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Nigeria's Anti-Graft Police Pursue Biggest Bank Debtors

Nigeria's anti-graft agency is expected to arrest those who failed to repay their debts to ailing banks. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had given defaulting debtors until the end of Tuesday to pay up or face arrest and asset seizures.

The central bank published a list of 200 companies, individuals and state bodies that are said to owe $5 billion. Some of Nigeria's most powerful figures were among those named.

Some debtors have made payments since the ultimatum was issued a week ago, and the EFCC says those who failed to repay would be arrested, prosecuted and their assets confiscated. The anti-corruption police said some of the debtors allegedly obtained loans under false pretenses and were money laundering.

The EFCC is expected to bring criminal charges against 15 bank executives, following a government bailout of commercial banks on August 14. Two others have been declared wanted.

Some of the bank executives had obtained court orders for their release on bail, but EFCC head Farida Waziri says their arrest and detention was appropriate and they will appear court soon.

"We kept them under court order," he said. "And as soon as we are ready, we will file our charges. We would have filed charges today, but we are waiting to see those people that will pay. Those who refuse to pay will join them as conspirators."

Nigeria's financial sector has been in crisis since the central bank removed the heads of five banks for pilling up billions of dollars in bad debts. Some of the sacked bank chiefs are challenging their dismissals in Nigerian court. The government has provided a $2.6 billion bailout for the banks.

Central bank governor Lamido Sanusi will meet with international banks, lenders and rating agencies in London on Friday in a bid to assuage growing international concerns about the Nigerian bank crisis.