The majority shareholder of the now-defunct Heritage Bank Limited (HBL), Mr Seidu Agongo, has said in a statement that the “not fit and proper” tag stamped on him by the Bank of Ghana due to his involvement in a criminal prosecution as far as the GHS271 million Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) fertiliser case is concerned, for which reason the licence of Heritage Bank was revoked on 4 January 2019, is “capricious, arrogant, malicious and in bad faith”.
Announcing the revocation of Heritage Bank’s licence, the Governor of the central bank, Dr Ernest Addison told journalists – when asked if he did not deem the action as premature, since the COCOBOD case was still in court – that: “The issue of Heritage Bank, I wanted to get into the law with you, I don’t know if I should, but we don’t need the court’s decision to take the decisions that we have taken. We have to be sure of the sources of capital to license a bank; if we have any doubt, if we feel that it’s suspicious, just on the basis of that we find that that is not acceptable as capital. We don’t need the court to decide for us whether anybody is ‘fit and proper’, just being involved in a case that involves a criminal procedure makes you not fit and proper”.
According to Mr Agongo, however, “In purportedly making the determination, the central bank obviously had little regard for the time-honoured principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction”, adding that: “The fact that I have a case pending before the High Court is a matter of public knowledge but my guilt or innocence is yet to be determined by the Honourable Court”.
“The determination that I am not a fit and proper person to be a significant shareholder of HBL because the central bank suspects the funds are derived from illicit or suspicious contracts with Cocobod is not only calculated to pre-judge the outcome of the criminal proceedings but also violative of the principle of presumption of innocence to which every individual is entitled. Since when has suspicion become a substitute for credible evidence?” Mr Agongo asked.
Read Mr Seidu Agongo’s full statement below:
REVOCATION OF THE BANKING LICENCE OF THE HERITAGE BANK (IN RECEIVERSHIP) - PRESS RELEASE BY MR. SEIDU AGONGO; THE MAJORITY SHAREHOLDER (SIGNIFICANT SHAREHOLDER)
On Friday, January 4, 2019, the Bank of Ghana publicly announced the revocation of the banking licence of Heritage Bank Limited (“HBL”). In doing so, the Central Bank, through its Governor, gave four reasons for its decision.
They are as follows:
1. That the Central Bank was suspicious of the sources of funds constituting the capital of HBL as it had reason to believe that the capital was derived from contract payments made by the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod), which payments are the subject of an ongoing criminal prosecution;
2. That the Central Bank had issues with the shareholding of HBL; more specifically, the alleged non-disclosure of the beneficial ownership of certain shares of HBL;
3. That a number of related-party transactions involving HBL were not above board; and
4. That I, as a significant shareholder of HBL, was not a “fit and proper person” to hold shares in HBL.
In a press statement released by the members of the erstwhile Board of HBL, the Board of Directors dealt comprehensively with the reasons why, in their opinion, the decision of the Central Bank to revoke the licence of HBL was puzzling, grossly misleading in its content and unjust in its ultimate consequence. Whilst I absolutely agree with the views and sentiments expressed in the press release by the Board of Directors of HBL; I deem it necessary, for the reasons stated below, to make this statement is not only registering my personal disagreement with the decision of the Central Bank; but to respond specifically to the Central Bank’s purported determination that I was not a “fit and proper person” to continue to be a significant shareholder of HBL; as I consider it an attempt by the Central Bank or its controllers to ruin me for reasons other than are apparent.
It will be an understatement to say I was taken by surprise by the said announcement. This is because in all my dealings with the Central Bank concerning the affairs of HBL, at no point in time did the Central Bank indicate to me or to the Board of Directors (to my knowledge) that it had concerns regarding my role as a significant shareholder or a shareholder for that matter, of HBL. Indeed, in all our interactions, both official and unofficial, I walked away with the impression that the Central Bank held me in high regard as a shareholder of HBL, as I had dealt openly and transparently with the Central Bank and its principal officers in all matters concerning the affairs of HBL.
The purported determination that I am not a fit and proper person to be a significant shareholder of HBL could only have been made in bad faith as it is now clear that the Central Bank itself failed to comply with the basic standards of propriety and candour in its dealings with me and with HBL in respect of this matter. Up until the press conference where the announcement was made, the Central Bank made promises to me and HBL through its Directors and Officers regarding the future prospects of HBL and its continued existence as a banking concern.
Indeed, besides the rather cursory reference to my being the subject of pending criminal proceedings and the Central Bank’s suspicion that the sources of funds for the capitalization of HBL might have been derived from the proceeds of contracts executed with Cocobod, the Central Bank has, to date, not made available to me the factual basis upon which it concluded that I am not fit and proper to be a significant shareholder of HBL. As at the time of this statement, as was at the time of the Governor’s press conference, there had been no determination either by the High Court nor any other authority for that matter, that the funds derived from contracts with Cocobod are in any manner or form illegal or criminal warranting my characterization by the Central Bank as not fit and proper. Considering the grave effects such determination portends for my life and business associations, both home and abroad, one would have thought that the Central Bank, as a regulator, would have been more deliberative in its approach to coming to such conclusion and not this capricious and arrogant; if such determination was not actuated by malice and complete bad faith.
In purportedly making the determination, the Central Bank obviously had little regard for the time-honoured principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. The fact that I have a case pending before the High Court is a matter of public knowledge but my guilt or innocence is yet to be determined by the Honourable Court. The determination that I am not a fit and proper person to be a significant shareholder of HBL because the Central Bank suspects the funds are derived from illicit or suspicious contracts with the Cocobod is not only calculated to pre-judge the outcome of the criminal proceedings but also violative of the principle of presumption of innocence to which every individual is entitled. Since when has suspicion become a substitute for credible evidence?
The Central Bank’s determination having supposedly been based on the premise that the sources of capital of HBL are “suspicious” as the contracts from which they emanated are the subject of pending criminal proceedings, will the Central Bank restore the banking licence of HBL if I were to be acquitted of the current charges? The utter irrationality of the action of the Central Bank in revoking the licence of HBL on the basis of pending criminal proceedings and the fact that the harm done to HBL and its stakeholders may ultimately be irreparable is palpable.
The unanswered question is this; why the indecent haste? Why did the suspension of the voting rights of my shares in HBL pending the determination of the proceedings in court, for instance, not commend itself to the Bank of Ghana if indeed it had been acting otherwise than in bad faith?
For the records, I was never made aware by the Bank of Ghana at any point whatsoever that I was the subject of a fit and proper person test by the Central Bank and I had never been asked any questions or clarifications by the said Central Bank contrary to the impressions now created by the Bank of Ghana. In fact, it is not known to me when the said 'fit and proper person' enquiry or assessment began and when it ended. I had not been given a hearing yet my fate had been sealed in this hostile manner by the Bank of Ghana.
I have been in business since 2001 and I have since founded about fifteen (15) entities in areas such as Real Estate, Manufacturing, Agriculture, Media, Commodities, Pharmaceuticals and Financial Services that currently directly employ at least 3,500 GHANAIANS!
I wish to state emphatically that in establishing HBL, I engaged in no underhand dealings and, in fact, as the Central Bank itself had attested on many occasions, HBL was a very well governed Ghanaian bank which remained solvent till the very end.
To the many friends, business associates and well-wishers, who continue to encourage me in these rather trying moments, I wish to express my profound gratitude. I am truly grateful. I have no shred of doubt that I had dealt with the Bank of Ghana above board as I have done in all my business dealings. Be rest assured that whatever mischief is at play will be cured.
Finally, while I believe in the utmost power of Allah to fight my cause, the Central Bank gravely underrates my resolve and tenacity to clear my name, which it has unceremoniously sought to destroy unjustifiably if it thought it had heard the last from me in respect of this matter.
May Allah continue to light our paths as we embrace the many blessings of this New Year.