23 November 2012

Namibia: Areva Paid Millions to United Africa

AREVA, the French nuclear energy giant that last month indefinitely postponed opening its uranium mine in the Namib Desert, paid about N$30 million to United Africa Group (UAG) shortly after the Namibian company had bought shares in Areva’s desalination plant.

Both companies have refused to explain the payment amid allegations in a South African newspaper, the Mail & Guardian, that UraMin (the company from which the French parastatal Areva bought Trekkopje in the Namib Desert) deliberately sought out political connections to advance its businesses, implicating Namibian political figures such as former Prime Minister Hage Geingob.

UAG is a wide-ranging conglomerate that belongs to Martha Namundjebo-Tilahun and Haddis Tilahun.

UAG flatly refused to provide even a hint of why the money was paid and instead threatened to take action against The Namibian for the possession of information.

Areva Resources Namibia country manager Hilifa Mbako, who initially said he knew nothing about the payment, later acknowledged to The Namibian that he was aware of the transfer.

The transaction took place two months after UAG had bought a 50% share of Areva’s Wlotzkasbaken/Trekkopje Desalination Plant, which was constructed at a cost of about N$1,8 billion.

Mbako said: “The fees paid were in respect of a service contract between Areva and UAG. The nature of the services are contained in a confidential agreement which both parties are not at liberty to disclose”.

A document in possession of The Namibian shows that Areva Resources Namibia paid U$3,4 million to UAG on 16 April 2010, and the money was deposited in a First National Bank account.

The signatories to the bank transfer from Areva to UAG are Daniel Wouters and Sébastien de Montessus. Wouters was the head of development and partnerships at Areva’s mining unit and involved in the UraMin deal, while De Montessus served as the head of mining division.

A source close to UAG executives and Mbako confirmed that the Areva men were part of the business dealings between United Africa and the French company.

Mbako said that the duo (Daniel Wouters and Sébastien de Montessus)were employed by Areva in Paris and they were engaged in the Areva-UraMin acquisition.

He said the two have been to Namibia “several times” but they are no longer in the employ of Areva.

Areva bought Trekkopje in 2007 as part of a US$2.5 billion deal involving other UraMin assets in South Africa and Central African Republic (CAR). It has since come to light that Areva paid too much amid allegations of fraudulent dealings. Trekkopje was devalued.

The Mail & Guardian reported in August this year that Uramin bought Trekkopje for US$4 million in June 2005. “But by the time Uramin listed on the London stock exchange in April 2006 the company was forced to declare:  ‘The directors believe that the application for renewal of the existing [licence] is unlikely to be successful and no assurance can be given that the [new] application will be successful. In the event that neither application is successful, the Group will have no assets in Namibia’.”

The Mail & Guardian alleged that UraMin “needed political insurance, as it had in South Africa. A secret report commissioned by Areva in 2011 – following the collapse in value of the Uramin assets – suggests that it bought such insurance.

“The report, by Swiss private intelligence firm Alp Services, alleged that a senior Swapo politician, Namibia’s first prime minister and the man tipped to be its next president, Hage Geingob, ‘received US$300 000 for facilitating the sale of Uramin to Areva’.”

Geingob, now the Minister of Trade and Industry, admitted to have 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 got him N$2,5 million, according to a report titled Pomerol 4, compiled by ALP to determine whether anybody profited personally from the US$2.5 billion transaction. Tilahun was also cited in the report.

Geingob told The Namibian in 2011 that he was never involved the UraMin/Areva deal.

Areva 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 Mbako, for now, such plans are shelved.

Kalahari Holdings Chairperson Dr Kalumbi Shangula yesterday confirmed that there was such proposal.

“Yes, there were talks like that but I’m not in position to talk about the progress,” he said, adding that he has not been updated about the latest.

Areva shut Trekkopje, arguing lack of business viability, despite unprecedented tax exemptions by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, which granted them export processing zone (EPZ) status.

Geingob said he “never advocated” for Trekkopje or UraMin to get Export Processing Zone (EPZ) status. He claimed it was a “collective” decision involving the ministries of trade and Industry, mines and energy, as well as finance.

But the mines ministry has been on record several times saying it objected to Areva being granted EPZ status because the basic rule is that extractive mining activities do not qualify but the trade ministry ignored their protestation.

The Swiss company hired by Areva suggested that Geingob had “worked according to the wishes” of the ANC’s treasurer-general at the time, Mendi Msimang.

The Mail & Gaurdian said Geingob refused to answer questions about his alleged interaction with 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.”

Geingob’s personal assistant Esau Mbako on Wednesday said Geingob answered the questions relating to story last year and this reporter must check previous media releases.

UAG responded through Tilahun’s Executive Assistant Diana Kadhila-Amoomo saying: “We don’t deal with public funds or property. Hence, [there is] no duty to explain.

“ We cannot comprehend how The Namibian newspaper came to be in possession of documentation of a non-public, private equity firm, and which from the content of your email below, appears proprietary in nature and as such incorporates several disclaimers; as such we reserve all our rights to the full extent permissible in law” she added.

The desalination plant was build on state land and, according to Areva’s Mbako, the French company is leasing the land from the Erongo Regional Council.

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