Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Multi-billion Naira Dubious Loan Deal That Pitched GTBank Against HiTV

... How due process was ignored in the N9billion messy deal that wasted customers' money
+ Bribery allegation trails the bank’s duplicity in the EPL right loss that sunk the company

Mr Segun Agbaje, GTB MD
In a past not too long ago, the banking industry in Nigeria witnessed a phase still referred to as the tsunami era, whereby banks that were thought to be doing well in the country were forced into extinction. It is at that period that the likes of Intercontinental Bank, Oceanic Bank and many others were forced out due to discrepancies in their lending pattern. While they were accused of not properly protecting their customers' money by the Sanusi Lamido-led Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN),  it is however surprising that GTBank was never tried for the same offence, considering the bank’s below-par conduct as regards the now-rested HiTV, a pay satellite TV owned by the Toyin Subair-led Entertainment Highway Ltd.

Unknown to many, the alleged shoddy and fraudulent deal involving the bank and the company, exposed to unimaginable risk the hapless Nigerians who put their hard-earned money in the care of the bank, due to the fact that no form of collateral was taken to safeguard the loan while signing the deal. According to a source within the bank, all they had as collateral was just the right of HiTV to beam the very lucrative English Premier League (EPL) for three consecutive years during that period. And that was why it was agreed that GTBank would be the official bank for HiTV, an announcement made amid pomp and pageantry.

It is not clear how, despite the arrangement that made GTBank the official bank of the satellite pay-TV company, HiTV was said to have defaulted on the payment of the loan after three years, a situation on which the bank was said to have based its dubious role in the right-loss scandal. HiTV’s loss of the EPL right was eventually responsible for its going under, after it was declared bankrupt, while GTBank also incurred a total loss in the region of N10 billion.

The bizarre part of the whole matter is the apparent absence of any effort by the GTBank towards recovering the loan it issued to HiTV. Findings show that instead of incurring such heavy loss, GTBank could have leveraged on the situation to its advantage. It is common knowledge that HiTV lost the EPL right to its closest rival, not because it did not have the highest bid – sources revealed that it had even made payment for the first year but needed a bank guaranty (BG) of its ability to pay for the subsequent years. It was on this that GTBank, after promising to issue the BG, withdrew at the 11th hour, leaving Toyin Subair and his team running helter-skelter for a BG. But by the time First Bank could issue HiTV a BG, about 12 hours later, the right had been ceded to Multichoice-owned DStv.

Mr Toyin Subair
A source lambasted GTBank’s decision to deny HiTV a BG as a carefully planned scheme to ruin the company; likening it to the biblical deceit story of Esau and Jacob story. While on the surface it looked like the bank was having its pound of HiTV flesh, for the company’s not following the payment agreement, a closer look revealed a picture of an entity that had something to lose should HiTV retain the right.

Buttressing this viewpoint, the source postulated that GTBank could have effectively leveraged on the situation to force the then-desperate leadership of HiTV into entering a new agreement whereby the bank would take absolute control of the company’s finances until it had finally recouped the loan, instead of the decision to incur loss, knowing full well that the company’s assets were inconsequential compared to the debt owed.

It was based on this, as well as the way other rights owned by HiTV – like the Spanish La Liga, UEFA Champions League, Europa Cup and other sporting rights – were handed over to DStv after the bank took over as the receiver-manager of HiTV, that set tongues about money allegedly exchanging hands behind the curtain.

Though the allegation cannot be substantiated, the entire matter leaves much to the imagination. Very puzzling is the fact that, even though the bank’s deal with HiTV clearly flouted best banking practices, and the amount involved can be said to have been astronomical, nobody was sanctioned for involvement in it. Quite a remarkably different outcome from a similar case of wrong investment involving the former Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Benard Longe, who was forced out of office because of the botched $100 million IIL deal.

Effort to get GTBank to give its own side proved futile, as sms sent to Mr. Jide Sipe of the bank’s Corporate Affairs department was not answered as at the time of the magazine going to bed. Another staffer of the bank spoken to was either feigning ignorance or really did not have a lucid grasp of matters concerning the saga. 

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