In the fast-paced world of fintech, the recent turmoil surrounding Ibrahim Ibitade, the CEO of Leatherback, has sent shockwaves through the industry. Allegations of fraud have surfaced, casting a dark cloud over the reputation of a leader and the fintech firm he steers.
The recent allegations against Ibitade come after Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) declared him wanted in connection with allegations of conspiracy and obtaining money under pretence on November 16, 2023.
Leatherback is a digital bank that issues accounts in Dollars, Pounds, and about 14 other currencies, helping merchants and individuals facilitate cross-border banking and payment needs in several countries.
We reached out to Leatherback, and here is what we discovered:
Leatherback and SDQ Facilitators
Leatherback, which has over 50,000 users across its 12 countries of operations, issued an NGN and USD account to a user called SDQ Facilitators. This account received Naira for the FX transactions into the account issued to them by Leatherback. They carried out exchanges from the account—exchanging Naira deposited in their account for USD, which they could then initiate a payout to the final beneficiary from their USD account. Leatherback has no affiliations with SDQ Facilitators and its clients.
In September 2023, Leatherback was notified by the EFCC that the account maintained by SDQ facilitators had been used to possibly perpetuate fraudulent activities. Leatherback immediately started providing the authorities with all the required information to support and aid their investigation. Leatherback took those allegations seriously, and as soon as they came to their attention, they initiated a rigorous internal investigation.
Leatherback was present at the EFCC office every time the EFCC team requested a meeting duly represented by their Head of Compliance in both the Lagos and Abuja offices of the EFCC, providing clarifications to all required questions. Leatherback supported the EFCC investigation by making available over 2,000 printed documents to provide as much clarification as possible. Leatherback also filed a SARs report in the UK and Nigeria.
Once the EFCC investigations had reached a point where Leatherback had made all the necessary clarifications, they carried out an internal investigation into transactions made by SDQ Facilitators.
The company found that SDQ Facilitators began processing a significantly high volume of transactions from May to August. The account’s transactions were found to closely mirror those processed by Hekima International, a previous FX brokerage firm on the platform. This suggests that Hekima may have redirected some of its clients to SDQ Facilitators.
The internal investigation turned up a few victims who revealed that they were introduced to SDQ Facilitators by a Hekima associate when they were unable to process their transactions on the platform.
Leatherback delisted Hekima International in June 2023 from its platform and restricted account access due to risk and compliance concerns. This decision was prompted by Hekima International receiving third-party USD funds from a flagged sender in the USA.
SDQ Facilitators took over from Hekima with FX transactions until early August, when Leatherback received a notification from its bank that it had suspended all USD transactions for about two weeks. The pressure from this hold unravelled the whole fraudulent practice of SDQ Facilitators.
The internal investigation revealed that SDQ Facilitators had fraudulently collected funds from 3rd parties unknown to Leatherback under the pretence and guise of assisting them with settling USD payments. These victims were also among the most active trading clients with Hekima as of when Hekima still had an active account with Leatherback. Al-Pasie (the complainant who raised the petition against Leatherback at the EFCC) and Nolt Finance are the two victims.
Evidence shows that Leatherback willingly offered full access to information, data, and resources required for a thorough investigation. However, what began as a collaborative effort to uncover the truth is starting to resemble something altogether different—a witch-hunt.
In this case, Ibitade finds himself ensnared in a web of false accusations, a victim of circumstances that threaten not only his professional legacy but also the credibility of the fintech company he leads.
It is pertinent to note that SDQ Facilitators is just an account holder with Leatherback. SDQ facilitators do not have any form of a strategic partnership with Leatherback, nor has Leatherback engaged them for any form of special relationship beyond the regular account services provision. This fact has been shown and proven by the documents and evidence provided to the EFCC.
Speaking with the CEO, it appears that the Leatherback leader has done all that he can and believes he is being bullied. Ibitade asked, “If a commercial bank in Nigeria issues an account to an individual or a business and that business goes to defraud other people, will you declare the CEO of the commercial bank wanted?”
Behind the regulatory procedures and legal jargon appears to be the story of a CEO who, despite active cooperation, finds himself ensnared in a seemingly unending cycle of accusations. The toll on Ibitade’s well-being and the broader implications for the fintech community necessitates a careful examination of the motivations driving this ongoing scrutiny.
It is thus important to navigate this unfolding narrative with a commitment to fairness and justice, as this tumultuous period demands our scrutiny and a dedication to putting on display the truth, even if it means questioning the nature of the accusations against him.