AGF battles Polaris Bank, staff for diverting customer’s N16.5bn

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The Kayode Lawal-led Polaris Bank Limited is currently entangled in alleged N16.5 billion fraud. 

This is as the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, has taken over the prosecution of the bank and a staff member, Chinenye Duru, for diverting N16.5 billion belonging to a customer of the bank.

The office of the Inspector General of Police, which filed the case in December 2023, accused Polaris Bank and Mr Duru of fraudulently diverting over N16.5 billion from a customer’s various accounts within nearly eight years.

The police identified the bank customer and the victim of the alleged crime as Onukogu Victor Hezekiah, the spiritual head of the Living Christ Mission Church, Onitsha, Anambra State, South-east Nigeria.

According to the prosecution, the defendants diverted the money from Mr Hezekiah’s accounts between 2017 and 2023, while Mr Duru served as the customer’s account officer. Mr Hezekiah is fondly called Daddy Hezkiah by his followers.

A lawyer from the AGF office, V.J. Alma, informed the trial judge, Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, that Mr Fagbemi directed the takeover of the case from the police in the exercise of his powers as the AGF under Section 174(1)(b) of the Nigerian constitution.

Mr Alma did not give any reason for the AGF office’s decision to take over the case.

“We have written a letter to the Nigerian police notifying them of this position and requesting the original case file in a letter dated 29 May 2024,” the lawyer said. “We are still waiting for the original case file.”

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Mr Ekwo asked Mr Alma if the AGF office had written to the court about the development, and the lawyer responded in affirmative.

Mr Alma urged the court to fix the matter for trial on a date after the about-to-commence annual vacation of judges.

The judge then told Mr Duru’s lawyer, Chidi Ezenwafor, to advise Polaris Bank, the 1st defendant in the case, to engage a lawyer to represent it in the case.

Mr Ekwo postponed the hearing in the case till 18 and 19 November for trial.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Inspector-General of Police arraigned Mr Duru on 11 counts on 19 January.

He pleaded not guilty to the counts.

The judge remanded Mr Duru in a correctional facility pending the hearing of his bail application.

Polaris Bank and Mr Duru are the first and the 2nd defendants in the case marked FHC/ABJ/CR/603/2023.

In the charges, the prosecution accused Polaris Bank and Mr Duru of fraudulently withdrawing N16.5 billion from Mr Hezekiah’s account numbers 1040495455 and 1060104735 between 17 November 2017 and 14 August 2023.

Within the same period, the prosecution alleged that the defendants also fraudulently withdrew N75.534 million from the customer’s other account, 4010023601.

According to the prosecution, the defendants also fraudulently withdrew N13.3 million from the customer’s account number 40910106770 and N16.3 million from his other account number 411054152 within the same period.

The charges said the defendants withdrew the money without authorisation from the owner of the accounts with the intent of converting it for their personal use.

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The police charged the offences under sections 18 (2) and 21 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition Act, 2022. Some of the offences are punishable under section 18(3) of the money laundering law, the police said.

(NAN).

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