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It is a sunny morning in April 2021. A Beechcraft B200 jet from Douala enters the Central African sky. The aircraft is carrying eight men, all dressed in tailored dark suits. On board, the passengers enjoy a festive atmosphere with flowing champagne. One man in particular is savouring the moment: Émile Parfait Simb.
Recognisable by his glasses and a gap-toothed smile, the boss of Global Investment Trading, a company specialising in cryptocurrencies, is about to make a breakthrough. On that day, 40-year-old Simb is travelling to Bangui to present a book that traces his journey from part-time teacher to crypto-millionaire. The event is sponsored by Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who has made the trip to the Ledger Hotel where the ceremony is taking place.
Simb and Touadéra met a few months earlier through the president of the Central African National Assembly, Simplice Mathieu Sarandji. Was the president seduced by the profile of this self-made man who began his career, like him, in teaching? It’s hard to know. That day, however, the images of the two men side by side captured by journalists’ cameras seem to illustrate the Central African head of state’s endorsement of the entrepreneur.
The image reinforces the stories told about Simb, who prides himself on being a model example of the poor boy who became a multimillionaire thanks to his profitable investments. His mantra is evocative: Liyeplimal (“poverty is over” in Bassa).
Émile Parfait Simb had a difficult childhood between Nyong-et-Kéllé, the department where he was born in the centre, and Douala, the economic capital, where he studied. He was an illustrious unknown when he discovered the world of cryptocurrencies in 2016, but sensed a sure thing when a friend told him about the way these currencies worked. Simb then gave up his temporary job as a computer teacher in a Douala high school and went to Dubai, where he took courses in trading digital currencies, which were still unknown to the average Cameroonian.
Back home, Simb started buying and speculating in cryptocurrencies. He was already experienced when the bitcoin phenomenon took hold all over the world, including in Cameroon. Having gotten a head start on the newcomers to this juicy market, Simb became the reference for exchanges between paper currency and cryptocurrencies in Douala. In 2017, the rush to these electronic currencies drove up their value. Simb – who had bought them at relatively low rates – pocketed the jackpot. With an initial stake of 200,000 CFA francs ($319), his resales brought him millions in profits.
In a country where a third of the population lives below the poverty line, where the social security system does not cover health expenses and where obtaining a pension can be a challenge, financial schemes that promise investors quick and very high returns are a big draw. An opportunist, Simb understood very early on the craze for cryptos’ profitability promise. He was just as quick to understand that many aspiring cryptocurrency traders were struggling with the complexity of computer language. He jumped into the breach and launched his first company: Global Investment Trading (GIT).
Simb says he is on a mission to eradicate poverty…his speeches border on megalomania
A golden goose?
GIT is a part financial investment company, part network marketing company. It promises subscribers the expertise of “mentors” and says they will earn amounts varying from 2%-37% depending on the value of the package chosen, only seven days after investing. “In concrete terms, the customer buys an investment plan via the Liyeplimal platform. GIT places this money on the cryptocurrency platforms and pays back a portion of the interest plus a portion of its capital every week, and this for 52 weeks,” says a journalist specialising in the sector based in Douala. As expected, many Cameroonians have been flocking to the platform. The company has become a huge success with the diaspora. It quickly expanded to several countries on the continent. At the end of 2021, on its fourth anniversary, it had nearly 200,000 subscribers.
The volume of exchanges has not failed to attract regulators’ attention. In June 2021, Canada’s Autorité des marchés financiers du Québec (Financial Markets Authority) warned Québécois consumers about “fraudulent representations” made by GIT. At the same time, in Cameroon, the Commission de Surveillance du marché financier – Cosumaf (Financial Market Supervisory Commission) issued a press release condemning the illegality of the company’s public offerings.
Even so, Émile Parfait Simb is unstoppable. Luxury clothes and vehicles, jewellery, champagne… The CEO, as his mentees call him, is a golden boy with well-known Cameroonian personalities. Currently developing his activities in several sectors, Simb can be found in real estate, is about to launch a champagne brand, and has tried his hand at air transport, agro-industry, catering, and online sales…he says he is on a mission to eradicate poverty. His speeches border on megalomania.
Simb convinces influential personalities of the profitability of his business, thus obtaining publicity that has persuaded many subscribers. Among them: Cameroonian politician Cabral Libii, journalist Martin Camus Mimb and Swiss-Cameroonian activist Nathalie Yamb.
In videos that have gone viral, “the Lady of Sochi” – as Yamb has been nicknamed in reference to her 2019 speech at the Russia-Africa summit – has presented Liyeplimal as the continent’s path to financial independence. No matter then that the financial watchdogs of several African countries have issued warnings about the dangerous nature of the company’s set-up. This influencer with the pro-Russian verve and the virulent anti-French rhetoric sees the company as a bridle against neo-colonialism. Is she an accomplice or a victim?
In November 2021, the deception came to light. Liyeplimal’s subscribers stopped receiving the interest payments the company had promised. GIT reassured its subscribers privately, but the matter became public. Accused of running a Ponzi scheme, Simb launched a vast communication operation and announced that his company had entered a 2.0 phase, with transactions now being made with its own electronic currency.
The general public discovered that the entrepreneur had created his own tokens (digital assets issued and exchangeable on a blockchain) called Simbcoin and Limocoin. The latter was issued on two blockchains, Ethereum and Binance. Thirty-six trillion five hundred billion Limocoins, worth $1 each, were issued. Despite this, Limocoin never took off – its price took a dramatic fall and it is now relegated to the bottom of the cryptocurrency rankings.
Bitcoin was worth $0.008 in 2010. 12 years later, it is worth almost $29,000. Investment means risk and above all patience
“Bitcoin was worth $0.008 in 2010. 12 years later, it is worth almost $29,000. Investment means risk and above all patience,” says a source close to Simb. However, Sebastien Tamo, a GIT customer in Yaounde, sees it differently. “This is our savings that we have invested based on a precise payment plan,” he says. “If the company wants to change its activity, it should propose to reimburse its customers who don’t want to continue the adventure”.
The company’s explanations are not terribly convincing, especially since the platform Binance, globally recognised in trading crypto, has distanced itself from GIT. “We have been informed that a company called Liyeplimal has performed a rug pull, a common scam where the team behind a project runs away with users’ funds,” it said in a statement, reinforcing suspicions against GIT and its developer. Alice Niondo, a former employee of Simb’s based in Ghana, revealed in a Facebook post that the operator has no trading licence.
Since then, subscribers have formed a collective to sue GIT’s boss. Complaints have been filed in Canada, the US and Cameroon. “Several complaints have been filed against Émile Parfait Simb with the judicial police and the secretary of state for defence. He was summoned several times by bailiffs, but he never showed up, preferring to be represented by his lawyers,” says lawyer Dominique Fousse, who heads one of the victims’ groups.
On 26 May, crypto-currency’s golden boy was finally arrested at Douala airport on his way to a trading conference in Morocco. Taken to the secretariat of defence and placed in police custody, Simb was released on bail two days later. Has he been a victim of his own misdeeds, or, as he claims, of the complexity of a system that the masses find hard to understand? No estimate of the damage caused by Simb and GIT has yet been established. The victims assure us that they will continue their fight until the end. Nevertheless, the person concerned remains confident: he is convinced that this bad patch will soon be a distant memory.
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