Stallion Group, the large conglomerate, which operates in several African countries and the United Arab Emirates, is facing the greatest challenge in its corporate existence as several Nigerian banks seek to liquidate its assets over mounting unpaid debts.
Founded by the colourful and controversial businessman Sunil Vaswani, the Stallion Group, which is involved in a range of diverse businesses spanning food processing, sales of automobiles and manufacturing, has seen its stock go down since Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari assumed power in mid-2015.
Prior to this, the fifty-seven year old Mr Vaswani and his brothers Haresh and Mahesh who also are part of the group’s executive management, had developed a close friendship with the past administration of Goodluck Jonathan, an academic from the Southern part of the country who ensured that Stallion reaped the benefits of its promoters’ fealty through widely-criticized concessions.
Mr Buhari’s ascendancy to the presidency, fueled by a mantra of change has led to greater scrutiny of the labyrinthine dealings of the Vaswanis who have been under countless investigations by several law enforcement authorities in Nigeria.
In addition to well-publicized investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Stallion Group has had serious issues with state and federal tax agencies, the Nigerian Customs Service and the police against which Stallion’s directors sought a protective fundamental human rights order in November 2019.
In 2018, the EFCC filed charges against Stallion Motors Limited and its chief executive Hapreet Singh for allegedly giving a N1.275 billion to the People’s Democratic Party to finance the 2015 elections and the inexorable pressure from the anti-graft agency and other quangos has disrupted the group’s business leading to a rapid downsizing of its workforce.
Industry watchers say that Stallion’s closeness to senior officials of the People’s Democratic Party, including Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser, who was incarcerated for several years by the Buhari administration after being accused of diverting billions meant for security to partisan causes, has effectively placed Stallion and the Vaswanis on a government blacklist cutting it off from lucrative contracts that had been a cash cow for the group.
Sensing Stallion’s precarious financial situation, several Nigerian banks have also gone for the firm’s jugular. In 2019, a Federal High Court in Lagos granted an order protecting Gbenga Akinde-Peters, a Receiver/Manager appointed by Guaranty Trust Bank Plc to take over all fixed and floating assets of Stallion Nigeria Limited company in receivership,the company owned by the Vaswani brothers, wherever the assets are found, particularly its registered Head office at 270A, Ajose Adeogun Street Victoria Island Lagos.
The order of the court was as a result of the company’s inability to pay a debt of N11,401,860,857.06 and $1,969,801.07. The defendants in the suit were THP Limited, The Honda Place Limited, Connoisseur Investment Limited, Premium Seafoods Limited and Onward Fisheries Nigeria Limited who were alleged to have guaranteed the loan.
In an affidavit sworn to by a litigation officer, Mr Segun Omoshola,filed and argued before the court by a Lagos lawyer, Temilolu Adamolekun, the deponent alleged that, Stallion Nigerian Limited company, in receivership, was availed several loan facilities totaling the sum of N30.5Billion to augment its working capital needs as well as those of its related companies.
The loan facilities were drawn down and used by the Stallion Nigeria Limited Company in accordance with the offer letter.
The loan was secured by the personal guarantee of Mr Sunil Vaswani who is the alter ego Stallion Nigeria Limited, five choice properties located in Lagos,Port-Harcourt and Abuja.
However, when the facilities were matured,Stallion Nigeria Limited and the defendants’ companies who guaranteed the loan failed to liquidate the facilities which have continued to accrue interest.
GTBank stated that as at March 31,2018, Stallion Nigeria Limited’s indebtedness to the bank stood at N11,401,860,857.06,and $1,969,801.07. The bank said it had written several demand letters, made entreaties to Stallion Nigeria Limited and the defendants companies to meet their obligations to the bank but Stallion did not provide any meaningful response.
Justice Saliu Saidu, after hearing Temilolu Adamolekun and four other senior lawyers, while restraining the Directors of the defendants companies from obstructing the Receiver/Manager from performing his duties,also issued an order Protecting Mr Akinde Peters appointed by the bank to take over all fixed and floating assets of Stallion Nigeria Limited.
In June 2020, Nigeria’s Zenith Bank also sued Sunil Vaswani over debts accumulated by Stallion Group, based on the personal guarantee he provided for the loans. The bank sought a judgement sum of N23, 388, 188, 765.49 from Mr Vaswani being the outstanding debts owned by the Stallion Group as at May 12, 2020. Zenith Bank also asked the court to compel Mr Vaswani and the Stallion Group to pay the accumulated interest at a rate determined by the court.
Zenith Bank asked the court to transfer Mr Vaswani’s assets to it if the debts are not paid. The assets which are located across several jurisdictions including Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, include: L9, Lailak Street, Emirates Hills, Emirates Living, 40 Avenue Road, NWH 8 6HS.
In addition, Zenith Bank asked the court to authorize it to seize all stocks and equity holdings maintained by Mr Vaswani around the world including cash deposits, bonds wholly or jointly-held, investments in financial schemes, all forms of negotiable instruments in commercial banks, discount houses, mortgage banks, merchant banks and other financial institutions located within the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the United States of America, the United Arab Emirates and other countries and territories.
The bank also applied for an order to seize Mr Vaswani’s funds in several banks including but not limited to accounts in Rak Bank and Emirates NBD Bank in the United Arab Emirates, Barclays Bank Canary Wharf London, HSBC Bank of 8, Canada Square, Canary Wharf London and Standard Chartered Bank, Basinghall Avenue, London.