Flutterwave CEO in Nairobi for seized billions, CBK permit


Olugbenga Agboola, co-founder and CEO of Flutterwave. FILE PHOTO | POOL

The CEO and co-founder of Nigerian payments company Flutterwave, Olugbenga Agboola, flew into Kenya this week amid efforts to unfreeze his Sh6.6 billion and lift a Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) embargo on the firm.

In a space of just one year, the start-up has seen its Kenya operations — which was the second-largest market after Nigeria— brought to a halt, with the High Court freezing Sh6.6 billion on money laundering fears and the CBK ordering banks to cut links with the firm.

Mr Agboola landed in Nairobi to meet the firm's local team and seek an audience with the CBK, which in December asked his firm to make a fresh licence operation.

The CBK had in July ordered local banks to stop dealing with Flutterwave, arguing it was not licensed as its accounts got frozen under the country's anti-money laundering laws.

Mr Agboola's visit coincided with a verdict by the High Court that on Thursday dismissed an application from over 2,000 Nigerians who sought a share of the frozen Sh6.6 billion.

The Nigerians said in a petition that they were swindled of billions of shillings through a sports betting platform that used Flutterwave to process the payments.

The dismissal of the suit marked another victory for Flutterwave after Kenya’s Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) in December withdrew from the case in which it secured orders freezing the billions in 29 accounts at GTB, Equity and Ecobank denominated in Kenya shillings, US dollars, euros and Sterling pounds.

The dismissal of the suit and ARA’s withdrawal have brought Flutterwave closer to accessing the Sh6.5 billion and shaking off the money laundering tag.

"CBK invited us in December to reapply for a money remittance and payments service provider licenses," Mr Agboola said in an interview with the Business Daily in Nairobi.

“Kenya is the bedrock of mobile money. We have seen the gap and have raised capital to invest here. Without Nairobi, building a global mobile money payments system is not possible," he added from Flutterwave’s Kenya base in Nairobi’s Riverside Drive.

Flutterwave has described the Kenya trip by the 37-year-old as a "normal course of doing business" that the techie takes quarterly.

While in Kenya, the mostly reserved Mr Agboola, or GB as he is fondly known in the tech space, came in tow with Riva Levison, a top US lobbyist and PR guru.

Solving challenges

Ms Levison prides herself as a political strategist, solving challenges for clients across governments in Africa — from political risk to election strategy, handling briefs for former presidents like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia) and Joyce Banda (Malawi).

In recent months, Mr Agboola’s reputation has stretched beyond his leadership at Flutterwave thanks to a personal investments spree in other African startups.

His Nairobi trip came days after revelations that the firm had Sh184.9 billion in 62 bank accounts spread across five banks in four years without the knowledge and licence from the CBK.

It was one of the three Nigerian fintechs that were at the centre of a complex money laundering probe in Kenya.

The three, including RemX and Kandon Technologies, were investigated by ARA on fears of card fraud and money laundering.

Flutterwave termed claims of financial impropriety in Kenya "entirely false".

The firm said its operations were regularly audited and it continuously engaged regulatory agencies to stay compliant.

“Innovation in most cases is normally ahead of regulations and compliance is a journey that takes time. What we are doing now is bring in qualified global experts to strengthen our processes,” Mr Agboola said.

The Lagos-based company, founded in 2016, is now the biggest payments start-up on the continent. It has processed over 400 million transactions worth more than $25 billion in 35 African countries.

ARA in December changed tune on Flutterwave, saying investigations revealed that the money was not linked to money laundering—which was behind the CBK’s blockade of the licence.

Despite the intention of ARA to withdraw from the suit, several applications have been filed before the court either seeking a share of the frozen cash or continued freeze of the billions.

Yesterday the court struck out one of the applications.

Justice Esther Maina rejected the application by Mr Morris Ebitimi Joseph on behalf of 2,468 Nigerian investors, saying there is no reason to grant the application, after ARA signalled its intention to withdraw the case against Flutterwave.

“I have carefully considered the application and my finding is that it has no merit. The ARA has intimated its intention to withdraw the petition,” the judge said.

The Nigerians claimed that they invested the money through a sports betting platform that was used by Flutterwave to process the payments.

The judge said the apprehension by the Nigerians that they would lose their money cannot stand in view of the decision by ARA to withdraw the case.

“The court sees no reason to grant the application sought,” she said.

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