June 2, 2015 / 10:17 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-Nigeria central bank officials charged in currency fraud case

(Releads with bankers charged, details)

LAGOS/ABUJA, June 2 (Reuters) - Three central bank officials and two staffers at Nigeria’s Sterling Bank appeared in court on Tuesday to face criminal charges stemming from a currency fraud case, authorities said.

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), an anti-corruption body, said the bank employees were jailed after being arraigned in the southwest city of Ibadan on theft and fraud charges.

On Monday, the EFCC said a total of six central bank officials and 16 commercial bank staff had been accused of currency theft and recirculating naira notes intended for destruction to the tune of over 8 billion naira ($40 million).

The EFCC said two staff of Ecobank were also charged with stealing and fraud to the tune of 910.2 million naira.

Other accused bank officials would appear in court on Wednesday, Rotimi Jacobs, a lawyer for the EFCC, told Reuters.

“The suspects ... were arraigned on an eleven-count charge of conspiracy, fraud and stealing. The bankers were alleged to have defrauded their banks various sums of money,” the EFCC said in a statement.

The announcement comes three days after President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as leader of Africa’s biggest economy and top oil exporter. A crackdown on corruption was one of his central election campaign pledges.

A spokesman for Pan-African lender Ecobank said there was no illegal conduct on its part. Sterling Bank was not immediately available for comment.

Jacobs said the officials had pleaded not guilty to the charges, and that the court had ordered their detention pending bail applications.

The central bank regularly withdraws old or torn notes from circulation to replace them with new ones. Officials said the alleged scheme had no impact on money supply or inflation, which has hovered around 8.7 percent since April.

The naira has lost 8.5 percent of its value since the start of the year after sharp falls in the price of oil, Nigeria’s main export, forced the central bank into a de facto devaluation in February in order to save its dwindling foreign reserves.

$1 = 198.00 naira Reporting by Oludare Mayowa and Camillus Eboh; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by James Macharia and Tom Brown

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