Billionaires Battle: Femi Otedola and Jim Ovia fight dirty

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Lagos, Nigeria – June 5, 2024

The ongoing dispute between billionaire businessman Femi Otedola and Jim Ovia, chairman of Zenith Bank, has intensified amid allegations of a multibillion naira fraud.

The conflict centers around claims that Zenith Bank unlawfully used the account of Otedola’s company, Seaforce Shipping Limited, for trading without his knowledge or consent.

According to Otedola, the unauthorized transactions on Seaforce Shipping’s account date back to 2011, despite the account having been inactive since 2010. These activities are currently under investigation by the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) of the police, though efforts are being made to resolve the issue amicably.

TheCable has reached out to both Ovia and Zenith Bank for comments, but responses have not yet been received.

Unauthorized Transactions Uncovered

In his petition to the police, Otedola alleges that Seaforce Shipping’s account was used for trading activities amounting to billions of naira without any formal application or loan taken by Seaforce from Zenith Bank. Despite repeated requests, Zenith Bank has reportedly failed to provide documentation, such as offer letters, to justify the alleged loans.

Otedola became aware of these suspicious activities 13 years later, following a tip-off from a whistleblower within Zenith Bank. Upon confronting bank officials, he was reportedly met with apologies.

A letter from Zenith Bank dated March 19, 2018, addressed to Seaforce’s auditors, Shofolawe-Bakare & Co, indicated a debt of only N2,278,420 on Seaforce’s account. However, the bank statement seen by TheCable on the same day showed a debt of N2.9 billion. This discrepancy is significant, as transactions totaling over N16 billion were recorded against Seaforce’s account from 2011 to 2024.

Otedola has questioned the reduction of the purported debt from N16.9 billion to N11 billion, highlighting that he was unaware of any payments made to decrease the debt. Credits on the account include N77.2 million on April 18, 2011, N119.8 million on December 1, 2011, and several other large sums throughout December 2011.

Currently, Seaforce has a debt of N5.9 billion, primarily due to interest charges. The police have already questioned a senior official from the bank regarding these transactions.

Court Injunction Secured

In response to the ongoing issues, Otedola and his companies—Zenon, Seaforce, Luzon Oil and Gas, and Garment Care Limited—have obtained a federal high court injunction against Zenith Bank, Quantum Zenith Securities and Investment, Veritas Registrar, and the Central Securities Clearing System. This injunction restrains these entities from trading with shares or paying dividends until the hearing of the motion on notice for an interlocutory injunction.

The financial and legal implications of this case are significant, and all eyes remain on how the situation will unfold as investigations continue.

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