Liquidation of the billionaire's company in South Africa, interventions by presidents Paul Biya and Macky Sall, concerns from embassies in Yaoundé, the responses of MTN and Colin Mukete, chairman of its board of directors… We bring you further details on this extraordinary case.
According to Baba Ahmadou Danpullo’s entourage, the Covid-19 crisis and the arrival of a new manager at the First National Bank (FNB) are at the root of the Cameroonian billionaire’s setbacks.
A certain vagueness remains, however, as the South African liquidators of his company Bestinver reported difficulties beginning as early as late 2019, a few months before the start of the pandemic.
The confinements imposed by Pretoria in 2020 did not help. Bestinver’s shopping centres, Princess Crossing in the suburbs of Johannesburg, Moffet on Main and Kings Court in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), have seen frequentation plummet.
Cameroonian billionaire Baba Danpullo strikes back at South Africa’s First National Bank”]
Rent money is no longer coming in, and the companies in the Bestinver group are running out of money, unable to meet their obligations to the FNB.
According to a decision by the South African High Court in September 2021, Joburg Skyscraper, Bestinver Prop, Bestinver SA and Leopont, all owned by the entrepreneur, were placed in receivership and administrators were appointed.
R17.8 million in debt… and R280 million in losses
One of his companies, Leopont, had guaranteed all the loans it had taken out. It owes the South African bank R570m, a debt subsequently reduced to R318.6m (€17.8m) thanks to a property sale.
The recovery plans adopted at the end of 2020 have been challenged by Danpullo’s daughter, Yasmina Baba. She believes some of the properties are undervalued, and says her father will be able to repay his debt thanks to the sale of the Princess Crossing mall and a loan that the family says it can obtain.
In August 2021, the expected sale finally fell through and the billionaire found himself in a bind.
The bank decided without delay to liquidate Bestinver and all its real estate assets.
Danpullo estimates the loss for the assets seized for the bank alone at R5bn (€280m). “My father, who has the largest property portfolio in South Africa, is solvent. Why not come to an agreement with him?
“The debt is R500m, but they are selling property for R4bn. It’s not logical,” says Maimouna Baba, another of his daughters.
The liquidation has not yet been fully completed. After numerous postponements, a final stage has been scheduled for late January 2023.
While several properties remained to be sold in March 2022, notably those used by the Danpullo family in Cape Town and Constantia, the Princess Crossing shopping centre (valued at R250m) had been sold to Stedham Investments.
The sale is being challenged in court by the billionaire. Documents made available by the South African liquidators also indicate that Bestinver’s directors recovered R14m placed in an account at the bank specialising in wealth management (RMB), and refused to return a Mercedes SUV worth R1.1m, even though the liquidation procedure no longer entitled them to do so.
Paul Biya approached by Danpullo
Furious at being put into a difficult spot by the South African justice system, the billionaire, who has denounced a xenophobic plot orchestrated by the FNB, called on his political connections.
He managed to get President Paul Biya to write to his counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa, and even to send Félix Mbayu, the minister in charge of the Commonwealth, to Pretoria.
The debt is R500m, but they are selling property for R4bn. It’s not logical.”
Then, according to concordant sources, it was the Senegalese head of state, Macky Sall, in his capacity as president of the African Union, who tried to mediate.
The latter has in fact been getting closer to Danpullo for several years. The president even gave Danpullo a diplomatic passport when he expressed his wish to invest in Senegal.
Since these efforts were in vain, it was in Cameroon – where Danpullo is reputed to be the richest man, and where he is naturally close to the president’s inner circle – that he organised a counter-offensive by targeting South African interests.
In August, then in September, he obtained, as Jeune Afrique revealed, three orders from Quentin Djapité Ndoumbe, the president of Douala-Bonanjo’s court of the first instance, allowing him to seize the accounts of the operator MTN, its local shareholder Broadband Telecom and Chococam, a subsidiary of the Tiger Brands group.
The match now drags on in the Cameroonian courts, where the concerned companies are challenging the seizures.
According to a document issued by MTN, the operator has filed an action before the president of the Douala-Bonanjo court of the first instance for retraction and release of the seizure.
But in late October, two months after the first order obtained by Danpullo, the South African company’s lawyers had still not received any documentation to justify the blocking of their client’s accounts.
For the time being, Cameroonian justice continues to validate the billionaire’s offensive. On 26 October, the court president issued a fourth seizure order on MTN accounts.
… and by Colin Mukete
After having remained deaf to requests for mediation made by Danpullo and his supporters, it is now the South African authorities who are trying to send messages to their Cameroonian counterparts.
As Jeune Afrique revealed, South African Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Candith Mashego-Dlamini raised the issue on 24 October during her meeting in Yaoundé with Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute.
Several Commonwealth embassies such as Canada and, of course, Britain are also tracking the situation.
Although he has remained silent, Colin Ebarko Mukete, CEO of MTN and owner of Broadband Telecom (an MTN shareholder), is also trying to get the Etoudi Palace to intervene.
According to our information, the operator’s representatives have sent a memo to the justice ministry and the presidency.
In this document, a copy of which was obtained by Jeune Afrique, MTN Cameroon anticipates the consequences of a status quo, indicating that if the seizures are not lifted, the company will soon be unable to pay its employees as well as taxes due to the state, even warning that this situation could pose a risk to its ability to maintain its network in working order.
“Without going into detail, it is possible to imagine what the security services would be like without telephones and the Internet,” the memo says.
But, for the moment, there is no indication that the Cameroonian presidency intends to further involve itself in finding a solution to this conflict, which initially opposed Danpullo and the FNB bank, and in which MTN, its business continuity plan and the chocolate and confectionery company Chococam are only collateral victims.