State House rocked by Areva arrests

French authorities are piecing together a corruption and bribery puzzle that is set to shake the foundations of Swapo and the ruling ANC party in South Africa.

10 April 2018 | Government

President Hage Geingob's involvement at UraMin as a consultant, which earned him US$300 000 (N$2.475 million at the exchange rate at the time, said to be 2008), has come back to haunt him, amid an unfolding corruption probe in France.

However, the president, who has over the years denied he played any part in UraMin's sale to French nuclear firm, Areva, hit back yesterday with a scathing letter in which he threatened legal action against Radio France International (RFI) for its report earlier this month alleging he was in any way linked to the unfolding investigation.

Sébastien de Montessus, Areva's former mining branch head, has been charged with corruption in relation to Areva's purchase of Canada's UraMin, which owned the Trekkopje mine in Namibia.

The case dates back to 2007 when Areva, which today is in financial difficulties, bought UraMin for U$S2.5 billion.

Former Areva boss Anne Lauvergeon and two members of her team have also been charged with the alleged overvaluation of the sale to conceal the fall in the price of uranium. Unexpected developments in mining in Namibia, South Africa and the Central African Republic helped turn the purchase into a financial disaster, amid allegations that senior Swapo and African National Congress (ANC) politicians had manoeuvred the deal on the basis that Areva would be the successful bidder for a R1 trillion nuclear build in South Africa under the Thabo Mbeki presidency. However, Jacob Zuma and his allies later decided to push the nuclear deal towards Russian state-owned company Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation.

In 2012, Mbeki's spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said the allegations of political influence-buying were “entirely without basis”, “possibly defamatory” and “typical of the work of the apartheid-era Stratcom operatives”.

Geingob yesterday, through his lawyer Sisa Namandje, wrote a scathing letter to RFI, labelling its linking of him to the French investigation as “replete with material representations of facts which carry with them innuendos and suggestion of wrongdoing”.

“Dr Geingob denies, as he has exhaustively done over the years, in the strongest terms, the unfortunate and reckless information of dishonesty in your report.”

De Montessus has been charged in connection with suspected misappropriation of funds, an accusation he denies.

The inquiry, according to RFI, is looking into 5.6 billion euros paid to Namibia's United Africa Group in 2009 and 2010 and 8 000 euros paid in 2008 and 2009 to Geingob, who was trade and industry minister at the time.

Geingob, through Namandje said yesterday, “It is manifest that the RFI report of 4 April focuses on the alleged involvement of Mr De Montessus in the allegations referred to, yet the report on its own and in context makes gratuitous insinuations and imputations of dishonesty on the person of Dr Geingob. There is no factual basis for such insinuations and imputations and Dr Geingob's rights in this respect are fully reserved, including the right to seek appropriate redress in due course.”

Namandje also emphasised in his letter that Geingob never had any discussion with De Montessus regarding the UraMin/Areva transaction.

Lauvergeon's husband, Olivier Fric, has been charged with insider trading on UraMin shares.

Investigators are looking into his links with Belgian financier Daniel Wouters, who was detained last week.

He was employed as head of development and acquisitions of Areva's mining arm and played a key role in the UraMin purchase, according to French media.

Namandje's letter also emphasised that any suggestion that Geingob received a payment from Areva, of any amount, is “palpably false”.

“In view of the aforesaid, your report where it relates to Dr Geingob is fundamentally riddled with material inaccuracies which are defamatory of Dr Geingob's good name. There is no connection between the alleged overpricing of the Areva/UraMin transaction and the services Geingob provided by HG Consultancy to UraMin.

“There are also no payments received by Dr Geingob from Areva. We are therefore compelled to believe that the inclusion of Dr Geingob's name in the story is for the sole purpose of sensationalism and trying to find an African connection to a case if alleged corruption by Canadian and French owned businesses.”

Namandje also demanded an immediate retraction from RFI and said Geingob reserves his rights should this retraction not be made immediately.

Presidential spokesperson Alfredo Hengari said RFI's attempt to link Geingob to the said irregularities was a fictitious attempt to connect Geingob to a transaction he never participated in.



Nonetheless, Hengari said Geingob welcomed the investigation into alleged irregularities into the Areva deal.



“President Geingob welcomes the French investigation in as far as (it relates to) offshore transactions involving the resources of a country to evade national regulations and taxes. It is an opportunity to strengthen laws and regulations for natural resources to benefit the national economy,” said Hengari.



Tilahun and Areva Namibia did not respond to questions sent to them yesterday.



UraMin was a Toronto Stock Exchange-based company that owned, among its assets across a few African countries, the Trekkopje mine in the Namib Desert. UraMin touted Trekkopje as the jewel in its crown, and promised it had rich and huge deposits of uranium when selling it to the French state-owned nuclear power producer, Areva, for US$2.5 billion in 2007.







Bribery and kickbacks







It has since been established that Areva not only paid too much, but that bribery and kickbacks of several sorts were allegedly involved in the deal and investigations are ongoing.



Geingob, when he was trade minister, admitted to having been a “consultant” for UraMin and “advised” the Namibian government to award a mining licence to UraMin.



He did that when he was Swapo's chief whip in parliament. The job netted him N$2.5 million, according to a report 'Pomerol 4', compiled by ALP Services to determine whether anybody profited personally from the US$2.5 billion transaction.



Haddis Tilahun was also cited in the report and it emerged that Areva paid about N$30 million to United Africa Group (UAG), a company owned by Tilahun and his wife Martha Namundjebo-Tilahun shortly after the Namibian company had bought shares in Areva's desalination plant.



Geingob denied in 2011 that he was ever involved in the UraMin/Areva deal and has over the years consistently done so.



Areva, according to media reports, had also promised to bring in Swapo's business empire Kalahari Holdings and the state firm, Epangelo Mining, into owning shares in Areva. However, according to Areva Resources Namibia country manager at the time Hilifa Mbako, such plans are shelved.



Kalahari Holdings chairperson Dr Kalumbi Shangula has since confirmed there was such proposal.



“Yes, there were talks like that but I'm not in position to talk about the progress,” he said to The Namibian in 2012.



Areva shut Trekkopje, arguing lack of business viability, despite unprecedented tax exemptions by trade ministry, which granted them export processing zone (EPZ) status.



Geingob said he “never advocated” for Trekkopje or UraMin to get EPZ status. He claimed it was a 'collective' decision involving the ministries of trade, mines and finance.



Geingob, ALP further alleges, worked “at the behest of Matthews Phosa”, who is a former treasurer-general of the ANC.



Phosa, a renowned businessman in South Africa, has himself served as a business consultant for various local and international businesses since 1999.



Asked about his alleged ties to Phosa, Geingob at the time confirmed knowing him but said he had not spoken to the ANC senior member in 15 years.



“The last time I saw him, also from a distance, was at Polokwane, at the congress of the ANC, where he was seated on the podium. We even didn't shake hands.”



At the time, Geingob was the Swapo chief whip, having served as prime minister for more than a decade since Namibia's independence.



In his answers to the media in 2012, Geingob said that UraMin offered him a directorship, but he declined the offer.



“I chose to play the role of a consultant. I, therefore, served as a consultant to UraMin and helped the company secure a licence which it already had, but which was about to be terminated due to several technicalities.



“For this I received payment which was part of an amount of US$300 000,” he said.



“US$200 000 went to two South African partners who brought the matter to my attention and US$100 000 was paid to me, of which I took US$10 000 to assist a person in need, leaving me with US$90 000.”







Toxic political dealings







In its exposé published under the title, 'French nuclear frontrunner's toxic political dealings in SA', South African newspaper Mail and Guardian, revealed that Areva had been the frontrunner in the race to build new nuclear power stations in South Africa during Mbeki's presidency, and had conducted a costly schmooze campaign during an earlier round of bidding.



This was the R1 trillion nuclear build that his successor, Zuma, had then pushed towards the Russian government, leaving Areva high and dry.







The Namibian link







UraMin bought the company that held the mineral rights to the promising Trekkopje mine for US$4 million in June 2005.



Pomero 4 alleges that Geingob, “who was a senior Swapo politician, Namibia's first prime minister and the man tipped to be its next president, received US$300 000 for facilitating the sale of UraMin to Areva,” Mail and Guardian wrote in 2012.



Rob Scott, former counsel to UraMin's chief executive, recalled contacting Geingob to give him an update about UraMin's progress in Namibia.



Reacting to the ALP report, Geingob told New Era in February 2012 that his company, HG Consulting, was employed by UraMin between 2006 and 2007 and was “paid for services rendered”, namely “UraMin obtaining a mining licence”. He denied receiving any money for facilitating the UraMin sale to Areva.



But the ALP report went further, suggesting that Geingob had “worked according to the wishes” of the ANC's treasurer-general at the time, Mendi Msimang.



Msimang said: “I had no wishes and was in no way aware of, or involved in, any such transaction. I have no personal relationship with Geingob other than in the context of the bilateral relationship between the ANC and Swapo.”

STAFF REPORTERS

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