In a move related the struggle for control of the Zambezi Portland Cement company, last year Finance Bank Chairman Rajan Mahtani attempted to threaten the directors of Access Bank with a bogus police raid and regulatory investigations, a new document shows.
A copy of letter obtained by Zambia Reports sent to the compliance division of the Bank of Zambia signed by Jekwu Ozoemene (Managing Director of Access Bank) and Tracy Mumba (the head of compliance and internal controls for Access Bank) furnishes extensive proof that despite Access Bank having complied with the law in handling the ZPC accounts, Mahtani nevertheless threatened to shut down their bank through his connections in the police and government.
The document, dated 20 November 2013, reveals for the first time the details of the dispute between Access Bank and Mahtani, which five months later was followed by attempted deportation of Ozoemene to Nigeria allegedly arranged by the Finance Bank chairman, as well as the controversial removal of an official at the central bank, which has raised questions about links to this case.
The letter describes a meeting between Ozoemene and Mahtani on June 27, 2013: "Towards the end of the aforementioned meeting, Dr Mahtani asked if I were aware that the Ndola branch of Access Bank had been taken over by police, a statement which I refuted. When I prodded why he thought such a development could have taken place, he asserted that Access Bank had used its Ndola branch to aid the previous Directors of Zambezi Portland Cement (ZPC) to conduct several fraudulent transactions. I explained to him that whatever dealings we had with ZPC were (to the best of my knowledge) within the extant laws of the land (at the time the transactions were conducted) to which he responded that we contravened one of the Basel laws on international wire transfer (he didn't mention which one). At this point I pointedly insisted that I was ready for scrutiny to which he responded that the Bank of Zambia will be interested in our conduct on the aforementioned transactions."
In his letter to BoZ, Ozoemene asserted that Access Bank's position on ZPC was "unassailable," going on to list the Supreme Court ruling which had prevented Mahtani's appointee, Robert Simeza, from acting as receiver, as well as the High Court ruling 2008/HPC/0366 which restrained Mahtani and Finsbury Investments from exercising their shareholder rights over the $160 million cement plant.
The letter continues, "we had assumed that Finsbury Investment Limited and Dr. Mahtani had no right under law to lodge a complaint about ZPC with the Bank of Zambia at the time they did. Especially as all the legal opinions we sought have cited this action as Contemptuous Disregard of a Supreme Court Injunction and an outright violation of the laws of the land."
Nevertheless, on July 11th the Zambian police raided the Ndola office of Access Bank and seized documents relating to the ZPC accounts. Oddly, it was only two weeks after the police raid that BoZ notified them that they were the target of an investigation.
The Access Bank letter contests Mahtani's claims that that Antonio Ventriglia and Manuela Sebastiani (the original founders of ZPC) had made unlawful transfers from the company, detailed in a point-by-point rebuttal of the BoZ report. The letter includes a spreadsheet reference of the documents on file for each of the ZPC accounts that BoZ claimed were missing - such as copies of valid IDs, certificates of incorporation, certificate of share capital, and all other documentation necessary for business banking.
"All these documents have always been readily available for inspection and at no time did the inspectors inform either my colleagues or I that there was something that has been requested from us that we did not provide," Ozoemene writes. "In fact, the very report that led to this inspection was premised on the fact that we insisted on upholding the laws of the land as articulated by rulings of several courts of competent jurisdiction, including the Supreme Court of Zambia."
Four months after Access Bank sent this letter to BoZ, President Michael Sata signed an order removing the Deputy Chairman Dr. Kasuka Mutukwa of the Board of the Bank of Zambia (BOZ), allegedly because he had complained about the undue pressure on the central bank by Mahtani's group. The Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Michael Gondwe, is known to be a close associate of Mahtani and formerly served as head of PTA Bank, which originated one of the key loans to ZPC.
The dispute between Mahtani and the Ventriglias has been heating up in recent months, with disclosures of illegal deportations of executives, forged documents, and alleged instances of fraud and corruption.