SEC warns Ecobank over corporate governance gaps

By The Rainbow

Nigeria's Securities and Exchange Commission said pan-African Ecobank Transnational Inc. (ETI) needs to address governance gaps after the regulator investigated the bank amid fraud allegations against senior management.

The regulator's review found 'inadequate transparency in the recruitment procedures and mechanisms for board members and executive staff,' the Abuja-based SEC said in a statement on its website today. It recommended the lender appoint a 'substantive' chairman and develop a one-year plan to tackle governance deficiencies.

SEC investigated Ecobank after Laurence do Rego, the group executive director of risk and finance, told the regulator in August that former Chairman Kolapo Lawson and Chief Executive Officer Thierry Tanoh planned to sell assets below market value.

Do Rego said she had been pressured to write off debts owed by a business headed by Lawson and manipulate the bank's results. Both Tanoh and Lawson deny any wrongdoing. Mwambu Wanendeya, a spokesman for Lome, Togo-based Ecobank, didn't answer a call or immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

Ecobank Chairman Kolapo Lawson resigned in October pending the outcome of the probe, which also concerned loans taken out at the bank by companies in which he had an interest.

Do Rego’s allegations included that the CEO Thierry Tanoh had pressured her to misstate the group’s 2012 results.

Tanoh, a former vice president of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, said in September he was forgoing his bonus as part of efforts to restore investor confidence.

Ecobank is trying to salvage confidence knocked by the probe and investors still view it as one of few major pan-African success stories.

“The Commission believes that ETI will need to appoint a substantive board chairman who will lead the effort to attain an improved governance climate,” the statement said.

“The chairman should have integrity, independence and should not have the potential for conflict of interest in the discharge of the role.”

Lawson, who retired on Dec. 31, said in October that he was stepping down to end uncertainty and 'media speculation' over Ecobank. The bank said in September that Tanoh would forgo his $1.14 million bonus for 2012 as the lender reviews corporate governance.

Do Rego 'is no longer an employee of the company,' Ecobank said in an e-mailed statement late Thursday. Do Rego joined Ecobank in 2002 and was appointed to her position in January 2010 after serving as chief financial officer from 2005 to 2009, according to the company's website. An accountant by training, she also worked for 15 years in Europe.

Founded in 1985, Ecobank operates in France and 35 African countries and has representative offices in Beijing, Dubai and London. The bank had $21.5 billion in assets at the end of September.

Reuters/ Bloomberg