compel FBN to refund the sum of $227,235.34, being 0.5% of $554,570.68 as the agreed Bank Guarantee Fee on a $54.2m facility its client requested from FBN. Rather than adhere to the agreed 0.5%, FBN charged Lensview’s client 1% which translated to $554,570.68, and hence the fraudulent excess charge of $227,235.34. “When FBN refused to refund the excess at the agreed rate, based on a long-standing offered rate at 0.5%, Lensview had to petition the CBN on the matter and the CBN carefully reviewed the merit of the petition after which it asked FBN to refund the excess amount to the customer with accrued interest as a standing rule,” Foss said.

Instead of honouring CBN’s decision to credit the customer’s account, FBN turned around for several months to find a way to avert the decision by coming up with a copy of an email chat purportedly between an FBN employee and the customer’s representative claiming that the Guarantee Fee had been increased from 0.5% to 2%, as an offer condition, which FBN claimed to have been accepted by the customer’s representative.

But this unauthorised customer’s representative apparently lacked the capacity to accept such a decision on behalf of the principal nor had the customer’s mandate powers to instruct or authorise payment or drawings on the principal’s account without confirmation and necessary due diligence from the company that officially requested for the facility, with significantly, a minimum of two authorised signatures on its letterhead document for such approvals and payments.

On January 20, 2023, Lensview also wrote to the Governor of the Apex Bank, as a follow-up to the issue of fraudulent perversion, impersonation, and miscarriage of Justice by the Consumer Protection Department (CPD), an arm of the CBN in a petition titled, “Reasonable Suspicion, Likelihood of Bias and Cover-up By the Director of the CPD in the Appeal of Judgment between Lensview Consulting Services and the CPD with Petition Tracking Number CIM74368/AST involving First Bank Plc,” alleging that there was an impersonation of its person, fraudulent neglect and non-compliance on the part of officers of the apex bank.

According to Foss, the transaction was a significantly heavy one such that FBN cannot claim a lack of awareness of the fact that for any change of transaction fees to be effective, it must first be communicated to the customer with a letter with evidence of acknowledgment as a proof that the customer is aware of the change.

The forensic and audit firm also noted that FBN was aware that the said customer’s representative does not have the powers or mandate to authorise such transactions, and where he may, as a signatory with mandate powers, it will require at least two authorised signatures over the company’s letter of acceptance on their Letterhead document and not via a chat on phone between two mutual friends.

“Given the facts of the matter vis a vis the practice of banking in Nigeria, it is surprising that the CBN after its earlier verdict that refunds be credited to clients, made a sudden u-turn in favour of FBN justifying the fraudulent e-mail received from the customer’s staff to conclude that the e-mail suffices as an authority for FBN to take the charge based on instructions from customer’s staff without confirmation from customer’s authorised signatories,” Foss explained, questioning that if the e-mail content sufficed, why did FBN charge 1% instead 2% Guarantee Fee it stated on the email and who negotiated it from 2% to 1%? “Where is the copy of the letter from the customer acknowledging the new rate which could have been negotiated or rejected if the customer saw it?” Foss asks.

“More worrisome is the CBN’s lack of explanations as to why the email chat between these mutual friends on behalf of their organisations sufficed as an authority to move such a huge amount from the customer’s very busy account in the books of FBN,” Foss notes.

The CBN, in a bid to cover up this fraud, as Lensview pressed harder, in their letter dated 9/1/2023 to Lensview Consulting solicitors wrote that one Mr. Polycarp representing Lensview Consulting Services was invited to an interdepartmental meeting with representatives of the CBN in August 2022, where the said impersonator, Mr. Polycarp, affirmed and upheld the unanimous decisions with the CBN with respect to the fraudulent e-mail from FBN, as correct and sufficient to close the matter.

“This engagement of one purported Mr. Polycarp to stand in for Lensview Consulting Services in the said August 2022 meeting is another fraudulent move by the CBN to cover for FBN on the open e-mail fraud,” Foss said, adding that the CBN, in one of their recent letters to Lensview Consulting, wrote to say they have closed the matter based on the affirmation of the impostor consultant they hired to kill the matter.”

But Foss said that the CBN soon realised that it had erred by engaging an impostor consultant to stand in for Lensview in the said August 2022 meeting, and they quickly wrote back with efforts in futility to invalidate their letter dated 5/1/2023 where Mr. Polycarp the impostor was referred to.

For Lensview, this is a public call for the CBN and its co- traveller, FBN to do the right thing and credit the customer the excess charges it fraudulently deducted from the customer.

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