By Paul Nicholson
February 3 – Touted as a Nigerian billionaire, on closer examination Dozy Mmobuosi, who is close to a reported £90 million takeover of Sheffield United, looks to be very far from it.
The Championship club are pushing hard for a return to the Premier League, currently lying second behind Burnley and 12 points ahead of third-placed Middlesbrough.
But while league performance has been good, financial performance has been poor with the club’s Saudi owners keen to exit, and to do so quickly.
The club is currently under a transfer ban after struggling to keep up with payments to Liverpool for £23.5 million Rhian Brewster.
Enter Mmobuosi as the club’s potential saviour and supposedly with the financial resource to lead them into the Premier League’s promised land.
Mmobuosi’s wealth is reportedly based on the valuation of his Tingo company assets that were once valued at £7 billion. To buy the club it is presumed he would need to borrow against his shares in the company to raise the finance.
That would require Tingo – a company that says it is primarily operating in the technology and mobile telecoms business – valuing up to enable that kind of borrowing. In June last year Tingo’s business was in the process of merging its business into China-based fin-tech business MICT, that is traded on Nasdaq.
For the nine months ended September 30, 2022, Tingo reported net revenues of $817.4 million with Mmobuosi saying the company was tracking towards revenue of $1.2 billion for the year.
A hard look at the company questions whether Mmobuosi does come close to billionaire billing and a look at his track record doesn’t support this to date. Tingo has been refused finance to complete company acquisitions in the past, and Mmobuosi has had criminal cases against him and his companies in Nigeria.
In April 2017 a criminal matter was brought against Tingo Mobile Plc in Nigeria and two of its Directors – Mmobuosi and Collins Chionuma.
The company and the two directors were accused of issuing a ‘dud cheque’ to a diesel fuel supplier for $75,000. Police investigating the fraud found that the cheque bounced because there was insufficient money in the account. The case was later settled by arbitration but only after Mmobuosi began to feel the heat in social media.
Indeed, sources at the Nigeria’s telecoms regulatory authority suggest that Tingo Mobile has not been engaged in any competitive activity in the telecommunications sector at that time.
Tingo Mobile has been linked with other communications companies in Africa and made an offer to buy into cash-strapped Yekani Manufacturing (Pty) in East London, South Africa. The offer was vetoed by Standard Bank South Africa, Yekani’s principal creditor, who was uncomfortable that it would not see its money repaid.
Tingo also listed other companies in its portfolio, including an international airline valued at $1 billion. Tingo Airlines is not in possession of an Air Operator’s Certificate.
Mmobuosi is undoubtedly well connected in Nigeria with former Nigerian government representatives, among them the President and the Minister of Trade and Investment/Minister of Finance, sitting on the Advisory Board and the Executive Board of Tingo International Holdings Inc. They are also shareholders.
He is currently undergoing the EFL’s fit and proper person checks which will determine whether he can proceed with his takeover of Sheffield United. The club are an attractive proposition for a risk-adverse investor prepared to punt on promotion to the financial riches of the Premier League.
Reports in UK media are that there have so far been no red flags in the EFL’s due diligence process.
If that is the case and if Mmobuosi is able to find the money to proceed with the acquisition then hard questions will be asked as to where that money is coming from.
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