11 August 2017

Namibia: Faces Behind Tweya's Deal

Statistician general Alex Shimuafeni, businessman Tobie Aupindi and a dealer linked to the French military jointly own a company that wants to facilitate, monitor, possibly spy and control incoming and outgoing international telecommunications of Namibia.

The Namibian reported last week that senior government officials had accused information minister Tjekero Tweya of pushing for a French technology company to have an exclusive mandate to control telecommunications in and out of the country. According to documents seen by The Namibian, a company called Exclusive Gateway Networks (Pty) Limited proposed to government in May 2016 to put in place a system to facilitate incoming and outgoing telecommunications, such as voice calls, text messages and internet data.

Exclusive Gateway Networks, registered on 18 August 2015, is a Namibian company, which is 51% owned by another Namibian company called UniGateway Solutions, with French firm GEM Telco Limited owning the remaining 49% stake.

It turns out that GEM Telco Limited, led by a businessman with connections to the French military, chose highly connected Namibians as partners.

Documents from the trade ministry show that UniGateway Solutions is owned by Namibian lawyer Brian Kauta, a certain Michael Edward Saarbach, and Namibian statistician general Shimuafeni.

The other owners are former Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) managing director, Aupindi, and Phulgentius Kahambundu, who worked in the justice ministry.

The main company, Exclusive Gateway Networks, has two representatives - lawyer Kauta for UniGateway Solutions and François-Régis Tézé for GEM Telco Limited.

GEM Telco Limited is a subsidiary of the French company General Engineering Marketing Development and Trading which was founded in 2006.

Shimuafeni, who previously worked at Telecom Namibia as a market research and promotions manager, confirmed that he is part of the company.

He, however, declined to comment further.

Aupindi confirmed that he owns the company, and that he knows Tézé "very well".

Questions sent to Tézé via email were not answered by yesterday, but media reports have linked him to French military contracts.

Co-owner Saarbach told The Namibian yesterday that Tézé is a licensed long-term adviser on defence equipment "sourcing to the French defence forces".

"These activities are exclusively focused on the French market, and are not whatsoever related to the Namibian project," Saarbach said.

A person familiar with Tézé said the businessman sold computer software to the French military.

Reputable intelligenceonline.com, a news website that has been covering the intelligence sector for nearly 40 years, described Tézé as a "French agent".

Exclusive Gateway Networks wants to set up a single international gateway system which works like a gate through which all international voice call, text message and internet traffic would be channelled.

Compared to the current system where each telecoms company has its gateway system, the proposal also appears to be beneficial to spy and security agencies, as a single gateway would make telecommunications' surveillance much easier since there will be a central point, unlike now when there are different gateways.

A source within the company claimed that the system would cost N$2 billion to set up, while the whole deal is said to be worth around N$3 billion per year.

Documents show that the company promised to pay around N$750 million a year to government.

Aupindi denied that their company would spy on telecommunication users, saying their plan is mainly for economic reasons to make more money for telecom companies.

He did not provide the exact figures which are apparently lost by the companies.

There are concerns that a single gateway would give government easy access to private communications since only one entity would be able to screen incoming and outgoing telecommunications and internet traffic.

Experts have in the past warned that having a single company controlling communications traffic flow could make it easy for government to spy on citizens, and to also shut down the internet at one connectivity point.

The French firm bluntly said in their presentation to the state that their system could provide the government with voice, data and internet control, phone call recording, real-time tracking and historical data on request.

"Intelligence-integrated tools to monitor, intercept and encrypt voice and data-integrated voice, data, and the internet communications' platform to monitor" would be available, the company promised, saying that at the moment, it "is difficult to obtain intelligence data from voice and data transfers".

Some people at the company claimed that they do not need permission from the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (Cran) to operate their proposed gateway.

The Namibian reported last week that minister Tweya has been pushing for this same company to get the deal by telling Cran that the law has to be changed, if necessary.

The minister said last week that he did not push for the company.

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