Francis Tuiyott
High Court
High Court.Justice
Phoenix Group
RHEA Holdings Limited
Surya Holdings Limited
the Netherlands

Karuturi, Stanbic trade fraud claims in debt war

Karuturi accuses Stanbic Bank of working with the receiver managers to suppress the company’s sales and inflate expenses to justify the granting of fresh loans. Karuturi made the claims in response to a suit that Stanbic Bank filed in court seeking settlement of a Sh1.8 billion debt.Karuturi, which exports more than one million stems annually, went into receivership in February 2014 after it failed to pay Sh400 million loan from CfC Stanbic.

A section of the vast Karuturi Limited flower farm that was under cultivation. File Photo | MACHARIA MWANGI | NMG

Troubled flower firm Karuturi has accused a local lender that assumed control of the company during receivership of using the receivers and managers to suppress its sales by more than Sh2 billion to justify disbursement of more loans and prevent it from coming out of forced management. Karuturi, which is one of the world’s largest flower firms, accuses Stanbic Bank #ticker:CFC of working with the receiver managers to suppress the company’s sales and inflate expenses to justify the granting of fresh loans in form of bank overdrafts to the flower firm. The bank denies the allegations.Karuturi made the claims in response to a suit that Stanbic Bank filed in court seeking settlement of a Sh1.8 billion debt.Stanbic-appointed receiver managers are accused of suppressing flower sales and of using suppressed currency exchange rate to the disadvantage of Karuturi during the receivership.

Minui Thoithi and Kuria Mucheru were appointed Karuturi’s receiver managers in 2014 after Stabic went to court over the flower firm failure to meet its financial obligations. Two months ago, High Court Judge Francis Tuiyott directed owners of Karuturi – Surya Holdings Limited and RHEA Holdings Limited- to settle Stanbic’s Sh1.8 billion loan in 90 days or face auction in default.Karuturi, which exports more than one million stems annually, went into receivership in February 2014 after it failed to pay Sh400 million loan from CfC Stanbic.The debt has since grown to Sh1.8 billion, including expenses the bank incurred in the receivership operations in the wake of a trading deficit. Owners of the flower firm have disputed the amount.“In any event, there was no trading deficit as alleged, or at all. What was happening was a total manipulation of the trading figures to generate a trading deficit, and as a justification for the bank to inject additional funds, at the expense of the plaintiffs herein, who were not party to the said trading activities,” Karuturi owners have argued.Justice Tuiyot however directed that the whole amount to be settled, noting that the owners — Surya Holdings Limited and RHEA Holdings Limited — had admitted the pre-receivership debt and the post-receivership debt had been assessed by an audit firm selected by their consent.Owners of Karuturi have disputed the Sh1.3 billion debt accrued during the receivership, but the judge ruled that the amount can be refunded if owners prove their case at the end of the trial which is pending in the commercial division of the High Court.Justice Tuiyott declined to delve into the merits of Karuturi owners’ claims of impropriety during the receivership noting that although the report had given the bank and receivers a clean bill of health, a decision on the allegations could only be made after full hearing and upon hearing the auditor’s defence of the report.“The court will grant the plaintiffs an opportunity to disprove the findings of the auditor. For that reason the court restrains itself from making a holding that the findings of the auditor constitutes a final ascertainment of the post receivership debt,” said Justice Tuiyott.Karuturi owners have argued that the report failed to point out instances of mismanagement by the receivers and ignored the facts made available to them.

Audit firm Deloitte, has compiled a report showing that Karuturi accumulated $6.7 million (Sh676 million) debt during receivership, which has accrued a $2.7 million (272 million) interest, bringing the total amount to $ 9.1 million (Sh9191 million).Owners of Karuturi have asked the court not to hold them liable for the new debt, because it was disbursed without their consent.Karuturi owners have challenged the alleged discrepancies in the volume of flower stems produced, and the sales as contained in Deloitte report.The flower firm has maintained that there was no justification for classifying about 86 million flower stems out of the total 474 million flower stems graded as rejects.The Deloitte report had indicated that only 9 million flower stems were unaccounted for and that total production peaked at 403 million out of which the receivers reported that only 373 million stems were sold.The audit firm is accused of producing an erroneous report that excluded re-bunched and mixed flowers.Karuturi owners claim that at the rate of 0.09 Euros per stem and using exchange rate of 1.05 of Euros to the dollar, the 86 million stems allegedly unaccounted for translates to $8.1 million (Sh818 million).The owners further claim that the Sh2.7 billion sales that the bank reported translate to 305 million flowers, leaving about 70 million flowers worth $9 million (Sh909 million) unaccounted for. The Deloitte report indicates that in October 2014 the Karuturi receiver incorporated a company called Twiga BV in the Netherlands to help it handle marketing, sales and invoicing and that most of the sales were thereafter channeled through Twiga BV’s bank accounts.Stanbic, through the receiver managers, is further accused of using suppressed exchange rates when converting from Euro to the dollar leading to loss of $4 million (Sh404 million).Stanbic has in response argued that the alleged discrepancies are erroneously derived and meant to divert the attention from the findings of the audit report. The bank has asked the court to dismiss the allegations.

Owners Karuturi this week announced they had reached an agreement with Phoenix Group for a “blend of debt and equity” that will help them meet current debt obligations and restart operations.READ: Karuturi gets second chance against Stanbic hammer – VIDEOALSO READ: Stanbic net profit drops to Sh4.3 billion as bad loans rise

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