A documentary by the BBC’s award-winning Africa Eye team, aired yesterday, has reported on concerns of alleged fraud, bribery and other highly questionable business practices by two British managers appointed by a European Investment Bank (EIB)-backed private equity fund to run its investee Kenyan firm Spencon [1].

Spencon, once the largest infrastructure development company in East Africa, is now bankrupt.

The EIB’s investment in Spencon is through ECP Africa Fund II (“ECP Africa”)[2], an investment vehicle managed by the US private equity firm Emerging Capital Partners (ECP).[3] The EIB has so far invested €39.2 million in ECP Africa[4].

The Africa Eye documentary reports that the two managers in question allegedly:

  • Made highly questionable cash payment for official documents which one leading UK lawyer, who was instrumental in drafting UK anti-bribery legislation, believes need investigating under the UK’s bribery act.
  • Hired a convicted criminal who, according to the Receiver in Uganda, sold company assets at grossly undervalued prices and also, with the managers’ knowledge, paid the proceeds into his personal bank account.
  • The administrators, PWC, say $1.6 million dollars has not been accounted for by the former executive directors. Ugandan Police says they are working with Interpol to question the managers.
  • Refused to pay Kenyan staff during the final months of the company even while the managers continued to draw their own salaries (each is reported to have earned over $20,000 a month).
  • Used company funds and equipment to build a golf practice area for their use at a time when the company was facing insolvency. The managers do not deny this but state that the golf practice area gave an impression of a thriving company.

The reported allegations are based on interviews with former staff and thousands of leaked Spencon emails, messages and documents.

The managers vehemently deny any wrongdoing. [4] Emerging Capital Partners denies any wrongdoing and have responded to each of the allegations in their reply [5].

“The ECP Africa-appointed managers oversaw the collapse of Spencon which once employed thousands and executed over 200 infrastructure projects across seven countries in Africa,” says Xavier Sol of Counter Balance, a European-wide NGO coalition that monitors the EIB. “Many ex-Spencon are now living in penury. Yet, even as the company was headed towards bankruptcy, Africa Eye has reported that the managers were using company equipment and funds to build a golf practice area for their personal use. It begs belief that EU funds might be used in this way.”

The European Investment Bank was warned by whistle blowers in 2015 of the alleged corruption and mismanagement by Spencon’s ECP Africa-appointed managers.

Although the EIB staff initiated an investigation, including a visit to Kenya to interview ex-Spencon staff, the EIB has remained silent as to the outcome. No action was taken to save Spencon.

“The EIB appears to have sat on its hands”, says Antonio Tricarico from Re:Common, an Italian NGO member of Counter Balance. “The public needs to know why. There are real concerns that the contracts that the EIB signed with private equity firms have severely constrained the bank’s ability to protect public money disbursed in support of EU development policies.”

Today, Counter Balance is calling for the European Parliament to conduct an urgent inquiry into the EIB’s handling of ECP Africa’s investment in Spencon.

“It is absolutely vital that the EIB is held accountable”, comments Sol. “A thorough, independent investigation is essential. The public needs to be reassured that EU’s development financing was not used to destroy jobs in the region through unethical business practices and mismanagement. This case is of significant importance, especially at a time when the EIB is revising its Anti-Fraud policy but does not plan to change it in order to put its commitment of a ‘zero tolerance towards fraud and corruption’ into practice” [7].

As a follow-up Counter Balance sent a letter to the CONT Committee of the European Parliament asking for an inquiry on the matter. You can download the letter here:

2020 Letter CONT Committee Spencon title page

Letter to the CONT Committee of the European Parliament

2020 Letter CONT Committee Spencon

[1] The Africa Eye documentary is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQinLY0m_jg&feature=youtu.be.

[2] ECP Africa Fund II invested $15 million in Spencon, commencing in 2006.

[3] In 2017 US court proceedings (Barnwell Enterprises Ltd v Emerging Capital Partners (1:16-mc-02581), Emerging Capital Partners stated that it “manages ECP Africa pursuant to contract” and that “ECP Africa in turn manages Spencon International Ltd., also referred to as Spencon Services Ltd. (“Spencon”), a Kenyan operation incorporated under the laws of Mauritius”. See: https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/doc1/04515925448

[4] https://www.eib.org/en/products/equity/funds/ecp-africa-fund-iihttps://www.eib.org/en/projects/pipelines/all/20050319

[5] The responses from the managers to the allegations are available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQinLY0m_jg&feature=youtu.be