November 29, 2017 / 6:26 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Nigeria suspends SEC chief during misconduct investigation

(Adds details)

By Alexis Akwagyiram and Chijioke Ohuocha

LAGOS, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Nigeria’s finance minister has suspended the director of the Securities and Exchange Commission while it investigates allegations of financial impropriety against him, a ministry statement said on Wednesday.

The statement did not specify the nature of the financial misconduct or the focus of the investigation.

Kemi Adeosun directed that head of the SEC, Mounir Gwarzo to hand over immediately to the most senior officer at the commission, in line with civil service rules, pending the conclusion of the investigation.

A government source told Reuters Gwarzo was being investigated for alleged conflicts of interest and contract awards to private companies related to him.

Gwarzo, who was suspended alongside the commission’s head of legal affairs Anastasia Braimoh and head of media Abdulsalam Naif, was not immediately available for comment. The SEC declined to comment.

An administrative panel set up by the finance ministry will investigate the charges, including a claim that Gwarzoa was paid 104.85 million naira ($332,857.14) as a severance package while he was still in office.

Nigeria’s stock market has soared almost 40 percent this year under Gwarzo’s leadership, reversing losses recorded last year after the central bank relaxed currency rules, allowing foreign investors to trade the naira at market rates.

Gwarzo, a veteran SEC staff member, has also proposed cutting fees on the market to boost activity. But the suspension may damage foreign investor confidence in a market that has seen no initial public offerings in more than a decade.

The finance ministry move comes a month after Gwarzo said the SEC would open an investigation into the shareholding structure of oil giant Oando Plc and froze trading of the company’s shares.

Oando, which bought ConocoPhillips’ Nigerian business for $1.65 billion in 2014, had gone to court to challenge the suspension of its shares by the SEC.

$1 = 315.00 naira Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; editing by Mark Heinrich, Larry King

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