Investigation: Inside Story Of Ecobank And Vigeo Loan Saga
… How Ecobank converted loan from dollar to Naira without consulting Vigeo
… Sold personal guarantee (shares) without Vigeo’s knowledge
The groundbreaking online news platform, COMPLETE NEWS has gathered more facts on the controversial Ecobank loan owed by Vigeo Limited.
After weeks of unsuccessful efforts to get information on the matter as both Vigeo and Ecobank were reluctant to speak on the sensitive matter, our resilient reporters however had a breakthrough a week ago.
Recall that on Tuesday 7th November 2017, the Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos presided over by Honourable Justice Saliu Saidu granted orders of mareva injunction against Vigeo Limited and its Chairman restraining the company from operating its accounts .
It was discovered that the injunction was granted on the basis of an ex parte application (with no notice to Vigeo limited or no request to hear a counter argument from Vigeo limited) filed by Ecobank in respect of a facility between Ecobank and Vigeo Limited.
A reliable source told COMPLETE NEWS that sometime in 2007, Vigeo Limited obtained credit facilities from then Oceanic Bank International PLC to acquire a motor tugboat. The vessel was acquired for charter as an oilfield support vessel to companies engaged in offshore exploration and production of petroleum.
COMPLETE NEWS authoritatively gathered that the facility was loaned to Vigeo Limited as an independent entity while the Chairman Mr Victor Osibodu only guaranteed the loan.
It was learnt that the repayment of the facility would be from revenues generated from chartering the vessel.
“Subsequent to the grant of the facility, various factors hindered the optimal performance of the vessel. These include damages suffered by the vessel during the Bonga offshore oil platform attack in April/May 2008, as a result of which the vessel had to be taken overseas for repairs.
“The situation was compounded by the downturn in the economy, particularly, in the oil and gas industry by the collapse in oil prices from over US$100.00 to less than US$30.00 in the international market. These situations forced oil and gas companies to scale down their operation internationally and suspend new projects.
“This led to the non-renewal of the charter contract entered into by Vigeo Ltd for the vessel. Vigeo Limited consequently, met on several occasions with Ecobank in a bid to restructure the facility and also to seek a moratorium”, the source said.
It was discovered that despite the loses , Vigeo made several good faith payments to the Oceanic Bank/Ecobank from its other income sources totaling about $14million out of the $17million dollar loan. It is also supposed to have paid a sum in excess of N2billion on the Naira element of the loan, a sum far in excess of the original Naira facility sum of N750million.
Ecobank allegedly embarked on a succession of questionable conducts against Vigeo Limited and its Chairman. For instance, it was gathered that contrary to the terms of the facility agreement, Ecobank unilaterally converted the United States Dollars portion of the facility (which was the more substantial part of the facility) into Naira in spite of the written objection of Vigeo Limited to the conversion of the facility into Naira.
This conversion of the United States Dollars portion of the facility to Naira was allegedly done at the black market exchange rate of N430.00 to US$1.00, as against the legal, approved exchange rate of N304.00 to US$1.00 as per Central Bank of Nigeria rate further to its statutory powers.
By adopting this illegal conversion rate, Ecobank effectively increased the alleged indebtedness of Vigeo Limited by almost 50% (fifty per cent) overnight. Also without clearance or negotiation, the bank more than doubled the interest rate on the inflated loan from 11% per annum applicable to US Dollar facility to 25% per annum after the conversion to Naira.
Ecobank’s conversion of the facility from US Dollars to Naira in breach of the contractual terms and at the illegal and inflated black market conversion rate, together with the imposition of the excessive interest rate, fundamentally breached the facility agreement and made it impracticable to manage the facility as reconstituted, it was learnt.
COMPLETE NEWS findings also revealed that part of the security for the facilities was a charge on the shares in blue chip companies belonging to the Chairman of Vigeo Limited. These shares are currently valued at close to N1billion. Ecobank sold these shares without notice, without advice/knowledge of owner and without recourse to Vigeo Limited or its Chairman. These shares were sold at 60% of its current value as stated in the loan statement released one year after sale.
Meanwhile, contrary to the widespread report that Vigeo was evasive to fulfilling its obligations, the company made frantic efforts to bring the bank to the table with the view of working out realistic payment plan structure.
It was also alleged that Ecobank obtained these orders by suppressing names of the account owners and misrepresenting material facts as to the true state of affairs between itself and Vigeo.
The spokesman of Ecobank, Mr Austene Osokpo who was reached by COMPLETE NEWS to clarify the ambiguities in the bank’s affidavit against Vigeo Group and its chairman, declined to comment saying it could amount to contempt of the court.
“Dear Editor, we appreciate your reaching out to us on this issue. However, we are not able to make any comment on this issue as the matter is already in a court of competent jurisdiction. Any comment from us can be said to be a contempt of court”, Osokpor said in an email sent to COMPLETE NEWS on Friday, December 1, 2017.
The company and its Chairman has since appealed the ex-parte injunction and hearing is on.
The process for vacating the various wrongly blocked accounts have commenced in court as several of the third parties affected by this misrepresentation have now entered appearance in court, and court has started releasing the order.