Opinions of Fri, 30 Nov 201818
NAM1 and his Menzgold: When the dust settles, would he be Ghana’s all-time Ponzi king?
Nana Appiah Mensah appeared from nowhere or at least, not much was known about him, just like most others who appeared and then whittled away soon after their true identities were found out. He came up with grand business ideas, spanning music, artiste management and trading in gold, or so he said.
The business model looked novel, but much of it was shrouded in secrecy. One of the subsidiaries started as Menzbank. Then questions were asked, by banking sector regulators and he quickly changed the name to Menzbanc, by simply changing the last letter in the business name to ‘c’. But as the country’s banking sector regulator raised more queries, the name finally changed to Menzgold. All this while, no one saw the red flag, instead his clientele base soared.
I read somewhere on a friend’s timeline on social media that someone in the UK, sometime last month or so, issued a cheque for GH¢300,000 to be deposited or as it is, invested with Menzgold.
Mensah also known as NAM1, those are the letters and figure of his car number plate by the way, sprang up with a business set in the sought after location of East Legon. Land and housing at East Legon cost an arm and a leg, it’s one of the most expensive real estate enclaves in Ghana. It is the perfect location to build a business and gain trust. The exterior and interior of the building housing Menzgold showcase extravagant decors draped in gold. The building and it’s decors are imposing and even intimidating.
Even though I heard about the business, it was bits and pieces of what the business was engaged in, not much detail and that seems to be very usual with businesses with so much to hide.
The first time I heard more about Menzgold was about a year ago when I gave a lift to a client around the Menzgold office who was heading to my direction.
This client told me about going to deposit a gold bar. Curious, I asked what the business was about. This client narrated how one has to go to a subsidiary company to purchase a gold bar and then deposit it at Menzgold, and then go there every month to collect their interest from the income that the trade in gold on their behalf by Menzgold yielded.
But how Menzgold could afford to pay that substantial interest rate per month to its clients has never been properly explained except that a few people trying to explain would say that Menzgold traded those gold bars on the international market and gold prices have risen making it possible for the company to pay that much interest to clients.
Someone I spoke to who said he was informed of Menzgold’s business model indicated that Menzgold invested in other securities elsewhere, and makes up to 48 per cent a month and therefore the 10 per cent it was paying to clients was even too small, considering the huge profits that Menzgold made from its end of the investments. But this person couldn’t tell me exactly where Menzgold made its investments.
Years ago, similar stories were told about some Ponzi schemes that sprang up in Accra – the two famous ones – R5 and Pyram. No one could pinpoint how they made their money and yet people trusted them and deposited their monies with them in return for very large interest rates per month. Eventually, these two collapsed – the real people behind them were never found, but so many people lost large amounts of money, some their life savings.
But as matters have now turned, if indeed it is finally established that the gold sold to clients by NAM1’s Menzgold is Aurum Utalium, as stated in the contract that clients signed, then some fraud was involved and the business model as it is being unraveled is a Ponzi scheme – plain and simple. A simple online search about Aurum Utalium shows that it is the term used by criminals in gold scams. And curiously, Menzgold’s logo is a pyramid! How did anyone miss that? Meanwhile, the diagram used to illustrate a Ponzi scheme is the pyramid.
Why it took so long to unravel this isn’t difficult to establish, but of course the retroactive moves of the Bank of Ghana and pressure from the Minerals Commission and Securities and Exchanges Commission, even though very late in the day might have led to the exposure.
But why the scheme succeeded cannot be simply put to greed. To put it mildly, it is due to indiscretion. Indiscretion because while investments of any kind comes with certain amounts of risk, the risk ought to be calculated after all the factors have been carefully and properly taken into account – considering all the information available to the client in a transparent manner.
NAM1 easily got away for a long time most probably because of the growing culture of the love of money and respect for people with money irrespective of the source. He seems to understand the system and culture so well that he played it. He was flashy, spoke tough, had a no nonsense attitude, just to make him look like he is not a pushover, an accomplished wealthy young man who is in control of everything around him and won’t be silenced by anyone. His outlandish Tweet in response to a Bank of Ghana query calling the regulator a joke is a typical example. He tried to put up an appearance of a strong man who can take on even state institutions – a reaction that drew both loud applause and condemnation, but more accolades. He later did apologise for the Tweet.
What also made him remarkable is the fact that he came out as the face of the business – he wasn’t a faceless owner. He took responsibility and stood out – or could he be representing a faceless owner? Time will tell.
He made sure, clients can see, hear and feel his vibes. No one doing questionable business would be so present. But he is.
He also played on the psyche of the Ghanaian by being philanthropic. He won lots of Ghanaians to his side with his philanthropy, making anyone who criticized or questioned his source of income or business model look like a bitter envious person. He went on to even sponsor the national premier league through one of his subsidiaries – effectively placing him in a comfortable position as a good citizen and indigenous businessman taking on a responsibility that for a long time has been the domain of foreign companies.
The few Ghanaians who attempted to question NAM1’s source of wealth were viciously attacked and silenced by his supporters and beneficiaries.
To deepen the legitimacy of the business, NAM1 in the last year has opened branches in some foreign countries including the UK and the US.
The UK branch for instance, Menzgold England Limited was incorporated November 22, 2017 with registration number 11077745 and Nana Appiah Mensah aka NAM1 as Director. He holds 75 per cent of shares with a stated capital of £100. He is described on company documents as ‘trader’. No other shareholders were listed and the nature of business is indicated as ‘the sale of fuels, ores, metals and industrial chemicals.’
Meanwhile, the business address has been moved from Croydon to Berkeley Square in London not long ago.
But who is NAM1?
Born in May 1984, there is very little information about the beginnings of this 34-year-old man. Not much detail has been written about his early and true beginnings. What little is available could possibly not be ascertainable, because the information could be coming from him and would not have been verified by anyone who might have put it out. That kind of situation is common with people like him.
For instance there is this young man, rejected thrice by the University of Ghana because he doesn’t have the required grades to be admitted, who has consistently made the claim, that he has read 4000 books in his lifetime. He is only in his 30s, and yet no one has critically questioned that claim. Meanwhile, he has moved on from a motivational speaker to a pastor and runs training for companies, schools and churches. It would be interesting to know how he managed to read all 4000 books in his lifetime and managed to keep track of the numbers.
It is the same case with NAM1. How did he start, where did he start from? I once asked someone who his shareholders are, but the person couldn’t say. For a business with that amount of funds flowing around, transparency is key, in establishing credibility and trust. Knowing his true background and connections, how he suddenly became so wealthy and what the actual source of his wealth is were all crucial for the long term survival of the business and security of the investors.
But as the case is, in Ghana, people who ask ‘too much’ questions about wealthy people are not liked much or even tolerated and so people won’t normally ask openly. That attitude eventually creates a shade and impenetrable shield of protection from sincere seekers of truth and effectively builds an aura of invincibility which itself reinforces the image that Ponzi schemers need to be successful.
The 1992 Constitution of Ghana empowers journalists to hold to account the powerful. The powerful are not only those holding public office, but also businesses and any individual or group that holds control over a large number of the population through any kind of influence. For the kind of business that NAM1 was engaged in, media scrutiny is not only desirable to ensure transparency, but also necessary because it is a responsibility. The media has the duty to hold such entities and individuals to account – it is both a legal and moral duty.
However, much of what one would read or hear in the news about NAM1 and his businesses are mostly controlled information from himself and his assigns, and lots of gossip with very little or no independent news reports, facts or editorials. The media reports were more in Hollywood style.
The hard facts about NAM1 and his businesses, however, started surfacing only after the regulators took action, albeit very late in the day. But even that information isn’t thorough or adequate to paint a true full picture.
While it is not simple to explain, one of the reasons why most journalists even though capable, are unable to do critical news reports about businesses like Menzgold is the business models of most news organisations. Their revenue sources are modeled around advertising and therefore, they wouldn’t like to upset a potential big advertiser. And fact is most businesses use advertising as a means to control what is published about them. In most cases, marketing and advertising agencies and managers have threatened to withdraw advertising when they were unhappy with some reports about the businesses they represent. This kind of situation makes it almost impossible for journalists to shine light on businessmen in the calibre that NAM1 portrayed himself to be. Most media organisations probably didn’t want to jeopardise any possibility of earning some advertising revenue from Menzgold.
As the matter stands now, clients of Menzgold and to a certain degree of NAM1 are uncertain about the future of their funds. Monitoring social media and some news reports one can gauge that there is fear and panic. Most clients are distraught, unsure if they would even be able to retrieve their principal. Some wish they would at least get their principal back.
When all the dust is settled and the truth finally comes out, which is, very likely that the Menzgold scheme that sold Aurum Utalium to clients and gave high interest rates was a Ponzi scheme, then NAM1, would be Ghana’s all-time Ponzi king.
By: Emmanuel K. Dogbevi