Troubles Mount for Flutterwave
The African fintech unicorn faces new concerns as Kenyan authorities freeze $52 million in a new fraud and money laundering case
Flutterwave can’t seem to catch a break.
After dealing with a wave of bad press in April, sparked by a Medium post from a former employee and furthered by an investigative piece by a Nigerian journalist, the Nigerian fintech unicorn faces damaging new allegations in Kenya.
This week, Kenyan authorities alleged that Flutterwave helped facilitate a fraud and money laundering scheme. Kenya’s high court has frozen $52 million as part of the investigation into the allegations, which Flutterwave has strenuously denied.
It wasn’t so long ago that Flutterwave seemed not to have a care in the world.
Back in March 2021, the Nigerian payments company joined a very exclusive club by becoming Africa’s (at-the-time) fourth tech unicorn. That was when Tiger Global and Avenir led a $170 million Series C round at a reported valuation north of $1 billion.
Founded in 2016, Flutterwave provides a payment infrastructure for global merchants and payment service providers across the African continent. The company was founded and operates in Nigeria, but its headquarters are in San Francisco.
Fast forward to March of this year. Flutterwave tripled its valuation to more than $3 billion with a $250 million Series D round, which coincided with new offerings like fintech-as-a-service, a buy now, pay later option, and more.
As Flutterwave grew, Co-founder and CEO Gbenga Agboola gained something akin to rock star status (to the extent that a fintech founder can be a rockstar). He came to be known just by the initials “GB”.
Then on April 3, things took a bit of a turn. That’s when former Flutterwave employee Clara Wanjiku Odero (she left the company in 2018) published a Medium post with the alarming title, “The Flutterwave CEO is bullying me and it ends today.”
We won’t go into all the details, which are admittedly a bit murky and were covered extensively back in April.
In the Medium post, Odero alleges that when she left Flutterwave (she said she left because she was burned out and unhappy), the company refused to pay her all of the salary and expenses she was owed. When this wasn’t resolved, Odero writes, she retained a lawyer. Based on screenshots of a message thread with GB, her decision to retain a lawyer was perceived as an attempt at “blackmail.”
Let’s just say things got pretty messy from there. Odero said the company interfered with her efforts to find another job and offered other examples of what she describes as bullying and harassment.
She also says she was accused of being behind an anonymous Twitter account that accused Flutterwave execs of harassment. She denied any involvement in the account.
Flutterwave did acknowledge in this interview with the newsletter Big Tech This Week, published the same day as Odero’s Medium post, that it faced a sexual harassment case. This reportedly led to one investor (tipped off via email) pulling out of the company’s Series B round. In the interview, GB said the case was dealt with swiftly.
“GB shared that the company had dealt with an internal report of sexual harassment before this investigation. As a result, the company investigated and discovered an employee had been inappropriate towards his team members, which led to immediate dismissal.
“In addition, Ernst & Young instituted a workplace safety program for Flutterwave and PWC established a whistleblowing portal for its employees.”
In her Medium post, Odero says she had no knowledge of any sexual harassment within Flutterwave. The company did eventually pay Odero’s back wages.
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