For the embattled Nnamdi Okonkwo-led Fidelity Bank Plc and telecommunications firm, MTN Nigeria, these are not the best of times as the duo has continued to swim in the sea of controversies. And as it stands, the bank and the telecoms outfit are fast becoming safe havens for fraudulent officials. For the two organizations, it has been a case of one day, one trouble.
Recall, a staff of Fidelity Bank, Mr. Timothy Olaobaju, recently confessed to a Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, that his bank under the directives of the current managing director, Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo received the sum of $115m from a former minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke and thereafter disbursed the sum of N264 million to two officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Christian Nwosu and Isa Olarenwaju Adedoyin, who are currently standing trial for unlawful gratification. On the other hand, MTN Nigeria is still battling to settle a N330 billion fine imposed by the Nigerian government on the telecoms group for failing to deactivate more than five million unregistered SIM cards which the government said were aiding criminal activities in the country.
In a stunning development after nearly three months of investigation, the Police Special Fraud Unit (PSFU) on Monday July 10, 2017 arrested 11 suspected fraudsters, including three bankers and two MTN employees over N150 million fraud.
Contrary to speculations and reports on the social media and some blogs that the bankers involved in the fraud were staff of Heritage Bank (as Heritage Bank has officially debunked this), investigations by Nigerian Witness have shown that they are employees of the troubled Fidelity Bank Plc. Nigerian Witness gathered that they were allegedly siphoning money from customers’ accounts with the bank using phone numbers linked to these accounts obtained from shady MTN workers. Police said the gang was working across the country.
The unit’s spokesman, ASP Lawal Audu had confirmed the arrest at the unit’s office in Ikoyi, Lagos disclosing that staff of the lender and the MTN were secretly running an information sharing business robbing unsuspecting bank customers of millions of naira. The fraud unit described how scores of unknowing victims from the bank were snookered by the bank and the communications outfit.
The suspected bankers are Oyelade Shola-Isaac, 32, Osuolale Hammid, 40, and Akeem Adesina, 33, while the network service provider’s employees include Okpetu John, 29, Chukwumnoso Ifeanyi, 30 and Salako Abdulsalam, (ICT specialist), 30. Other suspects were Ismaeel Salami, 49, Akinola Oghuan, 34, Sarumi Abubakar, 32, James Idagu, 56, and Sunday Okeke, 33. The unit spokesman stressed that they were all arrested in Lagos, Ibadan and Ilorin.
Audu noted that the job of the banker’s suspects was to provide the syndicates with information of the bank customers with funded accounts that were not into internet banking.
He said that the network provider’s suspects assisted to swap the SIM cards (GSM numbers) of the targeted bank customers so that they will be unable to receive alert of any transactions on their accounts within the period that their accounts were being siphoned.
The spokesman said the suspects transferred the money siphoned into about 40 other accounts with ATMs in different other banks. Audu said that the suspects usually carry out their operations during the weekends and public holidays to evade being detected by the bank monitoring mechanisms or the owners of targeted funded accounts.
“The effort of the police team eventually paid off when the same group was holding their final meeting at eateries along Bode Thomas Street, Surulere, Lagos on the concluded plan to unleash another monumental fraud on unsuspecting customers.
“Their plan was to defraud other new generation banks between May 26 and 29, 2017. Detectives stormed the venue during which one of the major kingpins claimed to be Alhaji Ismaeel Salami and four members of the syndicate were arrested.
“Thirty-five ATM cards affixed with account numbers and passwords were immediately recovered from them.
“It was, however, revealed that this criminal syndicate usually sourced these bank ATM cards from their owners, especially among the vulnerable youths deceiving them to release their ATM cards, account numbers and passwords for eventual monetary rewards based on the amount their card receive,” he said.
The spokesman, therefore, advised members of the public to be careful of fraudster’s activities, warning them against giving out bank details to strangers.
Audu said that the suspects would be charged to court as soon as investigation is concluded.
All attempts to speak with the spokesperson for Fidelity Bank, Mr. Charles Aigbe proved futile as messages sent to his mobile phone were not responded to as at press time.
However, MTN Nigeria in a statement obtained by this newspaper noted that though they were aware of the crime, it hinted the police of “unusual level of swap activities’ which led to the arrest and the ongoing investigation.
The firm which commended the police for doing a good job, restated that the alleged mastermind of the crime were not its workers but “employees of an independent but regulated third-party trade partner who owns and operates the Connect store where the incident took place”
The statement read in parts: “We wish to point out that the arrest stemmed from MTN’s report of an unusual level of swap activity to the Nigeria Police. This breach was perpetrated by employees of an independent but regulated third-party trade partner who owns and operates the Connect store where the incident took place.
“We are appalled by the situation and condemn it in its entirety. The security and well-being of our customers are of paramount importance, and as such we will continue working at strengthening our governance structures and processes, and will proactively report suspicious activity once it occurs. We (MTN and all our regulated third-party trade partners) are committed to protecting our existing and potential customers from all present and emerging threats and will continue to work closely with the security agencies to ensure appropriate action when there is evidence of misconduct – as was done in this instance.
“We commend the Nigeria Police Force for their response and handling of this matter and pledge our support to seeing it through to conclusion. MTN remains firmly committed to the highest standards of integrity, ethical behaviour and good corporate citizenship.”