Union Bank of Nigeria Plc has dragged a judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Buba before the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), and the Department of State Security, (DSS), for alleged professional misconduct.
The forty four (44) page petition with attachments accused the judge of colluding with one of its huge debtors, Mr. Bhagwani Mahtani (an Indian National) to defraud the Bank and pervert the cause of justice.
According to the petition, the Judge used his intellectual prowess to bend the rules and use his position to the advantage of the party by allegedly turning the law upside down in favour of the debtor, Mr. Bhagwani Mahtani the alter ego of First Continental Properties Limited.
The petition claimed that Justice Buba deliberately destroyed the legal mortgages that was entered into to guarantee the repayment.
The 58 paragraphs petition accused Justice Buba of delivering a judgement that appears most unreasonable and difficult to understand thereby conferring benefit to the unrighteous at the expense of the righteous in an alleged bid to make financial gains.
The petitioner claimed that the judge by his questionable judgement has exposed the Bank to great risk as the loan facilities extended to the company was part of its depositors and shareholders funds.
It urged the anti graft agency and the National Judicial Council (NJC) to intervene and to investigate Justice Buba saying the Bank cannot afford to lose such huge amount of its depositors and shareholders fund to fraudulent characters particularly at this period of crushing economic recession .
The petitioner expressed utmost confidence in the commission and the NJC to carry out a prompt and painstaking investigation of the criminal allegations and the consequent prosecution of the offenders.
The crisis of confidence between Union Bank and Mr. Bhagwani Mahtani the alter ego of Continental Properties Limited began on March 27, 2011 when a loan facility amounting to the sum of $68million was granted First Continental Properties promoted by Mr. Bhagwani Mahtani (an Indian National)
The loan was to be used to build the then new development Churchgate in Abuja otherwise known as World Trade Centre which has since been completed in Abuja.
The loan remain unserviced with an outstanding balance currently standing at the sum of $81,941,230.84 as at February 7, 2018.
The debtor had at the time of obtaining the loan provided two (2) Legal Mortgages as collateral for the loan –tenor of the facility was 4 years and the loan was meant to expire on April 30, 2015.
According to the petitioner, the loan was disbursed in U.S. Dollar and the interest was initially fixed at 15% per annum and payment to be done through proceeds to be gotten from the sale of the world trade centre, Abuja and also from the rental proceeds of plot pc 40 Afribank street, Victoria Island, Lagos, Plot 473 AO Cadastral Zone, Constitution Avenue, Abuja and payment was also expected from proceeds of other business of the company and its holden company-Churchgate Investment Ltd.
The petition stated that upon the application of the company, the loan was restructured by another offer letter dated March 13, 2015 endorsed by the directors.
But, despite all the acknowledgement, the Bank claimed that the company persisted in its default to repay the loan.
At one instance, in a letter dated June 28,2016 the defaulting company acknowledged its indebtedness to the Bank by admitting owing the Bank $61.089million and was proposing repayment pattern of N250 million and N388,890 million in five (5) instalments.
But the loan increased to $81.941,230.80 due to lack of servicing.
However, while this was on going, the debtor proceeded to a Federal High Court in Lagos and filed Suit No. FHC/L/1334/16 between First Continental Properties Ltd vs Union Bank of Nigeria Plc.
The company sought 12 reliefs from the court. These reliefs according to the petition were a total reversal of the obligation of the defaulting customer; First Continental Properties Ltd in contrary to its earlier admittance of responsibility towards the repayment of the facility.
The Bank claimed that when the case presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba went on trial, the court made contrasting findings by declaring the loan facility illegal, voiding the legal instrument/agreement of the loan and granting an order of perpetual injunction to restrain the bank from exercising its right to appoint a receiver even when the court also held that the amount owed to the bank must be paid by First Continental Properties Ltd in another breath declaring the loan illegal.
“by so doing Honourable Justice Buba somersaulted severally in the judgement in furtherance of his intention to assist the company to swindle the bank using the judicial means….’ the petition added.
According to the petition, the most damaging pronouncement of the learned trial judge came when he made the following orders.
(1) An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant or its agents from enforcing the loan agreement executed by the Plaintiff
(2) An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant or its agents from treating the plaintiff in any manner whatsoever however as debtors and particularly making any negative report about the plaintiff to any credit agency or to the press.
(3) An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant or its agent from foreclosing the legal mortgages over the plaintiff’s properties used as collateral for the loan.
The bank claimed that the far reaching orders is to destroy completely the risk assets or legal instruments i.e. deeds of legal mortgages, upon which the bank would have fallen back to recover the huge indebtedness of the company fails, refuses or neglects to repay same and the helplessness foisted on the bank by the order.
Describing the judgement as a premeditated one, the bank asked that having held that the company is indebted to the bank and should pay the indebtedness to the bank, how will the bank recover the money (without the institution of another time consuming suit) if the bank is no longer allowed to fall back on the collateral security of the facility if the company /debtor defaulted.
The bank claimed that the conduct of the learned trial judge and the said alter ego of the company amounts to criminal perversion of justice tantamount to financial or economic crimes hence the call for a thorough investigation.
In the petition received at the office of the Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on March 29, 2018 and at the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria on March, 2018, the petitioner claimed that the judge was unable to balance the interest of both parties because the risk assets that would have been used to recover the loan was fully destroyed by Justice Buba.
The third instance of misconduct according to the petition was the allegation that the judge failed to release the said judgement until March 22, 2018 i.e. 22 clear days from the date he delivered the judgement in violation of section 294(1) of the Constitution.
This, the bank said affected the perfection of its appeal at the Court of Appeal.
In another allegation of misconduct leveled against Justice Buba the petitioner claimed that the company filed a new suit No. FHC/L/CS/370/2018 against the Bank joining Chief Aribisala, SAN seeking an Order restraining the Bank from acting and or purporting to act as Receiver whether by themselves or their agents pending the determination of the suit.
According to them, Justice I.N. Buba who had a foreknowledge of a matter that was brought before him ought not to adjudicate on it.
But when First Continental Properties Ltd and Mr. Bhagwani Mahtani later discovered that the receivership action has finally been filed by Chief Ajibola Aribisala, SAN, in two suits, the Company rushed to the Federal High Court Registry seeking the particulars of the Receivership suits instituted by the Bank claiming that the sister suit is already before Justice Buba and further claiming that the two new suits, FHC/L/CS/413/2018 AND FHC/L/CS/419/2018 should be assigned to justice Buba, as a at that time, the matter was already before Justice Aikawa.
Following the granting of the Exparte Orders by Justice Aikawa, the Company also wrote a petition to the Acting Judge that the case should be taken from Justice Aikawa to Justice Buba. Sadly the two case files were then moved again to Justice I.N. Buba.
All these infractions the Bank claimed is an indication that the judge is working with the debtor to deny the Bank the right to retrieve its money. According to the Bank, Justice Buba has used his position to obstruct the cause of justice.
He also made another order that both parties should maintain status quo without giving the defendant enough opportunity to even appear in court or represented by Counsel.
The Petitioner argued that the Judge committed a travesty of justice when he held that the contract of credit facilities in foreign denominated currency between the bank and the Company is illegal.
According to the bank the Judge somersaulted in law when he held that the outstanding indebtedness of the company be converted to naira at the prevailing exchange rate of N158 to a dollar being the prevailing rate at the time the credit facility was availed to the company in March, 2011.
The Bank claimed that the Judge miscarried justice when he deliberately mis-interpreted the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) circular of April 17th 2015 to hold that the Bank was prohibited from granting the credit facilities granted to the Respondent in United States Dollar or receiving the repayment in Dollars.
It stated further that Justice Buba cleverly and deliberately misinterpreted the law by holding that the bank granting of credit facilities to the Respondent in US Dollars and demanding same is prohibited under the CBN Act.
The Judge was also accused of holding that an upward review of interest rate did not form part of the agreement between the parties to the loan.
The Bank referred to the agreement via a letter dated June 28, 2016 where the company admitted that payment should be in US Dollars.
“We thus propose to pay $12,217,948 in five instalments commencing from 19th September, 2017 and ending May, 2019. The interest due on the facility would be paid on a quarterly basis”
The Bank claimed that this averment was not controverted and wonder why Justice Buba still looked the other way.
For the petitioner, justice Buba’s order runs contrary to the settled position of law saying the Judge in effect was re-writing the law to suit a particular interest, this he said is a miscarriage of justice.
It claimed that the Order to maintain status quo preceded the release of the copies of earlier judgement.
Following the order of Receivership granted by Justice Aikawa, Mr. Kenneth Ufere on behalf of Union Bank accused the company of making the move to have the processes transferred to Justice Buba.
For now, following a petition from the company dated March 23, 2018, the case file has been withdrawn on the order of the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and first domiciled in the office of the DCR of the Federal High Court, Lagos and later transferred to Justice Buba’s Court.
The Bank argued that Justice I.N. Buba and the Debtor are colluding to ensure that the Bank will never recover its money saying the Judge is also turning himself to a contractor in providing succour for the debtor.