The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has launched a manhunt for controversial billionaire businessmen – the Vaswani brothers – over an alleged shady importation deal in which they were said to have defrauded the Federal Government of over N4bn.
The Vaswanis – Sunil, Haresh and Mahesh – according to EFCC sources, have refused to honour invitations sent to them in the last six weeks to explain the transaction made under the auspices of their flagship Stallion Group founded in 1969.
Already, the commission’s agents have sealed some of their businesses, including the Honda Place located on Victoria Island, Lagos. Other Honda Place outlets in Kano and Abuja are to be sealed this week, the EFCC’s Head, Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Babafemi said.
“They are believed to have forged documents and defrauded the Federal Government of over N4bn. They have the habit of running away anytime there is a case against them, but this time around we are ready for them,” the EFCC spokesman added.
The Vaswani brothers, whose business interests include commodities trading, car dealerships, manufacturing, real estate and financial services, with outposts across West Africa, are known for their vast connections in the corridors of power over the years and aggressive business tactics.
Stallion Group’s footprint covers Nigeria, Ghana, Benin Republic, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Angola and Cameroun and is rapidly strengthening its presence in other countries, the company’s website claims.
The company trades in rice, chemicals and fertiliser, fish, building materials and oil and oil products.
It provides aircraft charters and leasing services under its Stallion Aircraft brand. It also has interests in textiles, plastics, food processing and packaging, motorcycles assembly and rice milling.
In Nigeria, the Vaswanis own the Honda Place, Hyundai Place, Volkswagen Centre, Audi Place, Skoda World and Stallion Foods as well as interests in shipping and maritime services and insurance.
They were at the centre of a N40bn fraud in 2003 for which they were deported on May 29, 2003 on the orders of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
They were alleged to have evaded tax and import duty payments between 1999 and 2003 in the said sum.
They also ran into trouble for allegedly procuring millions of dollars from the CBN, ostensibly to import fertilizer to support the Federal Government’s poverty alleviation programme, but most of the funds were said to have been diverted to the parallel market where they allegedly pocketed huge profits.
An attempt to relocate to Ghana in the heat of the scandal was rebuffed by the Ghanaian government, which issued a Prohibition of Entry Order against them based on security considerations.
The order, made by the then Ghanaian Interior Minister, Mr. Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, on August 21, 2003 reads: “Whereas in the opinion of the Minister of the Interior the entry into Ghana of the underlisted persons, Mahesh Vaswani, Sunil Vaswani and Haresh Vaswani would not be conducive to the public good, “Now therefore in exercise of the powers conferred on the Minister of the Interior by section 8 (1) of the Immigration Act 2000 (Act 573) this order is made this 21st day of August 2003. Maresh Vaswani, Haresh Vaswani and Sunil Vaswani are hereby prohibited from entering Ghana until further notice.”
Owusu-Agyemang, had at that time, also recalled that the parents of the Vaswanis were also deported from Ghana on similar grounds in the1970s.
However, the Yar’Adua administration apparently cleared the Vaswanis of their alleged misdeeds and revoked the deportation order in December 2007 vide a letter that was signed by the then Chief of Staff to the President, Maj-Gen. Abdullahi Mohammed (rtd).