The founder of Africa Sourcing has accused certain members of the Federation of Cocoa Commerce of ganging up on him, saying his company was defrauded of more than $5.3m.
Since 2018, Africa Sourcing founder Loïc Folloroux has been trying to recover the millions he entrusted to Franco-British trader Matthew Stolz, founder of the company Rockwinds, to place on the cocoa futures market.
On 27 January, London’s High Court of Justice failed to grant Folloroux’s request to challenge the ruling of the Federation of Cocoa Commerce (FCC) arbitration tribunal a year ago.
$1 million penalty
On 28 February 2022, the arbitration tribunal, meeting on appeal, ruled that the case was invalid because more than 56 days had elapsed since the dispute arose. The consideration of this time limit is not automatic but at the discretion of FCC arbitrators.
With this decision, the federation did not confirm its first ruling, which obliged Stolz to reimburse $4.9m to Folloroux’s companies and to pay them a penalty of $1m. The Rockwinds boss had acknowledged this debt several times in the past, most recently in 2021, but he now intends to contest its repayment. According to Stolz, this amount now corresponds to market losses.
The FCC was created in 2002 by merging the French AFCC and the British CAL, two historic associations of cocoa producers, with the aim of harmonising the sector’s commercial practices. The federation has almost 200 members and is run by a 14-member board, which includes Matthew Stolz.
It also serves as an arbitration tribunal when a dispute arises over a bean purchase contract drawn up under its rules. While this is not a legal requirement, it is usually the practice. But this is interpreted differently by Stolz and Folloroux, with the latter arguing that the speculative nature of the contracts disqualifies it from doing so. 40 FCC members can be appointed as arbitrators.
The first meeting between Folloroux and Stolz dates back to 2014 when Stolz was training Africa Sourcing’s teams on the federation’s export contracts. The two men got on well.
A lawyer by training, the Rockwinds founder had spent most of his career with the French trader Touton, where he worked for 20 years, while the Ivorian trader was previously Africa director of the British company Armajaro. Africa Sourcing was born from the takeover of an Armajaro subsidiary.
Rejected by the FCC
In 2017, Folloroux, who is one of the principal Ivorian cocoa exporters (70,000tn of beans exported per year) entrusted several million dollars to Stolz to invest in the market.
The Africa Sourcing boss wants this money back. In 2018, he first brought the case before the Commercial Court in Bordeaux, where Rockwinds is based. But the court declared itself not competent in the case and referred it to the FCC, even though the latter only deals with disputes concerning physical exchanges, not speculative operations.
At the time, Folloroux already had a complicated relationship with the federation, which had refused to register him as a member. According to documents, this was due to his links with Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara, who happens to be his stepfather and who has been trying for several years, in the framework of an alliance with Ghana, to limit the power of international traders in this sector. Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading bean producer.
If the head of Africa Sourcing is now resentful of the FCC, it is also because he suspects Stolz of having benefitted from support within the federation to get himself out of this situation.
The Bourgeois thesis was widely developed before London’s High Court of Justice, with Folloroux highlighting the existing professional ties between Stolz and Bourgeois. The two men worked together in 2017 when Rockwinds sold a cocoa stock to Swiss trader Walter Matter.
Then, in November 2018, June 2019 and November 2019, Bourgeois attended small-group dinners at the FCC where Stolz or Frédéric Coudray, then his colleague at Rockwinds, were present.
Folloroux also asked Kadoko Bamba, director of external marketing for the Conseil du Café-Cacao (CCC), the public body that regulates the sector in Côte d’Ivoire, to appear before the court. Bamba explained that he had attended a meeting in September 2020 during which Stolz, in the presence of Bourgeois, had explained at length the dispute with Africa Sourcing.
They had all gathered to examine Folloroux’s application to join the FCC, while the case was simultaneously before the court in Bordeaux. The Rockwinds founder had indicated on this occasion, according to Bamba, that Africa Sourcing had to assume the consequences of having initially chosen to bring the case before a jurisdiction other than the FCC.
He also drew the participants’ attention to Folloroux’s political ties in Côte d’Ivoire and the need to ask for clarification on the ownership of his companies. The federation’s decision on whether to accept him as a member was then postponed to a later date.
Stolz did not contest these statements but assured the High Court that they were not threatening. Bourgeois supported this testimony, saying that the Rockwinds boss’s statements had been made in a neutral tone and without animosity.
Case brought to court
In his judgement, London’s High Court judge said the evidence presented to him was not enough to call the FCC’s decision on appeal into question. He also criticised Folloroux for having waited for the court’s decision to find out whether Stolz had been able to influence Bourgeois’ decisions, whereas Folloroux had expressed his doubts about the impartiality of an FCC decision.
Folloroux now has his hopes pinned on the Bordeaux Criminal Court. A source told us that a complaint was filed there in 2019. It will be a question of studying how Rockwinds used the money entrusted to it. According to the source, the funds were directed to companies in Ghana and Nigeria, far from the futures market. Stolz told us he has no knowledge of this event.
Part of the dispute, involving nearly $852,000, studied on appeal by the FCC (but by a different arbitration tribunal than the one chaired by Bourgeois) was referred in the end to the Bordeaux Commercial Court, because this time the federation declared it was not competent to assess the matter.
Meanwhile, Folloroux received the support of the Groupement des Négociants Ivoiriens – GNI – an Ivorian traders’ group. On 16 January, the GNI wrote to the FCC requesting Stolz’s removal from the case.
Stolz told us this demand was unrelated to the planned end of his responsibilities on the federation’s contracts and regulations committee in a few months’ time, as part of the traditional renewal of the FCC’s bodies. His company remains a member of the federation, unlike Africa Sourcing.