If on Monday you meet some agents working on behalf of a Kampala Road troubled Dfcu Bank, looking for small office space to rent to run their errands, wonder not. Because the hunt is on… and they say when you see monkeys running out of a forest, you will only be a wiseacre to enter the same, for the monkeys know better that forest.
Now, this adage goes well with the current situation happening at dfcu bank. Troubled Dfcu Bank has chickened out and decided to quit all the branches owned by Meera Investments Limited, which were initially occupied by Crane Bank.
According to what’s on ground, struggling Dfcu Bank employees have been seen on trucks quiting Meera Investments buildings initially rented by Crane Bank.
A few months ago Dfcu requested bids from companies that want to provide consultancy services as it seeks to relocate or officially close 22 of its branches across Uganda and as we speak now Dfcu is shutting down 20 branches and laying off half of there staff.
In its 2018/19 annual report, the central bank said DFCU had indicated to them that they will exit the properties in the wake of a legal suit.
“As part of rescinding of this purchase, dfcu will return to BoU Certificates of title for Meera Investments Limited properties and requires BoU to pay to dfcu Bank Limited the net book value of the properties recorded in the assets and inventory compilation report as at October 20, 2016,” noted part of the report.
The Central bank said the decision had been taken in the wake of a court ruling which dismissed a case BOU had filed against Crane Bank (In receivership) on a technicality.
Dfcu had initially claimed that the reports were not true and that they were simply aligning their operations “digitally.”
However, from the BoU report, it is clear that troubled DFCU has chickened towards this direction.
In 2018, Meera Investments sued DFCU demanding unpaid rent arrears believed to be billions of shillings. It had been revealed in August that DFCU had moved to transfer some of the properties into its names.
Lawyers described this move back then as illegal.
The bank has been operating its business in buildings/properties belonging to Meera Investments Limited since it acquired Crane Bank Limited in 2017.
The Bank of Uganda on October 20, 2016 closed Crane Bank Ltd, previously one of the best performing banks and sold it at Shs200Bn to Dfcu Bank, with the money being paid in installments without interest.
BoU has since come under the spotlight after the closure of seven commercial banks among them Crane Bank Ltd, with parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) and the Auditor General faulting BoU officials for not following the established guidelines and procedures when closing the banks.
Between 2012 and 2016, Meera leased the 46 properties to Crane Bank on different terms with the leases being duly registered as encumbrances on Meera’s freehold and Mailo interest.
The lease titles were subsequently processed and issued to Crane Bank.
Crane Bank agreed to pay US$6,000 as ground rent for each of the properties effective on or before the January 1, of every year to the property owners (Meera Investments).
The lease agreements, court documents show, provided that Meera had the option to review the ground rent after the expiry of three years.
Meera had also agreed with Crane Bank under various lease agreements that in case of any breach, non-performance, or non-observance of what they had agreed on in the lease agreements, it will be lawful for Meera to seek legal redress from court.
“It was further agreed between the plaintiff [Lessor] and Crane Bank [Lessee] that anything done contrary to the terms of the lease agreements would forthwith cease the lessee’s rights or interest in the suit properties without prejudice to the lessor’s entitlement to rent unpaid and due,” Meera claims.
With the agreements in place, on October 20, 2016, BoU took over Crane Bank under statutory management.
On January 24, 2017 Bank of Uganda announced that it had transferred all the assets and liabilities of the bank to Dfcu Bank.
But this was an illegality from which top officials of BoU are said to have benefited financially.
Dfcu Bank, which was the new tenant then moved to take over the 46 properties, without the consent of the owners Meera Investments.
“Through a subsequent search at the relevant land registries, the plaintiff (Meera Investments) discovered that; without its prior written consent, the first defendant (Dfcu), in addition to taking possession of the suit properties, caused the leasehold interest to be transferred into its names and had been registered thereon as the proprietor of the leasehold interest,” Meera Investments said in their plaint of recovering rent and properties.
They argued that at the execution of the transfers in favour of Dfcu and at the time of causing the transfer of the leasehold interest into the names of Dfcu was illegal becausethe registration of Meera as the proprietor of the freehold and Mailo was and is still intact.
Meera argued that Dfcu Bank was aware of this fact or could have ascertained by way of a simple search.
The company also at the time faulted the commissioner land registration for fraudulently going ahead to transfer the leases of the properties to Dfcu without the prior consent of the owners.
“The plaintiff avers that the second defendant (commissioner land registration), [was]well aware of the existing lease agreements and the conditions therein including the requirements for obtaining prior written consent from the plaintiff as the lessor, before any transfer of the leases and parting with possession thereof, nonetheless proceeded to illegally transfer and register the first defendant as lessee of the suit properties, without any consent or authorisation from the plaintiff as required under the various lease agreements,” it argued.
Sebalu & Lule Advocates, claimed Sudhir fraudulently transferred freehold titles of 48 plots of land (where Crane bank had its branches), purchased and developed them using the bank’s finances and registered them in the names of Meera Investments instead og Crane bank.
The plots, according to the court documents, were then reportedly leased to the owner (Crane bank) at Shs100m premium for 49 years and $6,000 in ground rent per year payable to Meera Investments.
Sudhir has since dismissed the allegations as “presumptuous, speculative and founded on fanciful reasoning.”
He said they do not reflect the market realities of obtaining leasehold titles in Uganda
According to Sudhir, BOU’s allegation that Crane Bank obtained over 14 freehold titles is false since the bank is a “non- citizen,” thus couldn’t hold the land as a freehold owner as stipulated by the Land Act.
As part of Crane Bank’s expansion plan, Sudhir argued, the bank acquired a number of leases with different tenure, some of which were to last just seven years with a commercial view that it was better in the long run to obtain freehold titles in lieu of the said leases.
He added that after Crane bank obtained over 14 freehold titles, it was considered that pursuant to the Land Act, the bank could not hold the land as a freehold owner since it was a non-citizen within the meaning of the Land Act.
Meera has previously asked court to declare that the continued presence of Dfcu Bank on its properties amounts to trespass and that they should be ordered to vacate with immediate effect.