- Also Resigned From UBA Amidst Fraudulent Allegations
- Belo-Osagie Named In Panama Papers
By ‘Dotun Akintomide
With Etisalat Nigeria enmeshed in $1.2bn debt crisis allegedly blamed on financial recklessness of the company’s board, the resignation of its Billionaire Chairman, Hakeem Belo-Osagie, yesterday (Friday) was already cast in stone, but The New Diplomat’s findings show this will not be the first time, the business mogul will be forced to walk away from boards of organizations after plunging them in financial turmoil.
The New Diplomat recalls that Belo-Osagie, the ex-Etisalat Chairman was equally forced to resign by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in March 2004 as the chairman of the board of directors at the United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA), one of the largest commercial banks in Nigeria. He resigned from the post in the wake of allegations made by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that the UBA had been involved in unlicensed foreign exchange trading. As a result of these allegations, Belo-Osagie was immediately blacklisted by the CBN.
In 2002, UBA, under Belo-Osagie, became the focus of a CBN probe over money laundering and foreign exchange abuses after the sum of $2.5 million was reportedly said to have been fraudulently withdrawn from the US Treasury by one Neil A. Smith. The money was laundered in tranches to various banks for further disbursement to designated banks in different parts of the world.
Of the sum, $350,000 was allegedly wired in September 1999 into the account of a Nigerian company, Zamora Nigeria Limited, at the New York office of the UBA.
According to further findings, Belo-Osagie, whose net worth is about $600 million was also fingered in the over 11 million Mossack Fonseca documents otherwise known worldwide as the Panama Papers which exposed global powers in government and private circles stashing wealth in tax-havens in several offshore accounts around the world. In 2014, he was listed by Forbes Magazine as the 41st richest man in Africa.
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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2005 had launched an investigation into Belo-Osagie’s chairmanship of the UBA, but the investigation was abruptly ended without filing a single charge against him at the law court after which his name was removed from CBN’s blacklist in May 2010.
Albeit, with the latest development, financial experts have continued to posit that, it thus appears, the businessman has a track record of being forced out of establishments on grounds of financial mismanagement.
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Belo-Osagie who is the only surviving shareholder in the embattled mobile operator, Etisalat currently embroiled in a $1.2 billion loan repayment crisis with a consortium of 13 Nigerian banks, was the promoter of Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services, EMTS, which controlled 15 per cent of the equity holding of the company.
His resignation followed the withdrawal, two weeks ago, of the company’s major shareholder, Emirates Telecommunications Group Company, after its affiliate, Mubadala Development Company, had indicated its intention to withdraw from the company.
Last week, the United Arab Emirates, UAE, company, in a filing to the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange in Abu Dhabi requested EMTS Holding BV to transfer all of its 85 per cent shareholdings in Etisalat Nigeria to United Capital Trustees Limited, the legal trustees of the banks, latest June 23, 2017.
Since then, Etisalat Nigeria had been logged in series of negotiations involving the consortium of banks, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to restructure the remains of the telephone operator’s management.
In 2013, Etisalat had obtained the syndicated loan from a consortium of 13 Nigerian banks, including Access Bank, Zenith Bank Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, First Bank Limited, Fidelity Bank Plc, First City Monument Bank, Stanbic IBTC, Ecobank, United Bank for Africa Plc and Union Bank of Nigeria Plc.
The loan, which involved a foreign-backed guaranteed bond, was to help the mobile firm finance a major network rehabilitation, upgrade and expansion of its operational base in Nigeria.
However, its alleged failure to meet agreed debt servicing obligations with the banks since 2016 triggered a major crisis, culminating in the recent withdrawal of majority of its shareholder and resignation of Belo-Osagie.