Page last updated at 08:30 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 09:30 UK

Nigeria to act against debtors

By Caroline Duffield
BBC News, Lagos, Nigeria

Special fraud police chief Farida Waziri
Anti-fraud police chief Farida Waziri said conspiracy charges could apply

Nigeria's special fraud police say they are preparing to act against business tycoons who have failed to pay back billions owed to banks.

The move comes with the expiry of a deadline for those owing money to return it to the troubled banks.

The government was forced to rescue five banks and sack their entire leadership teams last week to save the banks from collapse.

Some senior bankers are in custody but two chief executives are on the run.

The pair are wanted in connection to allegations of money laundering, insider trading, capital market manipulation and abuse of credit process.

Some loans were given without collateral, some loans were given under some fictitious conditions
EFCC's Farida Waziri

Controversially, the special fraud office is also hunting down the debtors.

Last week the central bank governor shamed some of the wealthiest people in Africa by naming them for not paying back massive loans.

Anti-fraud officials say some of the money has been returned, but huge amounts remain outstanding.

The deadline for repayment expires at midnight on Tuesday (2300 GMT).

Many legal experts say that debt is a civil matter and that the terms of the original loans still apply. They have questioned the legal basis of any further arrests.

Conspiracy charges

But the chief of the special fraud police Farida Waziri insists that there is a case.


''We can arrest them for conspiracy, together with the bankers," the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission head said.

"Some loans were given without collateral, some loans were given under some fictitious conditions," she said.

Nigeria's police use the word "arrest" very freely. It usually means they are questioning someone - and it does not carry any expectation of charges.

Ms Waziri went on to urge Nigeria's courts not to grant what she called ''frivolous injunctions'' protecting the debtors.

She said she knew that the debtors were holding secret meetings and were planning to sue the authorities.

They are a group of powerful vested interests who will fight to defend themselves.

But Nigeria's special fraud police are themselves controversial.

They are widely criticised here as having lost their way in the fight against corruption.

And their insistence that debtors make cheques of millions of dollars payable to them provoked amusement and cynicism.

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