Commercial banks in the country are raking in millions of dollars from a foreign exchange round-tripping, which has been fuelled by the acute shortage of hard currency in the economy, investigation has revealed.
The Central Bank of Nigeria has been rationing forex to prospective importers in the past 16 months, after the global fall in the prices of crude oil, the nation’s main forex earner.
The situation has exacerbated over time and tens of thousands of applications for forex by intending importers have been kept on hold by the CBN for months.
Sources close to the forex racketeering said the dollar shortage had led to a situation where prospective importers apply to the CBN through their banks for forex for months without getting it.
The continued acute scarcity, it was learnt, had been capitalised upon by the commercial banks who are now selling several millions of dollars obtained from the CBN on their clients’ names at huge premiums above the N199 to $1 official rate approved by the central bank.
According to sources familiar with the situation, thousands of helpless importers who are in desperate need of forex to import products ranging from raw materials to equipment are milked on weekly basis by the greedy banks.
Findings by our correspondent showed that the scheme, which has been on for several months as the forex scarcity worsens by the day, has made many top bank executives multi-millionaires overnight.
Out of about $10m to $25m (depending on the volume of demand by its customers) sold by the CBN to commercial banks in some weeks, illegal profit to the tune of $5m could be made by each of the banks involved in the forex racketeering.
A prospective importer, who was recently approached by a major bank ( Zenith Bank) in the country involved in the forex racketeering, told our correspondent that many importers had no choice but to buy the scarce forex from the banks despite the huge and illegal premiums being made by them.
Peter Amangbo, GMD:CEO Zenith Bank
Narrating his ordeal, an importer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, for fear of being victimised by the bank, said, “We need $295,000 to import some equipment. We have been on the so-called CBN queue since October. The bank said no forex. Recently, the bank called us that there was forex but not at the official rate.
They wanted to sell to us at N275 to $1. Out of about N81m we are to pay, only about N59m goes to the CBN, which is the official rate. The balance goes to the bank officials who get this allocation from the CBN. This is the type of stupid money they make now, God saves Nigeria.”
Explaining further, the visibly angry importer said, “The bank’s officials said they had $5m as of January 29. So calculate how much they made for that week alone.”
The forex racketeering victim said the bank officials had told him that the difference between the CBN rate of N199/$1 and the N275 to the dollar rate they were offering him would be paid through a cheque written on a name to be provided by the officials. He added, “The bank will debit my account at the CBN rate and then I will give them a cheque for the balance.”