Page last updated at 21:22 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 22:22 UK

Nigeria begins bank boss charges

Nigerian currency
The central bank had to bail out the five lenders earlier this month

Four senior banking executives in Nigeria have appeared in court to deny charges they were involved in a multi-billion dollar banking scandal.

The three men and one woman were chief executives of major banks until being fired from their jobs two weeks ago.

Anti-corruption police brought criminal charges against executives from five banks rescued in a 400bn naira ($2.6bn; £1.6bn) government bail-out.

All the banks were found to have low cash reserves because of bad loans.

Former Finbank chief Okey Nwosu was the first to plead not guilty to 11 charges relating to bad debt built up under his management.

The three other banking chief executives, Sebastian Adigwe, Berth Ebong and Cecilia Ibru, all pleaded not guilty to charges put to them at hearings later on Monday.

They and their teams are accused of fraud, giving loans to fake companies, lending to businesses they had a personal interest in and conspiring with stockbrokers to drive up share prices, says the BBC's Caroline Duffield in Lagos.

'System sound'

Authorities in Nigeria say the deals nearly destroyed five of the country's major banks and saw the bosses of those banks lose their jobs.

One banker, Erastus Akingbola, former chief executive of Intercontinental bank, is still missing. He is on the run and wanted by Interpol.

In Nigeria, where banking is a glamorous world, most never thought they would see top bankers on their way to court, our correspondent adds.

Fifteen other chief executives at the banks - Afribank, Intercontinental Bank, Finbank, Oceanic Bank and Union Bank - are being questioned by police after the loans were not repaid.

Shares in the five banks, which account for 40% of the country's bank credit, have been suspended.

They had run up bad loans totalling a collective 1.14 trillion naira.

The country's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says nearly $300m of bad debt has been recovered, but that billions are still outstanding.

However, last week the governor of Nigeria's Central Bank said that the banking system was sound following the financial scandal.

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