Round-tripping: FG hunts MNC’s responsible for naira woes
Bola Tinubu


In a bid to salvage the nation’s currency from further manipulation, Federal Government (FG) has authorised security agencies to go after multinational companies doing businesses engaged in illegal practice of forex round tripping, Business Hallmark has learnt.

Multiple sources in the Department of State Security (DSS), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Police Special Fraud Unit (SFU) informed our correspondent that the agencies have been given the go ahead to beam their searchlight on multinationals speculating on the naira and in the process sabotaging the nation’s economy and bring the culprits to book.

A multinational company with headquarters in Singapore, Olam International, has been in the eye of the storm for alleged offences bordering on foreign exchange fraud.

Some media outlets had last week reported that the DSS was investigating the company and its subsidiaries in Nigeria for a $50 billion foreign exchange fraud.

According to the reports, the company, in cohorts with its nine subsidiaries in Nigeria, had engaged in a chain of round-tripping foreign exchange deals through its Special Purpose Vehicles beginning from 2015.

Using the SPVs, Olam Nigeria, it was alleged, successfully booked and obtained about $34 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as capital importation at official rates, which it then sold to businessmen and individuals, especially Indian-owned companies like Fouani Nigeria (sole importer of LG and Hisence products into the country) and Indorama at parallel market rates.

While Olam had vehemently denied the accusations, BH reliably gathered that the practise is widespread and common among major companies doing business in Nigeria, especially Indian, Russian, Chinese, Lebanese, Syrian and Korean owned businesses, which explore the nation’s weak financial laws to perpetrate fraud.

Under the Nigerian law, foreign investors, apart from being entitled to forex at official rates to help repatriate their profits after the deduction of taxes, are also entitled to apply to the CBN for funds in excess of their imported forex for onward repatriation to their home countries.

A top agent in the SFU, a superintendent of police (SP), who did not want his identity revealed, informed our correspondent that the indicted foreign firms were able to get away with the crime, as a result of the active connivance of top bankers and officials of the CBN.

“The ongoing investigation is part of the house cleaning on monetary policy and foreign exchange promised by the president on the day of his inauguration.

“We (SFU) were not originally part of the investigation, but was drafted in after the DSS unearthed a massive rot in the CBN after picking up Emefiele and some top officials of the bank.

“Owing to DSS’s lack of power to prosecute financial fraud, it was agreed that units like the SFU and the EFCC should be brought in to help tidy up all loose ends.

“And what we discovered is quite alarming. The naira is in a very bad shape because of the connivance of some of these economic saboteurs to manipulate it for their own selfish interests.

“Agreed, the forex needs of the nation is huge, but most beneficiaries of forex from the CBN divert the funds to other use than the ones they claimed the money will be used for.

“Many billionaires that you see today made their wealth from illegal forex deals by engaging in speculations.

“Some are already in our dragnet and we are closing in on others”, the SFU agent stated.

Most of those arrested or under probe are Indian nationals with interest in hotel chains, mining, construction, real estate and goods merchandising.

While some European and American companies have also been indicted in the forex fraud, it was learnt that the rot and connivance in the companies were not institutional, but traceable to renegade officials, who allowed themselves to be lured by greedy foreign and Nigerian collaborators.

BH reliably gathered that top banks officials and CBN staffers connive with dubious business entities and individuals, who they allocate huge foreign exchange to, while those, who genuinely need it failed to get allocations.

A bank official in one of the nation’s first generation bank, who demanded anonymity for fear of retribution, mentioned different methods rogue bankers and their conduits in the private sector use to access forex illegally from the CBN, which they then sell in the parallel market.

“One of the methods used to access forex is through Form M, a mandatory statutory document to be completed by all importers, who desire to import goods into the country.

“However, most of these fake importers filed in fictitious items like raw materials and machineries to be purchased abroad, for which they collect foreign exchange.

“The released FX were then wired into the accounts of shale companies abroad masquerading as suppliers of raw materials or Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM).

“These shale companies then wired back the funds to Nigeria to be sold at the parallel market at a premium.

“Apart from this devious method, unscrupulous businessmen also defraud the country by fraudulently collecting Certificates of Capital Importation (CCI) from banks, which they use to apply for forex from the CBN.

“A certificate of capital importation is a document issued to a foreign investor, as evidence of an inflow of foreign direct capital investment, either as equity or debt; cash or goods.

“The authorised dealer (usually commercial banks), upon issuance of the Certificate of Capital Importation by the CBN will then deliver the said certificate to the applicant (investor), which guarantees unconditional transferability and repatriation of funds with regards to both earnings and capital.

“But what these companies do is bring funds into Nigeria, which they sell in the parallel market at exorbitant rates. They then go back to the CBN to get the same amount at official rates, which again find its way back into the black market.

“This is what we call round-tripping. Unfortunately for them (players), a president that is an accountant, who knows much about financial engineering is in power.

“The president is also employing the expertise of financial experts like Wale Edun, Yemi Cardoso and Zachues Adedeji to protect the cookie jar.

“Like the popular saying, ‘It is only a thief that can trace the footsteps of a fellow thief on a rock with no visible paths”, the source declared.

A local manufacturer in Lagos, who is a member of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Chief Herbert Chigwe, while speaking to BH on the development, lamented that the few lucky manufacturers only get about 5 percent of their foreign exchange needs from the CBN through banks, while the unlucky majority patronise the parallel market for their FX needs.

“There is hardly a genuine applicant that get his or her forex needs from the CBN. The question we must then ask is: ‘where is the rest (foreign exchange) going?’

“This practise (round tripping) is not unknown to us. That’s why we are in support of the unification of the multiple exchange rates. The speculators are exploiting the wide spread brought about by subsidy to illegally enrich themselves”, Chief Chigwe stated.

Meanwhile, BH gathered that the names of some of the companies being investigated for forex fraud had also come up in wider probe of CBN’s intervention schemes like the Anchore Borrowers’ Programme and the controversial naira redesign exercise that took place under the embattled former CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, as well as crude oil lifting under the Group Managing Director (GMD) of NNPCL, Mele Kyari.

Apart from working with the DSS, the EFCC and SFU, it was gathered, are also actively working with the Special Investigator appointed by President Tinubu to probe the CBN, NNPC and other filth infested government agencies, Jim Obazee, is also looking into the Nigeria Customs Service (NSC) and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS).

Obazee, supported by top forensic experts and security agents, our correspondent learnt at the weekend, has discovered a massive sleaze in the CBN and NNPC in the region of N7trillion.

Most of the multinational companies and their backers indicted in the massive FX fraud are also said to have helped their Nigerian collaborators stash away their ill-gotten wealth in offshore tax haven countries in the Caribbean like Panama, Bahamas and the Cayman Islands.

According to a security source, while indicted local collaborators like CBN top shots and bank chiefs will be prosecuted locally, their foreign counterparts are currently being profiled by the Immigration Service and the uncooperative ones might be deported to their home countries and their businesses and assets confiscated at the end of the ongoing probe.

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