PwC sucked into dispute between FirstRand, Nigerian advocate

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP's building stands in the financial district of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Picture: Brent Lewin / Bloomberg via Getty Images

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP's building stands in the financial district of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Picture: Brent Lewin / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Obaika denies earlier suggestions that the audit firm cannot divulge details of the settlement to him because he is a ‘third party’.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has been sucked into a squabble between FirstRand and a Nigerian Advocate, Victor Obaika, who wants the audit firm to give him details of the more than one million-US-dollar settlement he received from the financial services provider.

Obaika, who alleges that the manner in which the settlement was paid to him was in breach of regulations related to the repatriation of funds overseas, has demanded that PwC provide “information and or clarity concerning a transaction emanating directly from the accounts of the FirstRand Investment Holdings (PTY) Ltd (FRIHL)”.

Obaika has been involved in a long-running dispute with FirstRand that came to prominence after he sued the financial services provider for more than a billion rand for breach of contract.

The initial contractual dispute was first reported by the African News Agency (ANA) on 22 September 2017. Obaika was suing FirstRand for R1.3 billion at the time.

FirstRand eventually agreed a settlement with the lawyer and paid more than one million US dollars, but Obaika remains at loggerheads with the financial services provider.

Although, FirstRand has declared the matter closed, Obaika insists there is a case to answer for and recently requested details of the settlement from audit firm PwC.

Obaika denies earlier suggestions that the audit firm cannot divulge details of the settlement to him because he is a “third party”.

In a letter addressed to Paul Prinsloo, the CEO of PwC, Obaika wrote: “Please note that for purposes of this specific transaction, we cannot be termed as ‘third parties’ as the purported service emanated from us, such to the extent that a significant sum was paid to us by the FRIHL for the purported service in question.”

Obaika further wrote: “Please show us the Invoice for Legal Work for FirstRand Group that emanated from us, detailing the work done commensurate with the almost $1.5 Million that was paid to our account in the United States of America, and the relevant exchange control documentation that allowed the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) to authorize the international transfer of the funds in question.”

The Nigerian advocate insists there is absolutely no law that prevents either PwC or Firstrand from providing “these details, especially when fraud, corruption and civil and criminal breaches are being alleged”.

Asked to comment on the development, PwC said in a written response, “due to our obligations of confidentiality, we are unable to provide you with any comment or information”.

The terse response was signed off by Fulvio Tonelli, the PwC Chief Operating Officer.

Meanwhile, Remgro has responded to concerns raised by Obaika regarding the manner in which FirstRand repatriated the funds it paid to him as a settlement.

“We refer to your letter, dated 14 February 2019, addressed to our Chairman. Please note that Remgro is a holding company and it is not involved in the operations of its investee companies,” wrote Danielle Heynes of Remgro.

“Accordingly, it is the responsibility of the FirstRand management to respond appropriately to the issues you raise. They are well placed and correctly authorised to take such action as is appropriate.

“We appreciate that you have brought this matter to our attention and we will take the required steps internally to establish if there is reason for concern.

“Should it be necessary, we will raise any concerns with the FirstRand management and it will be for them to consider it and take the matter further with you, if appropriate.”

African News Agency (ANA)

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