The Federal Capital Territory High Court has ordered Guaranty Trust Bank Plc to reverse funds illegally deducted from the account of one of its customers, Universal Agricultural Empowerment and Development Initiative (UNAEDI).
In his ruling on September 25 in suit No. FCT/HC/CV/2306/2017, Justice O.O. Goodluck ordered the bank to refund N412,000, $3,123.16 and N4,224,259 to the company’s account.
The court also ordered the bank to pay additional N100,000 as general damages to the company and its registered trustees, along with Osaretin Williams.
The monies were deductions from the customers’ account between March 9 and April 20, 2016 after the bank, on November 13, 2015, placed a lien on the account, which the court also declared illegal.
Allegations against GTB
In his statement of claims, Samuel Irabo who is the counsel to UNAEDI and Mr Williams, asked the court to determine if GTBank has the right to unilaterally flag some transaction as ‘fraudulent’ after deducting bank charges from it.
Besides, Mr Irabo also asked the court to determine if the bank has the right to place a lien on his clients’ account and continue to deduct from it without informing, or explaining to the customer the reason for doing so.
The lawyer told the court that on November 13, 2015, the Wuse 2, Abuja branch of the GTBank placed a lien on his client’s account No 0164981107 operated under the Universal Agricultural Empowerment and Development Initiative merchant platform and the GT Pay service.
On March 9, 2016, he said the representative of his clients, Mr Williams, received several alerts on his mobile telephone in respect of various debits to the account by the bank.
He said the debits totaling about N412,000, included N3,000 at about 7.47 p.m, and N6,000, N100,000 and N200,000, all at about 7.48 p.m.
Again, Mr Irabo said on March 10, 2016 at about 11.03 p.m., a GTBank staff, one Oluwaseun Fatugase, sent an email through the bank’s internet portal titled: “Fraudulent Transfers IRO UNIV AGRIC EMP & DEV INI 0164981107.”
He said by the mail, the fraud desk of Heritage Bank Limited was alerted that transactions supposedly between his clients and one Adebola Olu Ogundeko were fraudulent.
In addition, he said similar notifications were sent to First Bank, Zenith Bank, Diamond Bank, Access Bank and Sterling Bank where his clients also has accounts.
On January 14, 2016, Mr Irabo said GTBank proceeded to “wipe out” about $3,123.16 from his clients’ Dollar Account also with the Bank and tagged it “fraudulent transaction.”
Similarly, he said on April 20, 2016, about N4,242,259.59 in his clients’ account were also wiped out.
Apart from the above, the lawyer said GTBank also refused to honour two cheques issued by his clients in favour of different persons without due explanation.
After his clients waited without a retraction of the suspicious emails by GTBank, Mr Irabo said his clients instructed him to write to the bank on March 29, 2016 to formally demand immediate reversal of debits as well as a retraction of the email correspondences.
Following the bank’s refusal to offer any explanation to the transactions, the lawyer said a court process was filed on behalf of his clients to declare, among other things, that the lien placed on their account unwarranted, unlawful and a breach of the bank’s relationship with them.
M Irabo said his clients also demanded the court to lift the lien on their accounts, refund the N412,000, $3,123.16, N4,242,259.59 debited from the accounts and direct GTBank to publish a retraction in respect of the defamatory and libelous publications against them.
Other demands included general damages of N1 billion for defamation, libellous publication and breach of banker-customer relationship by GTBank.
GTBank’s defence, reaction
In his counter-claims filed in its statement of claims, GTBank, through its counsel, Ogunmuyiwa Balogun, admitted all the allegations against his client.
Mr Balogun, however, faulted the suit by Mr Williams against GTBank, saying there was no evidence to show that he has any contractual relationship with his client.
He said that in as much as Mr Williams was the “initiator” or “facilitator” of UNAEDI, his role was at best that of an agent, which has no right to sue the bank.
The counsel said his client’s actions were based on the suspicion that some of the transactions on the account were ‘fraudulent transactions’.
In his reaction, the president of UNAEDI, Austin Ighodaro, expressed delight over the court’s judgement, saying the organisation’s activities involved primarily the receipt of donations through its account domiciled with GTbank for humanitarian services.