An Ivory Coast commercial court has ordered Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI) to pay $15 million as damages to its former chief executive, Thierry Tanoh, who was dismissed last year amid allegations of poor governance, his lawyer said at the weekend.

The board of Ecobank had removed Tanoh last March and replaced him with his then deputy Albert Essien, after months of turmoil over corporate governance and leadership at one of the biggest financial institutions in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the time, the crisis was seen as a test case for regulators that put a spotlight on the integrity of Africa’s financial institutions.

Tanoh had denied all allegations of poor corporate governance and took his case to the commercial court, complaining that Ecobank board member, Daniel Matjila, chief executive of South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation (PIC), had tarnished his image in a letter published in the media.

Reuters stated PIC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It’s a trial that reestablishes the honour and reputation of Thierry Tanoh,” said Tanoh’s lawyer Soualiho Lassomann Diomande after the ruling. Tanoh had initially sought $30 million in damages, he added.

Ecobank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The tribunal ordered Ecobank to publish the decision in South African media, Diomande said, adding that a separate case over Tanoh’s dismissal is pending in a court in the Togolese capital, where ETI has its headquarters.

Tanoh, an Ivorien, now works for Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara as deputy secretary general in the presidency.

ETI had taken steps to strengthen its corporate governance structure.

In order to further improve its governance practices, ETI had engaged the Global Board Center of the renowned Swiss business school, the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), to undertake a review of its corporate governance, including the size and constitution of ETI’s Board, its procedures for managing related party transactions as well as its committee structures and incentive policies.

According to the bank, previous lapses on internal control and audit had been identified by the board and management and had been addressed.
ETI has a focused strategy which has enabled it to grow into one of the largest banks on the continent.

“Ecobank believes that sound corporate governance is an important element in creating and sustaining shareholder value. The Group has been a pioneer in West African banking in institutionalizing corporate governance principles,” it added.