[Exclusive] Cameroonian billionaire Baba Danpullo strikes back at South Africa’s First National Bank

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Wednesday, 26 October 2022 11:22

Cameroonian billionaire Baba Danpullo, in October 2019 in Yaoundé
Cameroonian billionaire Baba Danpullo in October 2019, Yaoundé © MABOUP

In early September, Cameroonian billionaire Baba Danpullo had the accounts of subsidiaries of South African groups seized in Yaoundé, in order to obtain payment of more than €370m ($371m). This close friend of President Paul Biya is retaliating against the seizure and liquidation of his real estate assets in South Africa by First National Bank.

It is a political-judicial soap opera that could well become the “Danpullo affair”. According to our information, on September 5 Baba Ahmadou Danpullo obtained from Quentin Djapité Ndoumbe, the president of the Court of First Instance of Douala Bonanjo, an order to seize the accounts of the operator MTN Cameroon and chocolate maker Chococam (a subsidiary of the South African food group Tiger Brands) at local banks.

The entrepreneur is demanding payment of 243bn CFA franc (more than $371m). Read on for details.

The judge also gave the green light for the seizure of the accounts of the managers of these companies, including those of Colin Mukete, the chairman of the board of directors of the subsidiary of the telecom group. One of these judicial orders concerns the ‘float account’ of Mobile Money Corporation, a subsidiary of MTN Cameroon for electronic money, housed at Afriland First Bank.

This account holds the counterpart of the value units that each user of this service holds in his phone. The Bank of Central African States (BEAC) had to launch a vigorous protest and point out that this account could not be seized before the measure was lifted…

A decision of the South African First National Bank (FNB) is at the origin of this economic arm-wrestling match, which has remained secret until now, and in which hundreds of billions of CFA franc are at stake.

A vast property portfolio…

In early 2020, FNB decided to seize and liquidate all of Danpullo’s properties in South Africa, valued at R5bn ($277m). This is according to the request sent by Danpullo on 31 August to the court of first instance in Douala Bonanjo, which we were able to consult.

The Cameroonian tycoon has built up a vast property portfolio in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), which earns him R20m a month. These properties are managed by Bestinver Company South Africa Ltd, Joburg Skyscraper Pty Ltd and Bestinver Prop 01 Proprietary Ltd, which are all subsidiaries of Bestinver, the group he founded.

All the loans that the South African bank has granted to these various companies amounted, in October 2017, to R615m. Repayment, at around R10m per month, was to be spread over 10 years.

With seven years of repayments remaining and R550m due in April 2020, the FNB demanded the signing of additional guarantee documents, as well as the immediate early repayment of the remainder, according to Baba Danpullo and his lawyers. The latter denounced this demand as “a violent, anti-professional, racist, xenophobic and inhumane crusade” aimed at dispossessing the Cameroonian of his property.

Several sources give a different version of the facts: the tycoon had not repaid at least two instalments, which, according to the regulations in force, led the bank to act.

… and a trump card

In addition to the 200bn CFA franc corresponding to all the “sold” assets, Baba Danpullo is also claiming R540m corresponding to the rents collected by FNB until April 2020 and 22.1bn CFA franc in recovery costs. To assert his rights, the investor believes that his only recourse is a “conservatory seizure of debts” on the accounts of MTN Cameroon and Chococam.

In order to convince the judge, the billionaire played what he considers to be his trump card: the South African public company Public Investment Corporation (PIC, which manages the pension fund of South African civil servants) which is a shareholder in MTN Group, Tiger Brands and FirstRand Group, the parent company of FNB.

This connection allowed Danpullo to make claims on the Cameroonian subsidiaries of South African groups.

Before starting the legal process, the billionaire used his connections to try to find a way out of this dispute – as he himself acknowledges in his application.

According to our information, this close friend of President Paul Biya arranged for Félix Mbayu, the Cameroonian minister in charge of the Commonwealth, to be sent to Pretoria to plead his case.

But Yaoundé’s envoy came up against the refusal of the South African authorities to interfere in a legal case.

The mediation initiatives continue. Candith Mashego-Dlamini, South African Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, was received on 24 October in Yaoundé by Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute. Officially, to prepare for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s next visit to Central Africa.

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