A customer enters a First National Bank (FNB) branch in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Friday, March 15, 2013. First National Bank (FNB) decided to seize and liquidate all properties of businessman El Hadj Baba Ahmadou Danpullo in South Africa in 2020. Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg
Published Nov 21, 2022
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What has been described as a racial attack on a Cameroonian business tycoon has seen scores of people adding numbers to the high unemployment rate in South Africa.
This was after First National Bank (FNB) decided to seize and liquidate all properties of businessman El Hadj Baba Ahmadou Danpullo in South Africa in 2020.
FNB’s decision saw about 800 people lose their jobs.
When contacted FNB refused to respond to questions, saying the bank could not disclose the details of any specific bank accounts due to client confidentiality.
“The bank offers clients a range of options for rehabilitating outstanding debt, based on the unique merits of each case. If a customer fails to meet their credit agreement obligations, despite our best efforts, the bank may take legal action as a last resort. Our debt recovery processes are implemented consistently irrespective of a client’s nationality,” the bank said.
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Danpullo, who has been excelling in the real estate sector, about 30 years ago acquired a large real estate portfolio valued at R4 billion in South Africa.
In 2017, Danpullo contracted a loan of about R520 million from FNB to purchase a building in the country, with a repayment of R10m a month to be spread over 10 years with interest.
According to Danpullo’s daughter, Maimouna Baba Danpullo, FNB decided, with no reason, to put an end to the credit agreement and demand its immediate repayment. She said the properties, valued at R4bn, would be placed into liquidation for the payment of R520m.
The properties are managed by Bestinver Company South Africa, Joburg Skyscraper, and Bestinver Prop 01 Property, which are all subsidiaries of Bestinver, the group Danopullo founded.
Maimouna said her father, the Cameronian embassy, and President Paul Biya had also approached President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene as people were losing their jobs. She said Biya also wrote a letter to Ramaphosa, but there had been no answer.
Ramaphosa spokesperson Vincent Magwenya did not respond.
Maimouna believes FNB’s decision was to pave the way for white people to dominate the sector. She claimed that the sector was controlled by the white minority, grouped in large banking and insurance groups.
“Very few, not to say no South Africans individually, own such an impressive real estate portfolio, which is why when the players in the real estate sector realised that these real estate properties belonged to a foreigner, moreover black, they decided to kick him out,” she said.
Maimouna added: “What is happening in South Africa against Baba Danpullo is not justified in law, one cannot realise assets worth more than R4bn for paying a R520m loan.”
She said this would result in South Africa losing foreign investors. “Some have already gone and some were asking my father why he still wanted to invest in South Africa, where the banks will close your business.
“My father believed in this country and has never taken money out of this country. He was proud to be in this country.”
Maimouna said the matter has been before the court for more than three years now.
On Thursday, Baba Danpullo and his legal representative said although the matter was still before the court, the business mogul has retaliated against the seizure and liquidation of his real estate assets in Cameroon.
Baba Danpullo said he had the accounts of subsidiaries of South African groups seized in Cameroon in order to recover his money.
He said the court in Cameroon authorised him to seize the bank accounts and assets of MTN and Chococam, that are subsidiaries of the Public Investment Corporate (PIC), which is itself a shareholder of FirstRand Bank which owns FNB.
“Here in South Africa, we have filed an interdict to stop the sale of properties. They sold our portfolio but they didn’t follow the rules. This means the bank cannot transfer the properties to the buyers. In Cameroon we have seized the accounts of MTN and Chacocam,” he said.
MTN did respond to questions.
Tiger Brands, which owns Chococam, said their business had nothing to do with the matter between FNB and Baba Danpullo. The company’s corporate communications director Werna Oberholzer said although the Chococam business was able to continue operations, the garnishee order was putting pressure on the liquidity of the business.
“A well-known Cameroonian businessman, Mr Danpullo, has been engaged in a dispute with FNB in respect of real estate dealings in South Africa.
“Related to this dispute, a recent court decision in Cameroon has subjected Chococam’s bank accounts to a garnishee order, freezing the company’s bank accounts.
“The company has been unreasonably caught in the crossfire of this dispute, which is totally unrelated to our business,” Oberholzer said.