Italian investor who scammed Kenyans out of millions is now a key player in Lesotho and Zimbabwe's nascent cannabis industries. It is an indictment of African countries' background checking capacity when going into big contracts.
Kenya's Business Daily recently carried a disturbing headline: Italian Who Cheated Kenyans of Sh450 M goes to Harare. The man is none other than Carl James Esprey, an Italian investor who disappeared with investors' money with no communication. Esprey had set up Kenya Atlas African Industries, which debuted on the Nairobi Stock Exchange with a market capitalization of Sh4.9 billion (around $48 million). The company, however, started failing and its stock took a tumble before it ultimately closed its Kenyan operations. Esprey is reported to have alleged that the Ethiopian government unlawfully seized money he intended to invest in Ethiopia. After Ethiopia, Atlas went for Nigeria where it invested in BonanzaWin. That was the last traceable history of the company which had pulled a fast one on Kenyan investors. Atlas also left unpaid suppliers in a quandary and they had to engage the government to get help. Now the man behind the company is in Lesotho and Zimbabwe to fund production and export of marijuana. Do these people even carry out background checks?
Esprey, together with the late Koffi Annan's son, Kojo Annan are coming for Sotho and Zimbabwean cannabis, setting up a company for the purpose - African Cannabis. The company is based in Canada and holds a medical cannabis license in Lesotho while it is in a joint venture with a Zimbabwean parastatal in the hope of obtaining a license. Bloomberg says, "African Cannabis Corp. engages in production, cultivation, extraction, and export of medical cannabis. The company was incorporated in 2018 and is based in Toronto, Canada." The company is also said to have announced a brokered private placement for gross proceeds of up to CAD 15 Million and the plan is to use the net proceeds of the offerings to fund construction of cultivation facilities in Zimbabwe and Lesotho. The CFN Media Group website says, "African Cannabis will produce and market dried cannabis flowers and cannabis oils of various tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) contents."
The goals are all noble but the ignoble element is Mr. Esprey who is yet to explain to shareholders where their money disappeared to. Is this the right person to position in a high-value industry like cannabis? Grand View Research says the market for legal marijuana will be worth $146 billion per year by 2025. Why is a scammer involved in such big money? This tendency of awarding big opportunities to questionable characters is perverse in the continent with various companies like World Bank blacklisted China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) Limited getting contracts and tenders regardless of their shady standing. These shady companies end up believing African countries to be desperate to land any deal, which "desperation" they use as leverage. In Uganda, CCCC, for example, blackmailed Parliamentarians after being questioned in Parliament over how it got a road construction contract. These shady people should go.
Header Image Credit: NMG
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