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China Cracks $64 Billion Underground Bank

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China said it cracked the nation’s biggest “underground bank,” which handled 410 billion yuan ($64 billion) of illegal foreign-exchange transactions, as the authorities try to combat corruption and rein in capital outflows that have hit records this year.

More than 370 people have been arrested or face lawsuits or other punishment in the case centered in eastern Zhejiang province, the official People’s Daily reported on Friday, citing police officials. The case brought the total for underground banking and money-laundering activities to 800 billion yuan since April, the newspaper said.

The probe began in September last year and the police took almost a year to sort through more than 1.3 million suspicious transactions, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported separately. The authorities froze more than 3,000 bank accounts, Xinhua said.

Global Flows

The case highlights the nation’s struggle to control capital outflows that have helped to send real-estate prices soaring from Vancouver to Sydney — even when Chinese citizens are officially limited to converting $50,000 of yuan per year. Some people may be moving the proceeds of corruption, while others may be concerned about the outlook for the economy and the potential for the yuan to weaken.

“The government wants to stem outflows and stabilize the yuan’s exchange rate, but the outflows cannot be stopped unless people change their expectation on yuan depreciation,” said Xi Junyang, a finance professor at Shanghai University of Finance & Economics. Besides illegal banking operations, “a lot of money is leaving the country by legal means,” Xi said.

China’s capital outflows may have climbed to a record $194 billion in September before cooling to $62 billion in October, according to a Bloomberg gauge which also takes into account decisions by exporters and direct investment recipients to hold funds in dollars.

‘Smurfing’

The tactics used by Chinese citizens to defeat the controls include so-called smurfing, where large sums are moved by breaking them down into a series of smaller transfers using the bank accounts and foreign-exchange quotas of a range of individuals.

In the Zhejiang case, a suspect identified as Zhao Mouyi used a different method, setting up more than 10 companies in Hong Kong from 2013 and transferring more than 100 billion yuan through so-called non-resident accounts, which are used by offshore companies in China when they are transferring money abroad, according to the newspaper’s report.

Taking advantage of a “loophole” relating to non-resident accounts — which has since been filled by banks — Zhao circumvented the capital controls by directly transferring yuan overseas and then exchanged the money into foreign currencies at banks including HSBC Holdings Plc in Hong Kong, the People’s Daily said. Zhao then allegedly transferred it to his clients’ accounts, the report said, citing the local police.

Suspicious Transactions

HSBC declined to comment on the report. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority also declined to comment on the specifics of the case, while saying that banks in the city have “stepped up their internal controls to report suspicious transactions.”

  • Methods of bypassing China’s currency controls include:
  • making transfers using Hong Kong money changers
  • carrying checks from underground banks across the border to Hong Kong
  • smuggling cash through customs
  • making payments abroad using credit or debit cards and then returning merchandise for cash
  • getting an overseas mortgage based on savings held within China

The underground banking crackdown is “an attempt to reduce the capital outflow pressure,” said Hou Wei, a banking analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in Hong Kong. The government is “determined and very serious” about defending its currency reserves and the exchange rate, the analyst said.

Taiwan, Australia

In another case highlighted by the People’s Daily on Friday, an investigation of an underground bank in Fujian this year uncovered a network spanning Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia and Saudi Arabia — and a senior executive at a state-owned enterprise who allegedly tried to move 18 million yuan abroad, the newspaper said.

The authorities have made a series of moves to control legal and illegal capital flows, including capping withdrawals at overseas automated teller machines.

The People’s Bank of China has given verbal guidance to onshore lenders to stop offering cross-border financing to offshore banks, people familiar with the matter said this week. The monetary authority has also told overseas banks to halt onshore bond repurchases, two of the people said.

Bloomberg

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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First Bank of Nigeria Appoints Olusegun Alebiosu as Acting CEO Following Resignation of Dr. Adesola Adeduntan

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Olusegun Alebiosu

First Bank of Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of FBN Holdings PLC, has announced the appointment of Mr. Olusegun Alebiosu as its Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

This decision comes in the wake of the resignation of Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, who has led the bank for the past nine years.

The appointment, which takes immediate effect, is subject to the approval of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), reflecting the bank’s commitment to regulatory compliance and governance standards.

Mr. Alebiosu, a seasoned banking professional with over three decades of experience, is well-prepared to take on the responsibilities of leading First Bank Nigeria during this transition period.

Having served as the Executive Director and Chief Risk Officer, he played a pivotal role in the transformation and growth of the institution over the past eight years.

His extensive experience spans various aspects of the banking and financial services industry, including credit risk management, financial planning, corporate and commercial banking, and project financing.

Before joining First Bank Nigeria in 2016, Mr. Alebiosu held key positions in renowned financial institutions such as Coronation Merchant Bank Limited and the African Development Bank Group.

Expressing gratitude for Dr. Adeduntan’s exemplary leadership, the Board of Directors acknowledged his significant contributions to the bank’s growth and success during his tenure.

Dr. Adeduntan’s departure marks the end of an era characterized by remarkable achievements and milestones for First Bank Nigeria.

As Acting CEO, Mr. Alebiosu is poised to build upon the bank’s legacy and steer it towards continued growth and profitability. With a strong focus on strategic objectives, he aims to uphold First Bank Nigeria’s reputation as a leading financial institution in Nigeria and beyond.

In his new role, Mr. Alebiosu will work closely with the Board of Directors and management team to ensure seamless operations and uphold the bank’s commitment to delivering exceptional services to its customers.

As the banking industry undergoes rapid transformation and evolving regulatory landscape, First Bank Nigeria remains committed to maintaining its position as a trusted financial partner for individuals and businesses across the country.

With Mr. Alebiosu at the helm, the bank looks forward to a new chapter of innovation, resilience, and sustainable growth.

The appointment of Mr. Olusegun Alebiosu underscores First Bank Nigeria’s commitment to continuity and stability amidst leadership changes, signaling confidence in his ability to lead the bank through its next phase of growth and development.

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Transcorp Hotels to Launch 5,000-capacity Event Centre, Eyes Pan-African Presence

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Transcorp hotel

Transcorp Hotels is gearing up to launch a massive 5,000-capacity event centre and further its ambitious expansion plans both across Nigeria and Africa.

Dupe Olusola, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Transcorp Hotels, unveiled this plan during an investor call on Friday.

This announcement follows the recent divestment of its 100% stake in Transcorp Hotels Calabar Limited to Eco Travels and Tours, an indigenous hospitality firm, as revealed in a corporate filing on the Nigerian Exchange Limited.

Olusola outlined the company’s vision for expansion, emphasizing its commitment to establishing a stronger presence not only in Abuja but also across Nigeria and eventually transitioning to the African continent.

She expressed excitement about the upcoming launch of the event centre, slated for the third quarter of this year, which is expected to accommodate thousands of guests.

“We are very confident that this would encourage and attract further business that goes outside of Nigeria to us,” remarked Olusola, highlighting the potential of the event centre to attract international clientele.

Olusola also disclosed plans for the development of a new five-star hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos, underscoring the company’s strategic focus on growth and diversification.

The key drivers of Transcorp Hotels’ performance were also outlined during the investor call. Olusola emphasized the importance of leveraging digital platforms, such as Aura, to revolutionize bookings, engage with guests, and drive revenue.

Also, the company aims to upgrade its technology and enhance guest experiences while optimizing operational costs without compromising quality.

Despite regulatory constraints delaying the Ikoyi project, Olusola assured investors that progress is being made, with the acquisition of additional land and ongoing negotiations with vendors for construction and fundraising.

Meanwhile, Oluwatobiloba Ojerinde, the Chief Financial Officer of Transcorp Hotels, provided insights into the firm’s financial performance for 2023.

Ojerinde highlighted a remarkable 72% growth in gross profit and attributed the increase in operating expenses to improved operational activities.

Despite challenges posed by inflation and currency devaluation, Transcorp Hotels demonstrated resilience by maintaining an income-to-cost ratio of 85%, reflecting the company’s commitment to operational efficiency and cost-saving strategies.

With its strategic expansion initiatives and robust financial performance, Transcorp Hotels is poised to strengthen its foothold in the hospitality sector, both domestically and across the African continent, positioning itself as a formidable player in the global hospitality landscape.

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Computer Village Traders Demand Refunds as Lagos State Cancels Katangowa Project

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Traders at the renowned Computer Village in Lagos find themselves in a state of uncertainty following the abrupt termination of the multibillion-naira Katangowa project by the Lagos State Government.

The project, which was aimed at relocating the bustling tech market from its current site in Ikeja to the Agbado/Oke-Odo area of the state, has left traders in a state of limbo.

Despite the cancellation of the project reportedly occurring two years ago, traders claim they were not informed by either the government or the developers, Bridgeways Limited.

This lack of communication has left them in a precarious position, particularly concerning the substantial upfront payments made by some traders to the developers.

Chairman of the Computer Village Market Board, Chief Adebowale Soyebo, expressed dismay at the lack of communication from the authorities regarding the project’s termination.

He explained that neither the government nor the contractors had officially informed them of the decision, leaving traders in the dark about the fate of their investments.

Traders who had made payments to Bridgeways Limited now seek clarity on the refund process. The absence of official communication has compounded their concerns, with many uncertain about the fate of their investments.

While acknowledging the payments made by traders, Lagos State Governor’s Adviser on e-GIS and Urban Development, Dr. Olajide Babatunde, assured that the government would facilitate refunds.

He, however, said there is a need for proper identification and verification to ensure that affected traders receive their refunds accordingly.

The termination of the Katangowa project has reignited debates about the relocation of Computer Village.

Traders assert that the issue of relocation should not be raised until the new site is at least 70% completed, as per their agreement with the government.

The cancellation of the Katangowa project underscores the challenges associated with large-scale urban development projects and the importance of transparent communication between stakeholders to avoid such situations in the future.

As traders await further directives from the government, they remain hopeful for a resolution that safeguards their interests and ensures the continuity of one of Nigeria’s most prominent tech markets.

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