For some time there have been persistent rumors about the sale of the Tunisian Foreign Bank (TFBank), without any official party willing to confirm the information. There are even media outlets known for their credibility that relay the information.
According to these rumors, the Technical Committee of the Ministry of Finance met and validated the transfer of the bank under French law, which is affiliated to the French Banking Federation and whose capital is 100% Tunisian and distributed between STB Bank (49%), BH Bank ( 34 %) and the Tunisian state (16%).
The Tunisian state has reportedly decided to sell TFBank to a British investment group, Invema Group, following two failed sales attempts led by consultancy Gimar & Cie.
For this third attempt, the consulting firm PwC inherited the file and three candidates were selected for the final stage of the sale process: a British investment fund Invema Group, a consortium led by businessman Anis Bouajina, co-founder of Asel Telecom and Lyca Mobile Tunisia and Sahelo-Sahara Bank for Investment and Trade (BSIC).
Who is the Invema Group that the Tunisian state has sold or is selling TFBank to? Concretely, there is little information about this so-called British investment group. The website says nothing about where his funds came from or what projects he worked on. According to his own introduction, Invema LTD is an English investment management company headquartered in the USA. The company is considered a large asset management firm with its own assets worth over 5.7 billion euros “.
It would have had 14,000 customers, including 1,000 customers this year and 200 projects. These profits would have increased by 40%, again according to their website.
Its CEO claimed in a Facebook post dated June 30, 2022 that significant growth in the company’s size and operations has been recorded over the past two years.
By consulting the data of “The Open Database Of The Corporate World”, we learn that the capital is owned by a Spaniard Jorge Martinez Montferrer (75%) and by a Saudi Fatmah Baothman Abodulrahman (25%), who entered the capital in November 2021.
According to the Invema site, Jorge Martinez is the CEO and founder of the group, while Fatmah Baothman is the director of the artificial intelligence department. Experience wise, and while all members of the board are linked to LinkedIn accounts, there is nothing to be found on Mr Martinez’s track record. Ms. Baothman, according to her LinkedIn account, is a university professor at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia who holds a doctorate in philosophy and a doctorate in artificial intelligence. The lady exhibits an academic career without any experience that would justify her appointment to the board of directors of the Invema group. However, there is nothing concrete and no transparency on the company’s website regarding the shareholding and the source of the funds.
In the case of Jorge Martinez Montferrer, he is linked to another investment group, Rhino Investments Group INC, which has been suspended, and which is based in Panama, which is known to be a tax haven. He held the position of daily manager. The Invema group is associated with another company, Solaino LLC, which presents itself as a consulting company and which, according to data from “The Open Database Of The Corporate World”, is in another tax haven, Delaware in the USA.
The question that arises is whether the state has enough information about the Invema Group or whether the transaction was just validated because the group offered the best offer, especially since we are going to get rid of a presumed burden given the problems that TFBank have pulled out for. years?
Another thing, some have denounced conflicts of interest in this file. Others talk about corruption, but without providing evidence. But everyone agrees that certain Tunisian parties are pushing to end this operation in favor of Invema.
Rumors that take on their full meaning, knowing that the Minister of Finance ordered a control visit last January, but that the commission decided on the sale without waiting for the result. The Arabic-language newspaper Le Maghreb confirms that the mission identified many shortcomings, especially in terms of governance and management regarding recruitment on the basis of loyalty, poor management in purchasing and commercial policy, in addition to a deteriorating social climate or the presentation of an erroneous balance sheet to the board. In addition, there are suspicions of the sale of an apartment that the bank owns.
Worse, the same source indicates that the bank has received an audit visit from the French financial authorities, who have identified several shortcomings and are preparing to impose financial sanctions on the bank.
Knowing that the French financial authorities and the European Central Bank will have to validate this sale, since TFBank is under their jurisdiction, and that they risk issuing their veto, taking into account the opacity surrounding the investment fund Invema, the continuation of the process transfer would be a new blow to the credibility of the Tunisian state and its institutions.
Remember that TFBank, created in 1977, is a credit institution under French law, which has a license that allows it to operate in France as well as in the European market, which participates in the commercial and economic development between France and Tunisia.
The bank has five branches in France and an offshore branch in Tunis.
TFBank recorded a net loss of 7.8 million euros in 2018, bringing the amount of accumulated losses to 34.8 million euros.