SEC, DOJ Charge Dozy Mmobuosi in ‘Massive’ Fraud

The Nigerian businessman with claimed assets of more than $7 billion was widely reported to have been close to buying English soccer club Sheffield United.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice have charged Nigerian businessman Dozy Mmobuosi with orchestrating a “massive” and “elaborate” fraud that included booking billions of dollars’ worth of fictitious transactions.

According to an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court and a complaint filed by the SEC, Mmobuosi, whose real name is Odogwu Banye Mmobuosi, fabricated financial statements that falsely claimed three companies he founded—Tingo Group, Agri-Fintech and Tingo International—were generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. He then allegedly engaged in the “well-timed sales of their shares at inflated prices, generating millions of dollars of profits,” according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.

“Dozy Mmobuosi allegedly orchestrated a massive scheme to inflate Tingo Group’s financial statements and make it appear as though the cellular and agriculture companies he founded were profitable and cash rich companies when, in fact, they were not.” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in an accompanying statement. 

In early 2023, Mmobuosi was widely reported in British media to be close to buying English soccer club Sheffield United, which has since been promoted to the English Premier League for its 2023 to 2024 season. According to a February 2023 story from the BBC, Mmobuosi was worth $7.6 billion.

According to court documents, Mmobuosi founded Tingo Mobile in 2001 as a private Nigerian company that leased mobile phones to farmers through agreements with farming cooperative associations in Nigeria and Ghana. The company claimed to earn income from leasing handsets to farmers; by providing airtime and data services; and through the farmers’ use on its handsets of Tingo Mobile’s pre-installed, proprietary Nwassa platform, which claimed to facilitate farmers’ crop sales, pricing and bill payments.

“Tingo Mobile is a fiction,” the SEC complaint states. “Its purported assets, revenues, expenses, customers and suppliers are virtually entirely fabricated. And the public parent companies that have controlled Tingo Mobile have been perpetrating an ongoing fraud on investors by publicly reporting and certifying as true Tingo Mobile’s falsified financial performance.”

The SEC cited as an example Tingo Group’s fiscal year 2022 annual report, which listed a cash and cash equivalent balance of $461.7 million in its subsidiary Tingo Mobile’s Nigerian bank accounts. The regulator alleges that the bank accounts, in reality, had a combined balance of less than $50 as of the end of fiscal year 2022. Mmobuosi fraudulently obtained hundreds of millions in money or property and siphoned off funds for his personal benefit, including buying luxury cars and traveling on private jets, according to the complaint.

“These material misstatements created the false impression that Tingo Mobile was a thriving, multimillion-dollar business when in fact its operations and earnings were fabricated—causing significant, artificial overvaluation of the companies’ shares and Mmobuosi’s controlling stake in them,” the SEC complaint states.

In October 2023, the board of directors of Tingo, which had changed its name to Agri-Fintech and was trading on the OTC markets, announced it had approved the company’s liquidation. However, at the time, the board stated that Mmobuosi was still expected to hold a majority of the voting shares and become its controlling shareholder.

Mmbousi has been charged with one count of securities fraud and one count of making false filings with the SEC, each of which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The SEC has obtained a temporary asset freeze, restraining order and other emergency relief against Mmobuosi.

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