The many frauds of Dozy Mmobuosi, failed Sheffield United owner

Dozy Mmobuosi was a big-hitter with a fintech empire when he stepped in to rescue a failing Yorkshire football club. But he was not quite the saviour he seemed.

Dozy Mmobuosi
(Image credit: Alamy)

The first sign that something was going badly wrong for Dozy Mmobuosi began in early 2023 on the windswept terraces of Sheffield United football club. The Nigerian tycoon proffering a £90million takeover offer had been welcomed as a saviour of the Yorkshire club, then in “financial dire straits”, says The Mail and early due diligence hadn’t thrown up any concerns. 

Mmobuosi, after all, was a recognised big-hitter – a mobile-phone entrepreneur, whose global empire had grown to encompass fintech, food processing and agriculture. He came with the endorsement of both Nasdaq, where his Tingo conglomerate had floated in 2021, and of auditors Deloitte. While he waited for formalities to complete, Mmobuosi reportedly pumped cash into the club to stave off administration, notes OneFootball

But disquiet was growing. In New York, the value of his listed company had plummeted by around $8billion to just $430million in a year – a remarkable 94% drop, even given the recent tech rout. Tingo was still trumpeting expected revenues of $1billion, but there was a sense of “mystery” about Mmobuosi’s wealth.

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All this was enough to spark the attention of Hindenburg Research, the feared New York financial research firm with a particular taste for rooting out fraud. Hindenburg’s June 2023 report didn’t disappoint, says the Financial Times. It alleged an “exceptionally obvious scam”. Hindenburg’s Nathan Anderson later said he had “never seen anything like” Tingo.

“For a decent fraud case, there might be a couple of material misrepresentations where management will try to lie about a big thing or two,” he said. Here, “an entire conglomerate” had been faked.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has now charged both Tingo and Mmobuosi with fraud of “staggering” scope. The latter, notes Bloomberg, is “still at large”. (Mmobuosi has called the SEC’s allegations “baseless” and said he “will contest them with unwavering resolve”. Tingo has said it will “fully cooperate” with the regulator.)

The hardest lesson for me is being able to surrender myself to scrutiny

Dozy Mmobuosi

China, childhood and false promises

Ever since childhood Mmobuosi, 45, has been a wheeler-dealer, noted Nigeria’s Vanguard News in 2020.

Growing up in a professional Lagos household, even Mmobuosi admits he was a handful, but his entrepreneurial instinct was unquenchable. He moonlighted throughout university in Nigeria as “a show promoter”, and co-founded an e-publishing company with his father, dubbed Fair Deal: the first product was “a book to help people avoid being defrauded”.

Mmobuosi’s horizons were widened when he travelled to Malaysia to study for a doctorate, taking a tour of Chinese factories in 2013. He returned to Nigeria determined to set up a mobile phone business. 

The project that inspired Tingo’s eventual rise as a fintech was designing a text-message-based platform for cash transfers. By 2019, Mmobuosi had tailored the idea to target Nigerian farmers, says the Financial Times. He claimed to have signed up millions with the promise of “micro-loans”, services such as weather forecasts and an online marketplace. And investors, many in London, bought the idea – along with Mmobuosi’s grand schemes of Chinese expansion. 

After a complicated series of reverse merger manoeuvres, Tingo eventually went public in New York. When investigators later visited Tingo’s phone factory and food-processing plant, they found the site empty. After “billions of dollars of fictitious transactions”, the supposed financial behemoth was found to have “about $15” in its account, says The Guardian. The entire enterprise, concluded the SEC, was “a fiction”. 

“I’m going to be very blunt about this. The hardest lesson for me is being able to surrender myself to scrutiny: what we call corporate governance,” observed Mmobuosi in 2020. There’ll be no escaping that now.

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Jane writes profiles for MoneyWeek and is city editor of The Week. A former British Society of Magazine Editors editor of the year, she cut her teeth in journalism editing The Daily Telegraph’s Letters page and writing gossip for the London Evening Standard – while contributing to a kaleidoscopic range of business magazines including Personnel Today, Edge, Microscope, Computing, PC Business World, and Business & Finance.

She has edited corporate publications for accountants BDO, business psychologists YSC Consulting, and the law firm Stephenson Harwood – also enjoying a stint as a researcher for the due diligence department of a global risk advisory firm.

Her sole book to date, Stay or Go? (2016), rehearsed the arguments on both sides of the EU referendum.

She lives in north London, has a degree in modern history from Trinity College, Oxford, and is currently learning to play the drums.