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Dangote Group, the company led by Africa’s richest man, has accused Nigeria’s anti-corruption watchdog of seeking to cause “unwarranted embarrassment” by raiding its headquarters in a probe into favourable exchange rates handed out by the country’s former central bank chief.
The raid by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on the Lagos-based conglomerate headed by Aliko Dangote last week was the latest salvo in a widening probe into former central bank governor Godwin Emefiele, who has been accused of fraud and mismanagement.
Emefiele — who ran the Central Bank of Nigeria for nine years until last year — operated a highly contentious multiple exchange rate regime that a special investigator appointed by Nigeria’s president alleges enabled the bank to disburse scarce foreign exchange reserves at an artificially low rate to favoured industries and individuals.
Aliko Dangote’s group of companies said at the weekend that its representatives were at the anti-corruption agency’s offices to deliver requested documents when the raid took place on Thursday last week.
“Worthy of note is the fact that the officials did not take any documents or files from our head office during their visit, as these were already in their office,” it said in a statement. The EFCC’s insistence on visiting the company’s Lagos headquarters “appeared designed to cause us unwarranted embarrassment”, the statement added.
The Dangote Group, which has interests in cement, sugar, salt and flour, said it was not aware of any “accusations of wrongdoing” against any company under its umbrella in relation to the EFCC probe.
Emefiele was suspended in June, weeks after the inauguration of President Bola Tinubu and was detained for six months until he was granted bail in December. He has denied the allegations against him and said a report issued by investigators was “false, misleading and intended to tarnish my reputation”.
A source familiar with the EFCC’s investigation told the Financial Times that Dangote Group was one of 52 companies to receive letters from the anti-corruption agency seeking documents relating to their forex allocations since 2014.
The Dangote Group acknowledged it received the letter in December and said it was working to provide the information but had requested more time.
The Dangote Group is the only company among the 52 listed known to have been raided by the EFCC. It will add to speculation previously reported by the FT that its founder, who is Nigeria’s most successful industrialist and is worth an estimated $10.5bn, has fallen out of favour with Tinubu’s administration.
The rift comes at a time of unusual pressure for Dangote as his legacy-defining $20bn oil refinery on the outskirts of Lagos inches closer to operation. The project has faced lengthy construction delays and uncertainty over crude supplies.
Chidi Odinkalu, of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said: “The relationship between Tinubu and Aliko has not been very good.”
Odinkalu said he doubted that the investigation into the central bank presaged an era of better governance under Tinubu. He cited the large sums spent under Tinubu on supplying legislators with four-wheel drive vehicles costing up to $150,000 each, according to the parliamentary budget.
“Rather than reduce the cost of administration, they’ve bloated it,” he said, adding that the investigation could simply be an attempt to raise funds.
Kevin Daly, investment director at Abrdn, said he thought the probe showed the government was serious about cleaning up the forex regime. “But if it turns into a broader war with Dangote, that could be damaging” for investor sentiment, he said.
Tinubu’s government has sought to shift to a free-floating forex regime. “It’s the freest any of us can recall, though it’s difficult to call it a fully functioning market,” said Razia Khan, head of research for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered Bank.
Khan added: “If you’ve engineered an exchange rate shortage, then whoever controls the FX allocation at the central bank was enormously powerful.”
The EFCC did not respond to requests for comment and has not publicly confirmed it visited Dangote’s offices.
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