VBS bank’s alleged suitors are not all they say

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A group claiming it has billions of rands and “pledged and committed” to invest in VBS Mutual Bank is run by two men with a series of bank defaults and significantly padded CVs.

City Press understands that VBS’s major shareholder, Vele Investments, told VBS curator Anoosh Rooplal about this, and one other offer to invest in VBS, last week.

Rooplal said this week that there had been no “formal” offers for VBS.

VBS spokesperson Ndivhuwo Khangale declined to comment.

But a company called Lash Capital told City Press that it had formed a consortium that is vying to invest up to $500 million (R6 billion) in VBS to turn it into a Pan-African digital banking champion.

One of the investors, Vele told the curator, was allegedly the Pan-African Business Forum (PABF). The PABF is an organisation led by Ladislas Agbesi, chair of Lash Capital.

City Press contacted the PABF and received a lengthy letter from Lash confirming it wants to buy a stake in VBS and explaining its grand vision for VBS.

“Discussions and negotiations are at an advanced stage with Vele Investments, one of the current majority shareholders of VBS Mutual Bank,” said Lash in the letter signed by Agbesi and chief investment officer Bebert Mugeni.

“Lash Capital Consortium, through its pool of international investors from the Gulf region and the African continent, has secured pledges and commitments in excess of $500 million. Proceeds will be used to make the acquisition of an equity stake in VBS Bank,” reads the letter.

The letter and other documents provided by Mugeni cast doubt on the prospects of the consortium.

A profile of Agbesi in The New Age last year called him a “beacon of hope for Africa [who] embodies the true, progressive leader the continent yearns for”.

The article said Agbesi was “tipped to become Benin’s next president” and “one of Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs”.

Agbesi reportedly ran in the 2016 presidential elections in his native Benin.

But Agbesi has a history of overstating his accomplishments.

His colleague Mugeni provided City Press with a biography of Agbesi.

Top among his claims is that he is the “founder” of the African News Agency (ANA), the wire service associated with Iqbal Survé’s Independent Media group.

“I have respectfully asked him on many occasions to refrain from making statements which are not correct about ANA,” Survé told City Press on Friday.

“I can confirm that Mr Agbesi is not a director or co-founder of ANA,” Survé said in a WhatsApp message.

“He has not ever been a board member, executive, investor or shareholder in ANA.”

Agbesi was, however, invited to be “Honorary Chairman” for a year after the founding of ANA, Survé said. This was because of his “vast African experience”.

Another claim in Agbesi’s colourful CV is that he is a member of ABSA’s “advisory board”, a body that does not exist.

Mugeni and Agbesi have both had default judgments against them in Gauteng’s high courts after defaulting on home loans. Their properties were sold in execution.

VBS was placed into curatorship in March after an exodus of illegal municipal deposits. Municipalities by law cannot invest their funds in mutual banks, which are subject to less regulation than commercial banks.

VBS nevertheless actively pursued municipalities and ultimately had local government deposits of R1.5 billion late last year. When municipalities withdrew funds, the bank fell into a liquidity crisis.

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