VBS bank’s alleged suitors ‘not what they say’

2018-04-01 06:00

A group claiming it has billions of rands “pledged and committed” to invest in VBS Mutual Bank is run by two men with a series of bank defaults and allegedly inflated 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 PanAfrican digital banking champion. VBS’ major shareholder, Vele, told the curator the Pan-African Business Forum (PABF) wanted to invest. 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 the bank. “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.

But there are question marks over Agbesi’s business dealings in South Africa. 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. Surve denies this. “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”.

Agbesi on Friday told City Press he does not know why Surve would “lie” about this. He suggested by phone that there is a dispute of some sort with Surve.

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.

Agbesi said he was appointed as a member of an Absa “advisory board” by the banks’ fomer CEO, Steve Booysen, but Absa could not confirm this.

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

Mugeni told City Press this was due to the other party in a property investment company failing to contribute and not due to any fault of his.

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.

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May 19 2019