Sunday Vanguard: Business Section
July 16, 2000
On the endless debt buy-back reports
By ADEMOLA DANIELS
NIGERIA'S search for her stolen monies since late Gen. Sani Abacha died has since snowballed into many things. From the time Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) took over to the reported latest discovery of some billions by President Olusegun Obasanjo in some non descript European bankers, not a few otherwise reputable names have been smeared. While Gen. Abubakar did not himself escape unscarthe, given latter day charges of profligacy, assisted by the hitherto buoyant foreign reserve, President Obasanjo's approach has been severally described as suspect in circles. With these calibre of victims, no one can expect that lesser mortals would not be affected, rightly or wrongly, in the process.
While many Nigerians have been correctly or incorrectly linked with the transactions in the Abacha period and even before and beyond, foreigners are equally beginning to get their share of the damming campaign. One person whose role have been x-rayed maximally in recent times is that of the successful US professional banker, Mr. Bob Minton. His role was recently further celebrated by the announced "discoveries" of former footballer, John Fashanu, of some assumed debt buy back transaction carried out in the former President Ibrahim Babangida regime with Minton as a principal beneficiary.
The most unfortunate aspect of all these, however, is that Minton's arguments have somewhat not been appreciated by quarters that should. While this is not any attempt at a cheeky defence of Minton, it is however necessary for the populace not to shy away from the truth in the guise of a misguided self righteous pursuit of transparency. He who must come to equity must come with clean hands. As such, if a Minton is to be demonised, there should at least be a valuable reason for it. Otherwise, the administration's anti-corruption drive will be driving at the innocent, or the uninvestigated, or just any other past business partner that has correctly or incorrectly had any business dealing with the country. For Minton particularly however, I see holes not unblock going by recent media reports. The point to be hurriedly made is that the Fashanu report hit Babangida. And Babangida is not exactly a fancied person. Especially when his stupendous wealth, believed to have been acquired in office, is considered. Against that background, anything demonising Babangida is welcomed. And any attempt at warding off such attacks is greeted with rebuke. And so, the dilemma. By extension, it explains why Minton points have regrettably not been appreciated to a level where he would, as it were, stand exonerated.
In his own published records, Minton who has surprisingly but understandably not visited Nigeria before said the initial plan of his group was to make profits ofapproximately 1 per cent of the value of re-purchased Nigerian debt, and by the close of 1993, they had collected "1.1 billion dollars of CBN Promissory Notes and approximately 3 billion dollars of Nigerian Bank debt. These were external debts of foreign currency of banks all over the world such as Barclays, Standard, Chartered Bank, etc."
It is further regrettable that Minton has not been cleared of contemptuous remarks in government circles in these days of transparency despite his detailed explanation on amounts and percentages involved in the transactions. Of the 325 transactions listed by the American and besides the $1.1 and $3 billion of debts owned banks, there is an additional $450 million of multilateral debts between the Nigerian government and USA administration.
How also could our top rate investigators said to be enriching themselves with their wonderful searches around the world, ignored the Minton's revelation that $4.5 billion of debt was bought back for the country with the average price of that debt being 34 cents on the dollar, apart from the fact that Nigeria gave about $1.5 billion in cash to re-purchase the debt, in the five years the exercise lasted? It is also remarkable that Minton's insistence that the transaction was good for Nigeria has not been publicly refuted by any concerned government official or even Fashanu himself.
The businessman has been quoted as saying: "It was good business for Nigeria. We made a good profit at 1 per cent of transaction which is perfectly normal. During the course of this whole operation, the CBN was receiving monthly reports from us and we were talking on the phone everyday to CBN Governor Ahmed, Isamel Usman, Sanaki and Masahwa were dealing with this matter." Given this background, one would ask, what questions have been asked the living officials concerned? Must it be said to be wrong all the time, even if it is correctly done?
And on the celebrated super profits the man is said to have made, the American has explained that the $1.5 billion the CBN paid to them over the period was not given up at once before job, but paid in instalments with $20 million, $75 million and so on as variations. The question should therefore be asked: Have these facts been examined for purposes of authentication before conclusions are reached? Why insist on crucifying a man whose case has not been genuinely examined?
It is further instructive that Minton said during 1990, the CBN were runninga little short of money and they did a deal with NNPC. The CBN then sold NNPC's $500 million worth of promissory notes, and the CBN wanted NNPC to hold the notes, so that the Corporation could get the return on the investments. The essence of this, according to Minton is to free up cash for CBN which was done under a repurchase agreement for NNPC to sell back the notes to CBN which they did in 1992.
To Minton, the key thing with regards to the bank debt is that in March 1992, they tendered all the bank debts into an official buy-back of the Nigerian government debt under the plan and they sold back to the CBN $3 billion worth of bank debt and received back for that on 40 cent on the dollar 1 billion and 200 billion dollars. The amount was given CBN as soon as it was received. The debt was given with an agent - City Bank which received all the debt before CBN cancelled it. £1.2billion was later collected as CBN money. From the records so far, debt owed was CBN's money and they were the nominee, the fiduciary holding the debt for CBN.
Part of the unfortunately ignored fact by the detractors of Minton are that the transaction was a large one. And the fact that many banks the world over sold into this buy-back with CBN getting their dues is worthy enough. Minton has notably recounted that in late 1992, all the promissory notes were sent to Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, which were the agents. "We received an instruction from CBN to cancel all the Promissory Notes (about
1000 notes) tolling $1.1 billion. Chase Manhattan Bank sent a message to CBN confirming that the Promissory notes were cancelled." The fact that the CBN grounds of $3 billion was finished while $1.1 billion debt was wiped off the books makes an interesting evidence.
According to Minton whose knack for details is limitless, he received another sum of $450 million as the multilateral debt which transaction was done in turn went to the Ministry of Finance because it was owed by them. "These debts were then cancelled and those were also finished. Those were the three types of debts. At the end of the day, CBN brought back $4.5 billion and it cost $1.5 billion approximately. In his records, Green land Holdings and the CBN were there with Sanaki wanting to supervise how things were done.
I have not heard Fashanu respond to the allegations that he is being cheaply used. First, Fashanu brought in Abacha's administration in a situation where Minton's transactions ended early 1993 before the dictator came in later that year. Fashanu debt buy-back scam, money-laundering thing looks like a hoax and there is no chance that any detail, if at all, can be meaningful.
I believe this because Fashanu has not responded satisfactorily to charges that he is being used by the Church of Scientology, an organisation that considers Minton to be their greatest enemy. It is said that he could not have done the so-called investigation on his own, while his investigator is allegedly a full time worker for Scientology. What is his response to the position that he was given the report to discredit Minton as an effective critic of Scientology in USA, Europe, France and Germany?
Minton has been quoted undisputedly as saying: "This is a vendetta on Scientology's part against me and they are using Fashanu and Nigeria as a tool to beat me on the head with the clock and that is the bottom line. The fraudulent transaction, money laundering claim for IBB is not true. The investigator, Robert Clark for Fashanu goes by two other different names i.e. David Lee and David Laubach. With this explanation therefore, why should a whole government get involved in mudslinging? Should a government allow itself to be brought into this sort of mundanity? Here is Fashanu, an Abacha for life President campaigner who participated actively in the two-million man march trying to come back to equity! But have we examined his hands? The former footballer also said recently that he is not after Babangida. If not, then who? Can't we therefore see the factor of Minton as the undeserving target? Fashanu has reportedly asked for N500 million from government to do a "patriotic job," and principally before he releases details. Haba! Are we moving forward or seeking enrichment avenues? What is all these really? Persons with ulterior motive should not be accommodated in the bid to tarnish the image of this man - a bid that cannot succeed, given the usual triumph of good over evil, of truth over falsehood and of righteousness over unrighteousness. Nigerian government should more significantly not be brought into the smear campaign. Let's leave Minton, a man who closed business with Nigeria early 1993, before the dark days of Abacha, alone.
Daniel writes from Abuja