By Lawrence Kazooba
Many people have been wondering why despite high level meetings and negotiations to have a win-win situation after the closure of Crane Bank by Bank of Uganda, the issue has to be resolved by courts! That Bank of Uganda has taken tycoon Sudhir Ruparelia to the commercial court to force him to pay Sh400 billion has been well publicized especially by New Vision, which received a leak from a person close to the negotiations which were falling apart.
If Bank of Uganda officials and their lawyers continued squeezing Mr Ruparelia quietly in the backyard like Independent magazine revealed in the week, many things would have been solved, including the most important involving the saving of the reputation of Uganda’s central bank which right now is torn into threads. This happened after plot to cripple Sudhir’s public perception fell flat on its nose as the public received the New Vision Sudhir-series with disdain, amidst claims that there must be a deal gone wrong for Sudhir to have fallen out with government, and that Bank of Uganda was a hired gun.
Watchdog Uganda also understands that actually, the central bank wanted Crane Bank collapse as in the three months it ran the bank, it used Sh125 billion. Watchdog also understands that the same bank was being run on less than Sh90 billion a year, which puzzles many observers how Sh125 billion would be blown in three months and where exactly the money went.
The revelations in the reports have only exposed Bank of Uganda and placed a soon to retire governor but for a long time a respected economist, Tumusiime Mutebile, at a pedestal of ridicule, as his Central Bank is now seen as a clearing house for deals and selective application of the law. Analysts say the reports in New Vision were aimed at damaging Sudhir and weaken his negotiation position instead it only galvanized public sympathy and questions of how the government can afford to hound the only Ugandan to ever get to get Forbes rich list.
Other critics say the Central Bank was full of men and women sleeping on the job and only wake up to share spoils of collapsing institutions, in this case, it was Crane Bank but so many banks had gone down under their watch and it meant the revelations put forward in the Crane Bank aftermath had befallen other business people in other banks that wound up in the past couple of years. On radio stations, critics compared BoU bosses to vultures who await to pounce on dead animals instead of doctors who work around the clock to save their patients.
This was made manifest in the Independent magazine which alleged that Sudhir wanted to sell the bank but delays and underhand methods used by the BoU, ensured that no one bought the bank. And when he asked that Central Bank does its job to inject money into the bank, the bank’s bosses still refused.
The maneuvers that have followed have showed the true motive of the bank officials and their lawyers, as they have proved their interest was on grabbing Sudhir’s prime properties. Watchdog Uganda now understands that the actual reasons BoU went to court is the battle over properties and money in excesses of Sh600 billion, which BoU officials and their lawyers want to take away from shareholders of Crane Bank.
When BoU was selling Crane Bank to DfCU, the agreement they signed did not involve all stakeholders excluding Crane Bank shareholders, yet, all the liabilities of the bank were passed to Sudhir in his individual capacity as one of the most known owners the bank. Until now, it is not known how much BoU sold Crane Bank to DfCU, an anomaly given the fact the transaction was business in nature, which actually gave DfCU all lucrative clients including very profitable loans.
DfCU is already making good profits from both good loans that it preferred to take as well as what were perceived as bad loans. Whereas BoU wants Sudhir to individually foot the bill of losses of the bank, it is understood that there is Sh600 billion in loans that were passed to DfCU which no one is talking. BoU wants them written off, yet, the customers who took those loans are actually paying them in DfCU.
Our sources say, “This money belongs to shareholders of Crane Bankers,” and it seems whoever wants to write off the money, actually plans also on how to siphon it since it is already being recovered by DfCU. Independent magazine wrote last week that Sudhir had been in negotiations with the Bank of Uganda, and top government officials to agree on the win win scenario where everyone goes away happy.
It is after the negotiation did not yield the wishes of Bank of Uganda bosses that they moved to go to court. According to reports, Sudhir had agreed to pay the personal loans he took from the bank, and Watchdog Uganda has been reliably told that he has paid all his dues. With about $9 million paid, BoU bosses had committed to return some properties to Sudhir, which were not returned to him after he paid his dues.
We understand, Governor Tumusiime Mutebile changed positions, and refused to return the properties, instead asking Sudhir to surrender land titles on which Crane Bank branches sit across the country, something which Sudhir could not cede. Independent magazine wrote that when Mutebile failed to return the property, this incensed Sudhir who read dishonesty in the governor’s moves.