Kenyans rush to swap banknotes as cash ban looms

Kenyans were given to September 30 to exchange their old bills at the bank or be stuck with bundles of useless cash. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2019

Kenyans rush to swap banknotes as cash ban looms

  • People with their fortunes stashed in cash are under pressure to find ways to jettison their money
  • ‘Four months is a short period of time when you want to launder big sums of money’

NAIROBI: Last week a man walked into a Nairobi car yard and paid for a luxury Mercedes with a mountain of 1,000-shilling ($10) banknotes, desperate to offload cash that within days would be worthless.
With a deadline looming before the Central Bank of Kenya bans all old edition 1,000-shilling notes, big fish with their fortunes stashed in cash are under pressure to find ways to jettison their money.
A new print of the 1,000-shilling banknote, the largest denomination, was rolled out in June, with Kenyans given to September 30 to exchange their old bills at the bank or be stuck with bundles of useless cash.
The operation is aimed at flushing out dirty money being hoarded by tax evaders, crooked businessmen and criminal groups.
Large deposits of the old notes, embossed with the image of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, raise alarm bells at banks and require paperwork to prove their origin.
The central bank in June said there were roughly 218 million 1,000-shilling notes in circulation, but declined to say what proportion was being stashed as black money.
Kenyan economist Aly-Khan Satchu said devaluing these bills works by “taking its owners by surprise.”
“Four months is a short period of time when you want to launder big sums of money,” he said.
“People who have that money will definitely try to save what they can.”
So, people are getting creative, devising schemes to quickly unload small amounts of their cash while avoiding detection by the authorities.
John, a car dealer in Nairobi, recalled his customer last week counting out thousands upon thousands of banknotes to purchase a luxury car worth $74,000.
“People want to get rid of their old notes, but they know very well that questions will be asked if they go put the money themselves in the bank,” said John, who declined to offer his real name due to the nature of his business.
“When I go to the bank to deposit money from a car sale, people ask for the papers from the sale, sometimes even copies of emails, but it never goes further.”
Other businesses are finding a lucrative side trade in washing 1,000-shilling notes through their tills — for a bit in return.
“I was approached by a friend through another friend and we struck a deal. I get around 500,000 shillings every day to bank together with my daily sales,” said a liquor shop owner who declined to be named in Hurlingham, a district near downtown Nairobi.
“In return I get between five and 10 percent, depending on the amount.”
The amounts being deposited are below one million shillings, the threshold at which banks required detailed paperwork under a new transparency policy imposed by the central bank in June 2018.
One canny businessman in western Kenya dished out his cash in the form of small, interest-free loans of around 50,000 shillings.
The amounts are low, so those exchanging the old bills avoid detection, and upon returning the debt his money is cleaned into new bills.
“Nothing is written down, it is a gentleman’s agreement,” he said, declining to be named.
Other methods involve sinking cash into real estate or investment funds, or businesses moving large volumes of money, several businesspeople said.
But it’s not all underhanded and hush-hush.
One bar in the coastal city of Mombasa is offering to swap banknotes on behalf of drinkers, encouraging punters to spend big at their “Old Notes Send Off Party” being held the eve of demonetization.


Japan weighing visit by Iran’s President Rouhani

Updated 09 December 2019

Japan weighing visit by Iran’s President Rouhani

  • Japan has been trying to forge a possible mediator role as tensions rise between its ally US and Iran
  • If the trip is confirmed, Rouhani would become the first Iranian president to visit Japan since 2000

TOKYO: Japan is weighing inviting Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani for a state visit, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday, as local media reported the trip was likely to happen this month.
Japan has been trying to forge a possible mediator role as tensions rise between its ally Washington and Tehran.
Local media has reported in recent days that Rouhani is likely to visit Tokyo around December 20, with some reports saying Washington has green-lighted the trip.
“A visit by President Rouhani to Japan is now under consideration,” Abe said at a press conference marking the end of the year’s parliamentary session.
“Japan, which has an alliance with the US and at the same time has maintained favorable relations with Iran for a long time, must forge its own path,” he said.
“I want to make diplomatic efforts as much as possible to help ease tensions and stabilize the situation in the region by continuing dialogue patiently,” he added.
If the trip is confirmed, Rouhani would become the first Iranian president to visit Japan since 2000.
Japan and Iran have maintained a good relationship despite recent regional turmoil, with resource-poor Japan heavily reliant on imports of oil from the Middle East.
Abe traveled to Iran in June and met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well as Rouhani. He met Rouhani again in New York during this year’s UN General Assembly.
The proposed visit comes as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington, despite a prisoner swap last week.
On Sunday, Rouhani announced a “budget of resistance” against US sanctions targeting the country’s vital oil sector.
US President Donald Trump began imposing punitive measures in May 2018, after unilaterally withdrawing from an accord that gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for limits on its nuclear program.