Lagos — Millionaire businessman John Fashanu has compiled a report known in international financial and media circles as the "Fashanu Report" outlining a multi billion dollar secret Nigerian debt-buy-back scheme.
The report painstakingly compiled over a three-year period has been turned over to the Federal Government with the aim of recovering a sizeable amount of an estimated $17 billion of Nigeria's hard earned money illegally stashed in European banks. Analysts say what Fashanu has uncovered will almost certainly make the Abacha family loot look like child's play.
By revealing the scam, the former football star who has become a successful businessman will be locking horns with those who governed Nigeria in the late 1980s and early 1990s when a dubious debt-buy-back scheme running into billions of dollars was perpetrated. This scheme essentially involved an early settlement of a debt, usually a one-off payment substantially less than the outstanding amount. In brevity, it is an advanced form of factoring. Although Fashanu has declined to name names, it is only logical to assume that those he has accused of stealing state funds include former dictator, the self-styled evil genius, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, former Central Bank governor, late Alhaji Ahmed Abdulkadir, what is left of the Abacha family, retired military officers and their fat cat cronies.
The fraud, according to Fashanu, had to do with monies earmarked for currency stabilisation and debt buy-back scheme, but these schemes were valued at Pounds1.5 billion by the Central Bank of Nigeria and there are no records of other payments during the period. Nigeria's decision to buy- back its debt in the late 80s was done behind closed doors because it was technically illegal. But with official government backing, two Americans, Jeffrey Schmidt and Robert Minton, with close links to Babangida were hired to set up front companies and offshore concerns.
Minton himself makes no secret of the fact that he made stupendous money through the scheme. He had admitted to the newsletter, Africa Confidential that he made tens of millions of dollars, not hundreds of millions and certainly not billions, through the controversial scheme. The two Americans reportedly used a London-based company, Growth Management, to buy back the debt at about 10 cents in a dollar and later resold it to the government at about 45 cents in a dollar. Their profits were 30 cents on each dollar under the debt-buy-back scheme. They had bought the debt with funds from Nigeria channeled through a leading Austrian bank.
"I have information on 200 bank accounts that the monies were paid into. I have details of account numbers, identities of those involved, dates and times these frauds were perpetrated. The chain runs from Liechesten to Austria, Switzerland and USA (Chase Merchant Bank). Austria and Switzerland's secret banking must be brought into question. In a fair world those whose accounts have been frozen would be charged for stealing including their accomplices".
Thirty-seven-year-old Fashanu, now Nigeria's official sports ambassador had initially granted interviews with the newsletter, Africa Confidential and London-based Sunday Times on what his crusade was all about. However, in an extended interview with The News at his St John's Wood, London office, Fashanu revealed that he has been investigating what is arguably the largest fraud in banking history (except for the collapse of the notorious Bank of Credit & Commerce in the mid 80s) since 1998.
"One other person and I personally financed this investigation. I consider it a duty. Nigeria's reputation reflects badly on all of us and it is time it was cleaned up. As a Nigerian, I want this sorted out," Fashanu said.
Whilst his critics have wondered why he had strayed into General Sani Abacha's company whilst the dictator ruled Nigeria with an iron fist, abused human rights with reckless abandon and looted the nation's coffers with military precision, Fashanu says with hindsight he would not have gotten near the controversial Two-million-man-march that was organised for the then dying Abacha.
"Like other members of the national team who spoke only about football during the event, I apologise. With hindsight it was wrong and one did not do it to offend. I felt sorry for Segun Odegbami whilst he was contesting for the NFA chairmanship position because this issue may have marred his chances. I have been a UNICEF ambassador for 53 countries for seven years. As an ambassador, I have a role to play where youths are concerned whether it's Babangida or Abacha that is in power. At the Two-million-man-march, I wanted to identify with the youths. I carefully used the opportunity to talk about sports. If NADECO had invited me to address the youths, I would have done so".
Fashanu, a patron of Human Rights in Africa, who has used his influence in brokering truces with Super Eagles players in the English Premier League and the Nigerian Football Association, says what is at stake is far more serious than the one-million-man-march.
"My motivation for exposing these illegal deals is influenced by national pride. Let us get one thing clear. I am not a politician and I am not looking for public office. I am honoured to be of assistance to my country, and will do everything humanly possible to help and guide Nigeria in taking our rightful place as the gateway to Africa. It is sad to see our people living in penury, abject poverty, embarking on prostitution when the monies meant for their welfare including pipeborne water, electricity, medical care are being enjoyed by people whole stole them from the nation. We stand at the dawn of a new era while Nigeria takes its steps in democracy, we the people will continue to prove to the rest of the world that we Nigerians are serious about eradicating corruption and exposing financial crimes."
Fashanu said he stumbled into the fraud three years ago when he ran checks on some potential business partners in Nigeria. "A lot of information began to come out. It got bigger and bigger, until we were looking at a fraud of, at least, $6 billion, involving 200 separate bank accounts. One other person and I hired highly qualified investigators in the UK and USA to probe deeper. The data we got after three months was unbelievable. I have all the data and information on the people who have stolen this money. I was even called anonymously and, indeed, by Chris Vincent, a former Zimbabwean intelligence officer, who offered me Pounds500,000 if I stopped making my enquiries. I have all the discussion on tape. Vincent was later to spend six months in jail. He was the one that these people sent to tell me to back off. But I didn't, and the end result is what we now know today. Vincent was the one that wanted Bruce Grobbelaar and myself sent to jail for alleged match fixing but we were later acquitted. One anonymous caller threatened me. He said I was playing Russian roulette. For the best part of three years I suffered and my family suffered. All this has cost money and pain but I will not rest until I achieve my objective. And my objective is for the stolen money to be returned to the nation's coffers. Maybe people don't know the pain I've been through. I had to relocate three times and suffer the humiliation of my bank accounts being frozen. But my patience has eventually paid off".
After assembling the data supplied by the private investigators, Fashanu said he met Nigeria's High Commissioner to the UK, Prince Bola Ajibola and handed over to him a dossier which has led to the freezing of five bank accounts loaded with Pounds125 million in Switzerland and Austria. "One account had $100 million dollars in it. The people involved created a culture of evasiveness and have profited through their practices. We are in the process of asking for official assistance from the Swiss, Austrian and U.S. authorities to help recover these diverted funds. The two Americans, Schmidt and Minton, were considered big deal makers. They could manoeuvre, impress and occasionally dazzle big financial operators by masterminding the intricacies, technicalities and jargons of the big deal. But by presenting these facts I can now educate the public about these dubious characters within the international banking industry, which in recent years have proven themselves to be unprincipled and totally profit motivated. I believe I am working hand-in-hand with the government of my country. I also believe in the Federal Government's anti-corruption platform. This government is setting a moral tone. At the moment, I have no intention of revealing the identities or embarrassing those concerned. The only interest I have is getting Nigeria's money back. The monies stolen have led to the deaths of many Nigerians. I am sick and tired of seeing fellow Nigerians begging in the streets or joining the unemployment market because of inadequate opportunities. I spent eight months in Nigeria last year and realised how bad things are. I was really moved. As a result I had to take the decision to hand the information in my possession to the right person, who is the Nigerian High Commissioner in the UK. I trust and respect him".
Fashanu says the information at his disposal is authentic and had been crosschecked by leading investigative journalists including Africa Confidential, UK Sunday Times. He said his associates had contacted the U.S. State Department, IMF and World Bank, to ensure the stolen monies are refunded. "The documents I have are in safe deposit houses and are, indeed, safe. These banking transactions and the secondary markets where the debt is traded must have stricter regulations and more accountability so that this manipulation of Nigeria's debt and our economy cannot happen again. From the information I have provided the Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times will be focussing on the issue to ensure that Nigeria's stolen funds are returned for nation building."
Publication date: April 17, 2000