March 11, 2014 6:48 pm

Ecobank board ousts chief executive Thierry Tanoh

Clients queue outside before the opening of a branch of the Ecobank in Abidjan©AFP

The controversial chief executive of Ecobank Transnational has been ousted by the bank’s board, bringing an end to a nine-month battle over allegations of mismanagement that have shaken confidence in the pan-African lender.

On Tuesday, the board decided unanimously to remove Thierry Tanoh as chief executive at a meeting in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, two people familiar with the meeting said.

The bank later announced that Albert Essien, currently the deputy chief executive, will step up to the top role. Mr Essien, who has been in charge of the corporate and investment banking arm, has been at Ecobank, also known as ETI, for more than 20 years.

Mr Tanoh, a former vice-president of the International Finance Corporation, has been under investigation by Nigeria’s capital markets regulator since the bank’s executive director in charge of risk and finance accused him of corporate governance breaches last August.

The director who turned whistleblower, Laurence do Rego, was first suspended and then fired by the chief executive last year. But, on Tuesday, the bank said that the board had reinstated Ms do Rego to her post.

ETI has blazed a trail across African borders over the past decade, building up a presence in 35 countries and assets worth more than $20bn. In the process, it has become emblematic of a new and dynamic class of business rising to the opportunity of African growth.

At a shareholder meeting last week, KPMG, the global accountancy firm enlisted by Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate the bank, was scathing about the way Mr Tanoh had agreed a bonus and salary increase in 2012 with the former ETI chairman.

Mr Tanoh announced he would forgo the 400 per cent increase in his bonus after it was first reported in the Financial Times in August last year.

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Ecobank’s boardroom battle

July 2013: Ecobank Transnational has ridden the boom in African banking and has bold regional ambitions. But the Financial Times has seen documents that suggest some shareholders are unhappy with its leadership.

KPMG also said Mr Tanoh’s appointment of the internal auditor in a dual role as his special adviser represented a conflict of interest.

Mr Tanoh has denied any wrongdoing, and held on tenaciously to his position in the face of a mounting campaign to remove him – from bank directors, senior managers, former chairmen and the bank’s largest shareholder, South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation.

Ecobank’s chairman André Siaka said in a statement: “We wish to thank Thierry Tanoh for his service to Ecobank and we wish him every success in the future. We believe that Mr Albert Essien has the experience and knowledge that Ecobank needs to take us forward.”

ETI’s most recent results, for the third quarter in 2013, were positive, with revenues up year on year by 24 per cent and earnings per share by 40 per cent. However, documents seen by the FT show an outflow of deposits from the bank this year.

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