Plans by Kenya’s Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) to withdraw its second case against African fintech giant Flutterwave have been shot down by the High Court, Kenya’s third highest court.
In August last year, the agency had frozen $3 million belonging to Flutterwave, Hupesi Solutions, and Adguru Technology Limited on suspicion of money laundering and fraud. The funds seizure happened two months after the ARA froze another $52.5 million belonging to Flutterwave and six other companies. The ARA filed a suit after each seizure, the first of which was withdrawn formally in March this year.
Request for the withdrawal of the second suit was rejected by High Court judge Nixon Sifuna, who, in a ruling seen by TechCrunch, noted that the ARA, being a public-funded body, had failed to give reasons for the withdrawal, including “negotiations or settlement, or the terms of such negotiations or settlement.”
This was despite the agency including an affidavit by its investigator and a trove of documents, including bank statements, as evidence that the millions in the fintech’s bank and mobile money accounts were proceeds from crime and money laundering. The judge sought to know why the agency claimed to no longer have any evidence of the alleged crime.
“The bodies entrusted with the duty to fight corruption, economic crime, organized crime and similar vices (including money laundering) should not abdicate their divine duty or become complicit in such vices,” said Judge Sifuna, declining the withdrawal, adding that the proceedings will be determined upon receipt of an affidavit sworn by the agency’s CEO or a high-ranking officer.
He said the agency must be guided by public interest and that its decisions or actions have to “be open and beyond reproach in the public eye.”
The ruling is set to further delay its prospects of getting a license to operate in Kenya.
Responding to the ruling, Flutterwave spokesperson said: “We are aware of the recent ruling by the Nairobi High court on 20th of July with regards to the Assets Recovery Agency’s (ARA) case brought against Flutterwave last year and the ARA’s subsequent submission for the case to be withdrawn. While the matter remains subjudice, we regretfully cannot comment on the specific details of the ruling or the case, so as not to be in contempt of the Court.”
“It is essential, however, to emphasize that our operations have always been and will continue to be conducted in strict compliance with the law. Our commitment to ethical practices and adherence to regulatory requirements is unwavering and we are actively cooperating with all the relevant authorities to ensure an expeditious resolution,” they said.
In the two cases, the agency said Flutterwave’s bank accounts were used as conduits for money laundering under the guise of merchant services. It said Flutterwave had failed to provide evidence to validate retail transactions from customers. It added that there was no evidence of settlements to the alleged merchants.
Flutterwave was founded in 2016 by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Olugbenga “GB” Agboola (CEO), and Adeleke Adekoya, to facilitate cross-border payments in Africa. It has since grown to include a remittance service that allows users to send money to recipients to and from the continent — a Shopify-like e-commerce platform for small businesses called Flutterwave Store, and Tuition, an education payments platform.
It raised $350 million last year at a $3 billion valuation, making it one of the most valuable startups in Africa. It has, however, had to deal with a string of controversies, including claims of harassment, funds misappropriation, and mismanagement.
Updated at 04:24 Eastern Time on July 26, 2023 to include a comment from Flutterwave