Nigeria: CBN Goes Tough, Probes Gaming Companies' Alleged Foreign Exchange Infraction

17 September 2020

Following its earlier decision to place the accounts of some gaming companies under post-no-debit (PND), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has extended the probe into the allegation of unauthorised foreign exchange (FX) transfer against the companies and directed all banks to submit to it the domiciliary account statements of some individuals and organisations.

They included a member of the House of Representatives representing Ona-Ara/Egbeda Federal Constituency, who is the founder of Nairabet, Mr. Akinola Alabi; the Founder of Premier Lotto (Baba Ijebu), Chief Kesington Adebutu, four other members of the Adebutu family and 11 other bank customers.

The CBN gave the directive in a letter addressed to all banks dated September 15, 2020, signed on behalf of its Director, Banking Supervision, Mr. Z. Markus, a copy of which was obtained yesterday.

THISDAY had last week reported that the central bank froze the bank accounts of 38 firms, the gaming companies inclusive.

The other members of the Adebutu family listed included Chief Adebisi Adebutu, Mr. Ajibola Adebutu, Mr. Olanipekun Adebutu and Mr. Olusegun Adebutu.

Included on the list are, Mr. Mauro Ripamonti, Mr. Charbel Chidiac; Mr. Oludamilare Alabi, Mr. Oluwafemi Babalola, Mr. Adetayo Adesanwo and Mr. Byron Powell.

The central bank in the letter to the banks stated: "You are required to furnish us with the domiciliary account statements (Excel and PDF formats) of the under listed individuals, including the domiciliary accounts linked to them by Bank Verification Number (BVN). The statements should cover the period January 1, 2013, to July 31, 2020."

It further requested that the banks should ensure that their response on its enquiries to be sent to designated emails in the letter is received before Wednesday, September 16, 2020.

In a related development, the central bank in a separate letter addressed to one of the banks' Chief Executive Officers, dated September 14, 2020, that was jointly signed by the Director, Governor's Office, CBN, Mr. Jerry Abue, and the Director, Banking Supervision, CBN, Mr. Bello Hassan, the banking sector regulator has granted financial institutions approval to accept payment instruments presented by the affected companies.

The letter titled: "Re: Contravention of Extant Foreign Exchange Regulation," however, stressed that the PND restrictions on their respective accounts were still in force.

The banks are to open a subsidiary account from where payment of winnings, salaries and other restricted operation expenses from the affected companies, such as the purchase of diesel (other overhead expenses) would be passed into weekly.

Thereafter, debit on the subsidiary account would be scrutinised by the central bank and swept into the main account after its approval.

The CBN stated: "You will recall that at the meeting held by the Governor of the CBN with your bank and stakeholders of seven betting and gaming companies on September 11, 2020, you pleaded for clemency for processing some transactions in violation of the extant FX regulations.

"Similarly, the betting and gaming companies intreated the Governor to allow them to discharge operation expenses. Consequently, the management of CBN has magnanimously granted your bank the approval to honour instruments presented by the companies for payment of winnings, salaries and other overhead expenses."

It further added: "However, please note that the post-no-debit restriction on the accounts of the companies is still in place, subject to the identified exceptions. Accordingly, no other transaction should be processed for any of the companies during the period of this waiver.

"You are to open a subsidiary account from where payment of winnings, salaries and other restricted operational expenses such as the purchase of diesel (other overhead expenses) will be passed into weekly. "The debit on the subsidiary account will be vetted by the Central Bank of Nigeria and swept into the main account after approval from the CBN.

"Finally, you are required to forward a weekly report for the CBN approval of the clearance of the debit in the subsidiary account. Please be guided accordingly."

A top central bank official had described the activities of the companies as economic sabotage, money laundering and insider trading.

"CBN is going to punish these companies and individuals to serve as a deterrent to others.

"Those of them involved in the gaming business, their business is in naira. Some of them would say they are paying for technical services. Assuming they even have the approval to take money out, why are they not in the official market? Why go to the black market? That means there is something illegal they are doing without documentation.

"We are accusing them, especially the gaming companies, of money laundering, illegal transfer of forex out of Nigeria. Most of them open accounts in Mauritius and other safe havens for them to move monies out of Nigeria and then do whatever they like.

"Now, they would say they are paying for technical services. Were those fees authorised officially by the CBN? The sole institution responsible for forex dealing in Nigeria is the CBN. Did they obtain the CBN's approval?

"They don't even have the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) approval, even if they say it is for software purchase, as some of them claimed. Indeed, one of them that went to NOTAP, the approval wasn't granted because the so-called software they claimed they wanted to import can be manufactured locally," the source had said.

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