October 3, 2023

FDI Forum

Earn the right Invest

Trump-Linked Stock Scammer Resurfaces With A New Investment Idea

Leslie Greyling hasn’t let a long list of legal troubles keep him from touting stocks that are, shall we say, intriguingly volatile.

It’s tough to admire much about Leslie Greyling given his track record — two convictions for securities fraud, one especially sketchy property deal and a deportation — but give credit where it’s due. The man’s dedication to his craft is remarkable. At 71, an age when many fraudsters would be kicking back with a Cohiba, counting their kickbacks, Greyling is still in the game.

This time the South African native was on LinkedIn, touting the stock of an obscure company called Tingo Inc., now doing business, mostly in Nigeria, as Agri-Fintech Holdings.

Tingo Inc. is easily confused, perhaps intentionally, with Tingo Group. Unspinning the yarn of Greyling’s decades-long international high jinks involves making sense of a junk drawer’s worth of corporate name changes, reverse mergers, a revolving cast of associates and on-paper-only business entities. For a time, Greyling, by his own account, was in the business of selling shell companies. Sleuthing the current confusion, it’s apparent that there’s a link between the two Tingos, and it was Tingo Group that short-seller Hindenburg Research named in a scathing, wide-ranging report last month that called it “an exceptionally obvious scam with completely fabricated financials.

Tingo Group denounced Hindenburg’s work as “malicious and misleading” but watched its share price nosedive from a comfy $5-plus in mid-May to under a buck by mid-June. By then, Greyling was out, according to the man himself. “Zero involvement with Tingo,” Greyling told Forbes in a rambling response to questions via LinkedIn, referring to Tingo Inc. “I am not a director, shareholder, advisor or consultant.”

Greyling’s stock-hyping is a reminder of the challenge of stopping stock scammers from hatching new stratagems. With the advent of accessible stock trading through digital platforms, geographical boundaries have become inconsequential. The infamous boiler rooms that once thrived on Long Island, New York, and in Boca Raton, Florida, have spread globally like mushrooms after a spring rain. The Panama Papers shed light on the ease with which crooks can cover their tracks. Shell companies, requiring only a modest registration fee, offer a way to conduct illicit activities under the cloak of legitimate business. Even in schemes involving penny stocks, shady characters can amass substantial wealth, enabling them to cultivate connections with influential individuals who can aid them in their mischief or help them elude justice.

Greyling’s career

Here’s a taste of Greyling’s résumé, with annotations from Greyling’s message to Forbes via LinkedIn:

In 1993, Greyling bought a house in Palm Beach, Florida for $3.5 million and flipped it soon after for $1.6 million. That’s not a typo. Consider that the lucky discount buyer was Donald Trump. The former Greyling property neighbors Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Four years later, Greyling pleaded guilty to securities fraud in the U.S. and was deported to South Africa. The criminal allegations included money laundering, issuing false news releases to lure investors to his company, Members Service, and filing bogus statements with the SEC. Greyling said he took the advice of his lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, who defended O.J. Simpson in the famous murder trial, to plead guilty on one count and spend no additional time behind bars — as long as he left the U.S. within 24 hours. “A good deal,” Greyling said in the LinkedIn message. “I was never going to get permanent residence anyway.”

In 2000, he was arrested in the U.K., where he lives, as part of an FBI investigation of organized crime’s alleged manipulation of penny stocks. The U.K. government refused to extradite him to the U.S. and Greyling walked free.

The U.K.’s Serious Fraud office investigated Greyling’s ties to MinMet, an Irish mining company, according to a 2010 report in Australia’s Daily Telegraph. No charges were filed.

The SEC charged Greyling with fraud again in 2022, this time for allegedly trying to sell shares in Alterola Biotech that he didn’t own. He never showed up to contest the allegations and was convicted by default judgment. Greyling was ordered to pay back $1.8 million in ill-gotten gains and was banned from trading penny stocks.

The SEC’s complaint in that case shines a light on how Greyling operates. In February 2017, he identified shell company Alterola as a potential acquisition for his son Clinton’s firm, Trends Investments. To fund the purchase, Greyling advised an associate to sell shares of Alterola through Trends, even though the firm held no actual shares. The associate pitched Alterola stock to investors with information provided by Greyling, according to the SEC. By April 2017, Trends raised approximately $500,000 from seven investors, who believed they were purchasing Alterola shares through Greyling’s firm.

‘Watch “Billions”’

Greyling, however, insisted there was “very little to zero evidence other than hearsay” to the fraud allegations. He’s been unfairly victimized, he said, pointing to global banks Goldman Sachs, HSBC
, Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo
as perpetrators of much worse than he’s alleged to have done. “The result is always the same” with the big banks, he told Forbes. “Pay a few billion in fines and carry on as blue-chip institutions.” At the same time, the SEC pursued his case, for a mere $1.7 million (his number) “and I’m branded a crook.”

“Watch the show Billions,” he advised, referring to the episodic work of televised fiction from the Showtime network, to “see what corrupt prosecutors and SEC lawyers can do.”

Which brings us to Greyling’s Tingo touting. Hindenburg Research, known for its battle with Nikola and altercations with heavy hitters like Carl Icahn and Gautam Adani, found questionable actions at both Tingo Group and Tingo Inc., which together, at one time, and now separately, comprise a self-professed jack-of-all-trades conglomerate with business operations in mobile phones, food and perhaps aviation in Africa. Hindenburg’s allegations in its June report ran the gamut from fabricated finances to bogus businesses, illusory infrastructure to phantom jets and a figurehead leader flaunting a counterfeit résumé. Hindenburg said the fraud had been going on for years.

What wasn’t part of the report, though, was the connection to Greyling.

Corporate swindles can fall apart in different ways. Numbers that make no sense. Grandiose claims that turn to smoke and ash. Blaming a plunging stock price on mythical naked-short sellers. Or perhaps, catching the CEO in a lie.

Yet, there’s an alternate route to ruin that’s more subtle, but possibly just as telling: does the stock serve as a magnet for fraudsters? Rancid firms have an uncanny knack for luring similarly repulsive investors. Greyling is a walking red flag. He’d been talking up Tingo Inc. for years. In his LinkedIn message to Forbes, Greyling said he introduced Tingo Mobile to a public company named iWeb. The two companies completed a reverse merger in August 2021, with iWeb acquiring Tingo Mobile in an all-stock deal for $3.7 billion. But he insisted he has no involvement today.

Deeper Ties

An apologist might argue that Greyling was just happy to lead the cheers for a company he believes in. However, evidence beyond his social media posts suggests a deeper tie. Tingo Inc. transferred 100 million shares to various individuals and shell entities, according to a document viewed by Forbes. Some of the recipients have links to Greyling.

One of the individuals was Alexander Lightman, an MIT graduate (under the name Alexander Petofi). Lightman told Forbes he’s known Greyling for 20 years and the two have done business together. Lightman was once an advisor to Alterola Biotech — an entity focused, at first, on creating chewing gum blended with “nutraceutical/functional ingredients.” Inevitably, perhaps, it later pivoted to cannabis-based products. Alterola was one of the companies caught up in a fraud scheme for which the SEC successfully sued Greyling, his son Clinton and three others in June 2022. According to an Alterola filing, Greyling loaned the company $50,000 with “no specified terms of repayment.”

Lightman told Forbes that Greyling was the victim of a political witch hunt. “Leslie was a friend 30 years ago with Donald Trump,” he said. “It’s my observation that anybody who could be helpful to Donald Trump is being attacked by the weaponized Department of Justice and SEC.”

So what has Greyling done wrong, if anything? “He overstayed his visa,” Lightman said. “And as far as I’m concerned, he’s been punished for that.”

Another recipient of Tingo Inc. shares with a link to Greyling was a shell company called Global Fintech Trading Ltd., owned by Lightman and Peter Maddocks, according to the website opencorporates. In 2008, Maddocks resigned as chairman of MinMet, a Dublin-based company that says it explores for gold and gas, because of a “series of complex deals involving companies associated with Mr. Maddocks” and a $126,000 payment to “fraudster Leslie Greyling,” according to a report in the Irish Independent.

Bringing the relationships full circle, Lightman and Maddocks were listed on the registration of a British company called Platinum Lifestyles Ltd., where Clinton Greyling was once a director. Forbes tried to locate Maddocks for comment but was unsuccessful.

Darren Mercer, CEO of Tingo Group, told Forbes that he was aware Greyling was involved with the stock before his company, MICT, a Chinese fintech, acquired some of Tingo Inc.’s assets last year, particularly its phone business, Tingo Mobile. Mercer said he knew who Greyling was and wanted nothing to do with him.

“When we were made aware of his involvement with Tingo Inc. as a shareholder at the time we struck the deal with Tingo, it was made very clear from our side that if he had any involvement in management, the executive or otherwise or any influence at any level, that we did not want to proceed at all,” Mercer told Forbes. “We have nothing to do with the old Tingo. We bought its main assets.”

Lightman told Forbes that was hogwash. “Do you know who introduced me to Darren Mercer?” Lightman asked. “Leslie Greyling. Do I believe MICT held up their nose refusing to do a deal if Leslie was involved? No, I don’t believe that.”

Mercer denied that Greyling introduced him to Tingo. He wouldn’t comment on Hindenburg Research’s allegations, citing an ongoing investigation within the company.

Mercer is no stranger to controversy himself. The Financial Times reported in September 2017 that he was temporarily suspended from his role as CEO of BNN Technology, a Chinese payments firm, after the company’s CFO made “serious allegations” against the company. A month later he resigned as both an officer and director. An avid thoroughbred owner, Mercer was suspended in 2004 by the U.K.’s Jockey Club for betting against his own horse.

Massage Parlor King

Over the years, Greyling has rubbed elbows with a range of people, from former Florida governor Claude Kirk, who served as chairman of Greyling’s company, Members Service; Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi billionaire weapons peddler who was enlisted to help develop a sports-themed park in Orlando, Florida, called Sportsworld 2000, which never happened; and the “king of Detroit massage parlors,” Herman Schannault, who partnered with Greyling on a spree of company incorporations in the 1980s, according to a 2019 story in the Miami New Times.

In Palm Beach, however, no one looms larger — then or now — than Trump. Greyling took a $1.9 million loss on the real estate deal with the future president, and if his LinkedIn posts are any indication, he remains a Trump fan.

Trump, who didn’t return requests for comment, explored the idea of partnering with Greyling in two ventures, according to the New Times: the purchase of a Palm Beach hotel and the establishment of a casino complex in Missouri. Both fell through.

Still, it never hurts to be on a first-name basis with a powerful person. In a 2020 WhatsApp conversation between Lightman and Greyling, which emerged as evidence in the Alterola case, Lightman (who labeled Greyling “Leslie The Man” in his contacts) boasted about his lobbying efforts with the European Parliament and European Commission. Lightman candidly outlined the benefits that accrue to Greyling as a result of their affiliations.

“They are going to be totally wired with the U.K. government,” Lightman said. “I don’t need to tell you that this will be very useful to you, given your connectivity to heads of U.S., Saudi Arabia and China.”

Explains a lot, if true.