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Ecobank execs in spotlight at board meeting on Tuesday

Source: Reuters - Mon, 24 Feb 2014 20:25 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Ecobank in dispute with Nigeria regulator over former finance director

* Ecobank shareholders to vote on creation of seven member interim board

* Former chairman says some board members may attempt to oust CEO

By Matthew Mpoke Bigg

ACCRA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Pan-African lender Ecobank will hold a hastily arranged board meeting on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after the bank's executive leaders wrote to the chairman calling for Chief Executive Thierry Tanoh to step down.

A bank spokesman said the agenda would not be disclosed in advance but the meeting comes at a time of division in the leadership of one of Africa's largest financial institutions and pressure over the status of the bank's former finance director.

Deputy chief executive Albert Essien and three other members of the five-member Group Executive Committee (GEC) that Tanoh leads sent an email on Feb. 13 to board chairman Andre Siaka saying Tanoh should stand down to resolve a long-running crisis of leadership.

Last week, Nigeria's Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said it had written to Ecobank to say it should reinstate its finance director, Laurence do Rego, who left the bank in January.

The SEC began an investigation last August after do Rego told regulators she was pressured to misstate 2012 financial results. Ecobank denies this and said she was suspended in a dispute over her professional qualifications prior to making her allegations.

The bank has told the SEC that to reinstate do Rego would be criminal under Togolese law.

Siaka said the meeting would begin at 10 a.m. (0900 GMT) in Lome, Togo, where the bank has its headquarters, but declined to give details of the agenda.

"There will be a board meeting tomorrow in Lome and the agenda is confirmed," Siaka told Reuters by telephone.

Ecobank's board has 12 members, including Tanoh and the four other members of the executive committee that runs the bank.

GOVERNANCE REFORMS

The board meeting comes before an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) in Lome on March 3 that is set to consider a slate of governance reforms including establishing a seven-member interim board that would include no place for GEC members other than Tanoh.

The EGM follows criticism of the bank's governance by the Nigerian regulator as well as a report on governance by professional services organisation EY that was commissioned by the bank.

A senior bank official said it would be highly unusual to make any substantive changes so soon before an EGM and to do so could complicate the March 3 meeting given that its agenda has already been announced.

Two sources close to the board said the question of Tanoh's leadership would likely be considered on Tuesday and so the key question was whether Tanoh's opponents could muster a majority of votes on the issue.

Both of those sources said they assumed all four senders of the Feb. 13 email would vote against him.

"What they want to do is to force a vote on Mr Tanoh's position. They want to get rid of him before the EGM," former board chairman Kolapo Lawson told Reuters.

Lawson resigned as chairman in October, saying at the time he did not want to preside over the governance review.

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