The Federal Government has accused commercial banks in the country of shielding owners of accounts without Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) in order to frustrate the intention of the policy which is to curb the flow of illicit funds and corruption.
The FG made the accusation yesterday at the hearing of the suit it filed through the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) against the 19 commercial banks and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Lawyer to the FG, Ade Okeaya-Inneh (SAN), while arguing an application challenging the right of the banks to be heard in the case, said: “Our contention is that the banks do not have the locus (legal right) to defend this action (suit).
“Our contention is that the plaintiff has a public duty to ensure that a law made by the FG through the CBN is obeyed.The problem is if the directive to have BVN is not complied with, what is the implication? What is before the court is the implementation of a regulation
“If the defendants say they did not know who own the money in the accounts without BVN, how can they then come to defend the case
“What locus do they have if they did not disclose the owners of the money despite the order of the court to that effect? If they are to be heard, on whose behalf?
“They (the lawyers representing the respondents) are defending the suit on behalf of the bank, but the action and the order of the court is not against the banks per se, it is against the supposed owners of the funds.
“The court’s order was for them to verify the owners of the accounts. They have not done that and did not disclose the owners of the accounts.
“So, we are arguing that they cannot act for unknown persons, whose identities they have not disclosed. If they do not know who their customers are, then they cannot defend the suit,” Okeaya-Inneh said.
He urged the court to reject all the processes filed by the defendants in the case.
Another member of the FG’s legal team, James Igwe (SAN), who argued the substantive suit, urged the court to grant the plaintiff’s prayers in the main suit.
Igwe contended that the banks do not have a proprietary interest on the issue before the court, which they have disclosed to warrant the court to listen to them.
He added: “They have not shown how their interest would be affected if they disclose the owners of the funds which they claimed not to have known the owners.
On the banks’ argument that the AGF lacked the power to sue for any infringement of Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and other related offences Act (AFFA) under which the case was brought, Igwe argued that the AGF has the power to instruct lawyers to defend laws and regulations made by the FG.
Igwe, while noting that the banks’ attack of the suit’s competence was hinged on illegality, argued that the BVN regulation, which the suit seeks to enforce, was made by the CBN, which has the power under the law to make the BVN regulation.
He further argued that it was wrong for the court to accommodate the 1st to 18th defendants (excluding Zenith Bank) who did not obey the order (that the account for the owners of the accounts without BVN) and the CBN regulation on BVN.
Igwe added: “They said they cannot disclose the owners of the accounts and that they can be allowed to keep the funds of undisclosed customers. This is asking the court to stamp its power on illegality and indulge them in disobeying a lawful directive by the CBN.”
Responding, the banks’ lawyer, Paul Usoro, urged the court to reject the plaintiff’s suit on the grounds that the AGF was without the powers to enforce the provision of the AFFA, particularly Section 17 of the Act, which the suit seeks to enforce.
Usoro argued that the claim by the plaintiff, that his clients have admitted that “we do not know the owners of the funds in the bank account, we have not said so.”
He argued that the plaintiff was without powers to enforce any breach of the AFFA, Money Laundering Act, EFCC Act and any other laws enforceable by the EFCC.
Usoro contented that the alleged failure of some bank customers to comply with the BVN did not amount to an unlawful activity.
He contended that any breach of the CBN Act, its regulations under the Act, the AFFA and Section 17 of the Act, under which the suit was brought, was not enforceable by the by the AGF.
Usoro urged the court to dismiss the suit and uphold the defendant’s challenged to the c.0ompetence of the suit.
At the conclusion of parties’ argument, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, adjourned to June 11 for judgment.
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