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Death sentence for Congolese whistleblowers sends Israeli mining tycoon back to U.S. sanctions regime

Two whistleblowers have been handed the death sentence after speaking out against a DRC bank.

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Illustration: The world of banking. ©Billionaires.Africa

In February 2021, a Kinshasa court sentenced to death Gradi Koko Lobanga and Navy Malela Mawani, two Congolese whistleblowers who accused Afriland First Bank Global of involvement in a money-laundering network linked to Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler. 

The bank was accused of helping the mining tycoon evade U.S. sanctions and secretly carry out transactions worth $40 million in cash deposits and withdrawals through its subsidiary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Africanews reported that the bank filed a complaint against the men with the public prosecutor’s office in Paris, France, immediately after the accusations against Afriland surfaced. It accused Lobanga and Mawani, both of whom are former employees, of “theft of documents, violation of banking secrecy, forgery and use of forgeries, slanderous denunciation, all in an organised gang.” 

However, on Feb. 26, the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) revealed that Afriland’s counsel, Eric Moutet, stated at a press conference the day before that a Kinshasa court had already sentenced the whistleblowers to death in September.

Lobanga and Mawani were convicted in exile after relocating with their families to Europe. The court decision incited an uproar in the international community and prompted the U.S. Treasury Department to revoke Gertler’s license to operate on March 8. The Treasury Department issued the exemption license to Gertler as a specially designated national on Jan. 15. It declared that “the license previously granted to Mr. Gertler is inconsistent with America’s strong foreign policy interests in combating corruption around the world, specifically including U.S. efforts to counter corruption and promote stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).” 

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Nigerian president approves acquisition of ExxonMobil assets by oil tycoon Bryant Orjiako’s Seplat Energy

Seplat Energy is an independent oil and gas company.

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Bryant Orjiako.

After several weeks of deliberation, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has finally approved the proposed acquisition of ExxonMobil’s oil and gas assets in Nigeria by Seplat Energy, a leading energy group founded by Nigerian magnate Ambrosie Bryant Orjiako.

“In his capacity as Minister of Petroleum Resources, and in consonance with the country’s drive for foreign direct investment in the energy sector, Muhammadu Buhari has consented to the acquisition of the entire share capital of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited by Seplat Energy Offshore Limited,” the government said in a press statement seen by Billionaires.Africa.

The approval is consistent with the government’s plans to strengthen foreign direct investment in the energy sector. It comes not long after the government rejected the $1.58-billion deal on May 19, citing overriding national interests as one reason for the decision.

Exxon Mobil and Seplat are expected to carry out the operations of the unit’s oil-mining licenses to support Nigeria’s OPEC quota in the short term and to accelerate gas resource development and monetization to help bolster the Nigerian economy, according to the share sales agreement.

Seplat Energy is an independent oil and gas company with a strategic focus on Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. Orjiako and Austin Avuru, who founded the company in 2009, are credited with turning it into the largest listed energy group on the Nigerian Exchange.

ExxonMobil’s offshore shallow water business in Nigeria includes a well-established, high-quality operation able to produce 95,000 barrels of oil per day. Its acquisition by Seplat Energy will enhance the group’s ability to drive growth, profitability, and overall shareholder prosperity.

Seplat’s profit increased by 41 percent in the first half of 2022, from $56.57 million in the first half of 2021 to $79.8 million, as the company continues to leverage rising energy prices to build wealth for shareholders, following an $85.3-million loss in 2020.

Following the deal, Seplat’s oil output will increase by 186 percent, from 51,000 barrels per day to 146,000 barrels per day, while liquid and gas reserves will increase by 170 percent and 14 percent, respectively, to 650 million barrels and 1,712 billion standard cubic feet of gas.

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Nigerian billionaire Femi Otedola’s Zenon Petroleum takes Ardova to court over $6-million debt

The winding-up petition adds to the pressures on Ardova and its majority owner.

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Nigerian billionaire Femi Otedola. ©Billionaires.Africa

Zenon Petroleum & Gas Limited, an oil marketing company founded by Nigerian billionaire Femi Otedola, has filed a winding-up petition against Prudent Energy and Services Limited, the majority shareholder in Ardova Plc, over a $6-million debt.

The move comes three years after the Otedola-led oil company finalized the sale of a 74.02-percent majority equity stake in one of its petroleum marketing subsidiaries, Forbes Oil (now Ardova), to Prudent Energy and Services Limited, an oil firm owned by Nigerian energy mogul Abdulwasiu Sowami. The purchase agreement was signed in 2019 and valued at $200 million.

Zenon Petroleum filed the winding-up petition against Prudent Energy with the Federal High Court in Lagos, alleging that the Sowami-led company was unable to pay a $6-million debt that represented the remaining purchase consideration for the stake in Forte Oil.

“The debt is alleged to have arisen from a 2018 sale in which Zenon Petroleum & Gas Limited and its affiliates sold 74.02 percent of Forte Oil Plc’s issued share capital to Abdul Wasiu Sowami and Ignite Investment and Commodities Limited,” Zenon Petroleum stated in a court document, offering more information on the nature of the debt.

Zenon Petroleum, which has a guarantee for the prompt payment of the debt, served Prudent Energy with the winding-up petition more than a month after the deferred consideration, which was due on June 18, had yet to be paid despite demand letters sent to Sowami.

The winding-up petition adds to the pressures on Ardova and its majority owner, as shares in the company have dropped significantly from an average price of N23.6 ($0.055) per share in 2019 to N13 ($0.0305) per share at the time of writing this report.

Ardova reported a loss of N3.8 billion ($8.93 million) for the 2021 fiscal year, its first since being acquired by Prudent Energy.

Meanwhile, Otedola has invested a portion of the $200 million in his power-generation company Geregu Power Plc and is seeking payment of the $6-million deferred consideration.

His power-generation company completed a N40-billion ($96.3 million) unsecured corporate bond issuance nearly a week ago to expand infrastructure and capacity through the strategic acquisition of power generation plants in the sector.

The $96.3-million unsecured corporate bond is the largest corporate bond issuance in Nigeria’s power sector. It is also the first installment of Geregu Power’s N100-billion ($240.5 million) bond issuance program, which aims to strengthen the company’s capital structure and support its strategic expansion plans.

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Nigerian billionaires Aliko Dangote, Abdul Samad Rabiu bag merit awards in Niger

The billionaires have both played an important role in the country’s economic growth.

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Aliko Dangote, Africa's wealthiest man.

Nigerian billionaires Aliko Dangote and Abdul Samad Rabiu have received the Commander of the Order of Merit of Niger Award, a national award presented in recognition of their contributions to the country of Niger.

Dangote, Africa’s richest businessman, is presently worth $19.8 billion due to his 86-percent stake in Dangote Cement Plc, while Rabiu’s $5.5-billion net worth makes him the eighth wealthiest person on the continent.

The billionaires, who received the awards on Wednesday in Niamey from Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, have both played significant roles in the country’s economic growth and poverty eradication through their businesses and philanthropic organizations.

Bazoum stated that his country cherishes Nigeria as one of its closest neighbors and friends while presenting the awards at a ceremony commemorating Niger’s independence from France in 1960.

The Nigerien politician also lauded the efforts of “brother Nigerians” such as Dangote and Rabiu, who have helped increase understanding between the two countries and acted as agents for social and economic development.

The president also awarded the Aliko Dangote Foundation a national award in recognition of its health-related programs, including a $500,000 grant to help fight a meningitis and cholera outbreak.

Nearly a week ago, Rabiu launched a $3-million development initiative in Niger through his philanthropic organization, the Abdul Samad Rabiu Africa Initiative (ASR Africa), as part of his efforts to eradicate poverty and drive sustainable development in the country.

The $3-million development initiative aligns with ASR Africa’s vision of “unlocking sustainable development opportunities in Africa, by Africans, for Africans.”

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