Friday, September 25, 2020

The rise and fall of Gaborone’s smooth talking socialite

For well over ten years Nab Graorac was a powerful influence and a central figure of Gaborone’s top but reclusive business elite.

A nervy risk taker, Nab literally dazzled Gaborone’s business elite with his shrewdness, fighting spirit and staying power. To his admirers it was always a source of inspiration that one could survive on the edge for as long as Nab did.

His home in the northern suburbs of Phakalane had over the years become a popular address for some of the country’s well known socialites, beautiful models, socialites, hangers on, business executives and many such peddlers who liked to rub shoulders with the rich, the influential and the powerful.

But when his African Express business empire started to run into troubles a few weeks ago the abrasively flamboyant Yugoslav fled the country without a trace.

The only mark he left behind was a text message he sent to one of his longtime associates; “You may call me a coward, but let me be a coward for once in my life. I have to go.”

Nab’s story would be immensely entertaining if the consequences of his fall were not so deeply serious.
While there are many accounts no one is really certain of Nab’s whereabouts.
Some say he is hiding somewhere in Dubai a place where it is alleged he had been smuggling the money from his collapsed empire. Some say he is in Cape Town, while yet others say he could be somewhere in Europe, possibly Spain or Italy given his love for fashion, well cut designer suits and all the other creature comforts.

What is certain though is that together with his collapsed empire, Nab has left behind a trail of heart-broken bank managers all of whom he literally sweet talked and convinced into lending him millions of Pula.

This week, the Managing Director of Barclays Bank Botswana, Thuli Johnson whose outfit Nab owed P6 million said he, like everyone else did not know the whereabouts of the Yugoslav. He said he is suing to recover whatever is left of African Express.

For a clique that has traditionally prided itself as tight and knowledgeable of almost everything about anything, Botswana’s banking industry seems to be losing track nowadays. African Express’ fall from grace suggests a more depressing turn in the quality of Botswana’s banking industry.

“Like everyone else I do not know where Nab is,” said a clearly distraught Tuli Johnson.

Nab arrived in Botswana in the 1990s at a time when his country Yugoslavia was descending into chaos. His friends say when he arrived Nab was broke, or nearly so.

Armed with nothing but a steel-like pride and determination to succeed, he overnight became the central figure of a small but rapidly influential group of East European migrants that were to dominate the construction and property development industries in Botswana.
Those who know Nab say from his humble beginnings running what was then a struggling courier company essentially operating on the fringes, cowardice was never a trait that was a part of his bloodstream.

They still cannot believe it that Nab has chosen to run away instead of fighting on to save his beloved African Express. They also point out that through and through Nab existed as a master manipulator who easily got carried away not just by his successes but ambitions as well. From his early days as a Gaborone businessman, the Yugoslav demonstrated a rare skill to charm not just the socialite circles but the bankers as well.

With nothing to produce as proof of his credit worthiness he convinced almost all the leading banks in Botswana to trust him with millions of the depositors’ money which in turn helped him to turn his company into the country’s premier courier company.
To show his success the ‘who is who’ of Botswana’s business elite not only bought into his phony existence but also literally lined up to buy a stake in his company.

Among others these included Thuli Johnson and the Chief Executive Officer of BIFM Victor Senye who proposed to buy a shareholding in African Express. At one time Senye even sat on the board of directors at African Express on behalf of himself, his company and Thuli Johnson – resigning when the deal to buy African Express soured.

Observers insist that there is more to African Express collapse than meets the eye.

The courier company’s collapse come in the wake of a few weeks after which yet another transport related company, Lobtrans collapsed owing Botswana’s commercial banks millions in money.
“Botswana’s financial industry seems to be going through a credibility crisis. It will take a lot of soul searching and bridges building for this sector to regain public trust,” said one banker this week.

It is scarcely surprising that with people of Senye’s stature and clout sitting as directors, African Express was able to convince many more banks to lend in even more millions in loan money.

As a result in addition to its routine courier business, African Express expanded and started to buy a big fleet of tankers and haulers to transport oil, along the way winning a lucrative contract with Shell Botswana which is run by another Nab acolyte, Boitumelo Sekwababe.

But that was until Nab and his African Express lost a big contract with Barclays Bank Botswana.
Things began to unravel: he missed his loan installments, staff started receiving their salaries late and creditors began to worry that the company had run into trouble.
With Nab now out of the raider more questions are beginning to come to the fore on how Botswana’s business elite is conducting themselves.

Under attack is Tuli Johnson and Victor Senye.

The Barclays Botswana chief is still smarting from the embarrassment of the Lobtrans saga. For his part Senye is still to prove that his purchase of BIFM shares together with a handful of other directors was above board and did not amount to insider trading a detractors have since alleged. The P30 million transaction was financed by Barclays.
With so many questions and so few answers it is clear that for Botswana’s financial sector the eagles have already started hovering low.


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