By Kebba Ansu Manneh January 27, 2022
Impeccable sources close to The Progress newspaper have disclosed that certain officials of the Central Bank of The Gambia (CBG) have allegedly connived with some private lawyers to mastermind the illegal takeover and change of name of First International Bank (FIB) to VISTA Bank without adhering to due process.
This is probably the biggest banking scandal of this nature that ever occurred in the Gambia from 1955 to date. The alleged illegal takeover and change of name of FIB to VISTA Bank has preceded over a long journey of legal wrangling between Slok Nigeria Limited/First International Bank and Lilium Holding Limited which is at the level of the Court of Appeal of the Gambia.
Our investigations reveal that in 2015, Slok Nigeria Limited/First International Bank agreed to sell shares to Lilium Holding Limited amounting to US$4 million, approximately 200 million to be paid in two installments.
This amount as per our investigations has not been paid by Lilium Holding Limited as agreed and as a result Slok Nigeria Limited/FIB instituted legal proceedings for breach of contract at the High Court of the Gambia.
The Progress newspaper investigations also revealed that Slok Nigeria Limited obtained judgment at the High Court of the Gambia on April 11, 2017, which cancelled the share purchase agreement between Slok Nigeria Limited and Lilium Holdings Limited.
Dissatisfied with the High Court judgment, Lilium Holdings applied to the Court of Appeal for a stay of execution and subsequently to the Supreme Court of the Gambia, but both courts refused the application for stay of execution of the High Court judgment.
All these judgments as per correspondence in our possession were forwarded to the Central Bank of the Gambia (CBG) but the bankers bank was alleged to have consistently refused to honor any of these judgments.
“What is currently happening as far as the First International Bank and VISTA Bank are concerned, is like daylight robbery of a bank masterminded by the Central Bank of the Gambia and some private lawyers said to be working with Solie Law Chambers. Even though there is presently an appeal against a court ruling over the ownership of the bank, the Central Bank continues to deal with officials of Lilium Holding Limited in the day-to-day running of the bank without regard for the interest of the other party in the matter,” the source disclosed to The Progress newspaper.
Our Source added; “What remains so funny about the whole issue is that both the Sheriff of the High Court and the Registrar of Companies have written and called on the attention of both the Central Bank of The Gambia and representatives of Lilium Holdings Limited to the appeal brought against Lilium Holdings at the court, but they continued to conspire with the Central Bank to defy orders of the Courts.”
Our findings reveal that the Registrar of Companies is the competent authority to change the name of any business entity in the country upon application received by his office. However, according to correspondences issued by the current Registrar of Companies, the application for name change brought by Solie Law Chambers on behalf of Lilium Holdings Limited was inadvertently received, processed, and approved in error and in contravention of the Companies Act of 2013.
The said name change, according to the Registrar’s letter has been revoked. In the same vein, the Registrar of Companies has also refused to gazette the improperly obtained name change from FIB to VISTA Bank and vowed not to do so unless the legal requirements for the name change are satisfied.
Our source is of the belief that the Gambia Government should investigate this matter for it has been protracting for a very long time. “For me this is clearly a bank robbery orchestrated by the Central Bank of the Gambia and certain private lawyers meant to take full ownership of a bank they have never paid a butut for. This is a serious matter which needs to be investigated,” our source suggested.
The Progress newspaper has contacted the various stakeholders including the representative of FIB in the alleged transfer of ownership of First International Bank and the alleged illegal change of name. However, Ms Binta Janneh, the current Managing Director of the said VISTA Bank declined to speak on the matter, referring our reporter to Lawyer Lamin Ceesay of Solie Law Chambers, counsel for Lilium Holdings Limited.In an exchange with this reporter, Lawyer Lamin Ceesay of Solie Law Chambers who is believed to be instrumental in the name change of the bank was quoted as saying; “I am the legal representative of VISTA Bank and I want to inform you that the interview you arranged with Binta Janneh has been cancelled, we are not making any interview regarding this matter. Besides, what interest do you have in this matter? the issue has been resolved, we are operating legally in this country,” Counsel Ceesay angrily submitted.
Our source added; “What remains so funny about the whole issue is that both the Sheriff of the High Court and the Registrar of Companies have written and called the attention of both the Central Bank of The Gambia and representatives of Lilium Holdings Limited to the appeal brought against the Lilium Holdings at the court, but they continued to conspire with the Central Bank to defy the orders of the courts.”
The former Registrar of Companies revealed that his decision to revoke the registration of VISTA Bank does not go down well with former Justice Minister Baa Tambedou and former Solicitor General, Cherno Marenah, adding that the duo protested against his decision leading to his transfer and subsequent dismissal from the Ministry of Justice.
Also speaking to this reporter, Amadou Sonko, representative of First International Bank expressed disappointment regarding the whole issue, noting that he was surprised by the conduct of the Central Bank for refusing to honor judgments obtained by Slok Nigeria Limited/FIB at High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of the Gambia against Lilium Holdings Limited.
“I am very shocked and disappointed with the conduct of the Central Bank after knowing that Lilium Holdings did not pay a dime out of the US$4 million agreed for the sale of the Bank to them, yet they continue to deal with the Liliums, deliberately disregarding the interest of Slok Nigeria Limited/FIB. Our lawyers did all they could to convince the Central Bank to give effect to our judgments, but they refused and rubbished all correspondence issued in our favor calling on them to hand over the bank to us,” Amadou Sonko frustratingly decried.
He added; “In the midst of all these, Lilium Holdings through its lawyers changed the name of the Bank and requested the Central Bank to issue them with a license to operate. We are happy that the current Registrar of Companies has refused to gazette the improperly obtained name change and has vowed that he shall not gazette so long as the applicants did not meet the legal requirements for name change.”
Dr. Saikou Jabbie, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of the Gambia was also contacted on the matter on why the bankers bank continues to entertain, cooperate and even accept the name change of FIB to VISTA Bank without following due processes.
According to Dr. Jabbie VISTA Bank has fulfilled all the requirements for registration and has so far been cooperating with the Central Bank on operations of the bank. He added that the revocation of the registration of VISTA Bank through a letter from the Registrar of Companies was indeed received.
Nonetheless, the Central Bank continued to work with VISTA Bank relying on advice received from the former Justice Minister and former Solicitor General, Dr. Jabbie added.
However, this statement is in conflict with the position of the former and current Registrar of Companies who both maintained the view that VISTA Bank was not properly registered.
As earlier mentioned, the current Registrar of Companies has refused the application to gazette the improperly obtained name change from FIB to VISTA Bank, noting that the name change did not meet minimum requirements of the law.
When quizzed why Central Bank of the Gambia is not taking a neutral position to manage FIB until when the matter is settled at the court, DG Jabbie responded that the Central Bank has taken a decision to work with representatives of Lilium Holdings.
Further asked whether Lilium Holdings Limited has paid any money to FIB towards the share purchase agreement and who are the shareholders of VISTA Bank, Dr. Jabbie said he cannot confirm whether Lilium Holdings Limited has made any payment to Slok Nigeria Limited/FIBank, adding that VISTA has indeed injected funds to uplifting the image and viability of the bank.
Meanwhile, Jabbie also told our reporter that shareholders of VISTA Bank are Americans of Nigerian origin but did not disclose their names. Dr. Jabbie however flatly denied any conniving or receiving any bribe from officials of VISTA Bank to allow its alleged illegal operations in the country, affirming that the Central Bank has been relying on the advises of the former Justice Minister and the former Solicitor General. Jabbie confirmed that it was the Central Bank that approved the erecting of the signboards of VISTA Bank.
This move o display the signboards of VISTA BANK, according to the Registrar of Companies is illegal and he therefore warned the Managing Director in a letter he issued to the Bank to desist from such action and comply with the law. As we go to press The Progress newspaper is still following the matter with the Solicitor General through a written request submitted to his office more than one month now.
However, our reporter was duly informed by the Personal Secretary to the Solicitor General that her boss will only talk to him when he discusses the matter with the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Dawda Jallow.