President Hage Geingob has said he met the head of the Chinese company that had an aborted partnership with the Roads Contractor Company a month after the agreement was signed.
Geingob admitted this to The Namibian on Wednesday when asked about a private meeting he has had with a Chinese businessman called Shi Hui last month at his private residence just outside Windhoek.
He, however, said the meeting with businessman Shi, who is the vice chairperson of the Nantong Sanjian Holding Group, was not related to government work.
The Chinese company, Nantong Sanjian, had agreed in April this year to give the ill-fated Roads Contractor Company (RCC) a N$580 million bailout loan in return for contracts worth N$2 billion. Cabinet, however, decided to cancel the deal, citing some irregularities.
The President, through his lawyer Sisa Namandje, said businessman Shi was introduced to him as a possible investor in African Sunrise Investments that wants to build a township in Windhoek.
Geingob also said he did not know that the Chinese businessman had links to the RCC deal when he met him last month.
Little is known about the Chinese company's operations in Namibia, while the details about its short-lived marriage with the RCC are unfolding.
Namandje did not mention the name of the person who introduced Geingob to Shi, but the two men have one person in common - businessman Jack Huang.
Geingob and business dealer Huang owned African Sunrise Investments, a real estate company that wants to build a township east of the capital along the Windhoek-Hosea Kutako International Airport road.
The President was told that Shi wanted to be the owner of the company which owns the 39 hectares (about 39 football fields) near Geingob's private villa, Casa Rosalia.
A Nantong representative told The Namibian yesterday that Shi is not an investor in African Sunrise Investments.
Namandje said Geingob sold his shares in African Sunrise Investments last year, and had no current or future interest in the township project.
Geingob has not revealed how much he was paid for his stake in African Sunrise Investments, which was worth over N$10 million, according to the President's declaration made in 2015.
"The meeting at the President's private residence was a simple courtesy and private visit. The meeting you are referring to was thus a casual and private occasion at which no issues of public affairs were discussed at all," Geingob's lawyer said.
Namandje added: "The President did not discuss the issue of the Roads Contractor Company with Mr Shi Hui, nor could he have discussed it as he was not at the time aware that Mr Shi Hui had anything to do with it. It would also not have been appropriate for the President to do so."
The lawyer also noted that Geingob believes the contract between the RCC and the Chinese company was illegal, and that the President demands that all public entities should be managed carefully and ethically.
"The President has demonstrated his firm position on the Roads Contractor Company matter, particularly that the agreement is not in accordance with the law and is not in the public interest, by having (through his chairmanship of the Cabinet committee on overall policy and priorities) caused that agreement to be cancelled," he said.
Namandje said before the President's appointment in 2015, he has had encounters with people from different backgrounds, with some becoming friends with him, and keeping that close contact.
"There are no constitutional limitations or legal impediments for the President, when time permits, to liaise with other persons on a private level," Namandje said.
Besides, Namandje said the President does not discuss state matters during his private meetings.
After meeting Geingob in May, the Chinese company boasted on its website about the President's support for them to invest in Namibia.
A statement published on Nantong's website chinacntc.com said Geingob had invited them to his house at night for a private meeting. A photo of Shi and Geingob accompanied the statement.
"Upon the invitation of Namibian President Hage Geingob, (vice) chairman of China Nantong Sanjian attended President Geingob's private banquet at the presidential residence, and conducted extensive communications with Geingob," the statement said.
The company added that during the discussions, Geingob praised Nantong Sanjian's "long-term investment in Namibia".
"He (Geingob) praised Nantong Sanjian as a good and old friend of the Namibian people, whereas Nantong Sanjian has made an outstanding contribution to the development of promoting the Namibian economic society, playing an important role of bridging and strengthening the friendship between the peoples of China and Namibia," the statement said.
According to the statement, Geingob told them that he hoped Nantong Sanjian could expand their investments in Namibia.
This website statement appears to have landed Nantong in hot soup, though.
Geingob rejected the website statement, saying it misrepresented the meeting.
"He [Geingob] unfortunately found the statement to be replete with material inaccuracies and misrepresentations as to the true nature of the meeting between him and Mr Hui and their discussions," the President's lawyer said.
"The President has taken steps to raise his objection to the statements with Nantong, and particularly demand rectification or complete retraction of the statement published," Namandje said.
That statement was removed from the website after The Namibian sent questions to State House on Tuesday afternoon.
A Nantong representative in Namibia said the website statement was a mistake that came from "different cultural misunderstandings and language mistranslations. The person who only identified himself as Xavier said the message had been corrected.
Namandje said Geingob is concerned that individuals often use any occasion of meeting him for marketing purposes, and "in the process to misrepresent facts for their commercial interests".
There are still several unanswered questions about how the RCC ended up marrying Nantong in the N$2 billion deal, especially since the Chinese company is not well-known in Namibia.
The former RCC board, led by chairperson Fritz Jacobs, was, however, confident two weeks ago that the deal was harmless, to the point that they wanted to meet Geingob about the transaction. Geingob's Cabinet rejected the deal last week, branding it illegal.
A report by Moody's ratings agency said Jiangsu Nantong Sanjian Construction Group, which owns the Namibian business arm Nantong Sanjian, is a privately owned engineering firm based in Haimen, eastern China.
According to Moody's, Jiangsu Nantong Sanjian Construction Group is owned by Nantong Sanjian Holdings (73%) and Haimen Urban Development Investment (13%).
Besides that, the Chinese company is named after Geingob's associate Huang's hometown Nantong, and his province Jiangsu.
The RCC has over 400 workers, who have faced uncertainty over the years on whether they will still have a job or not. There was a proposal last year to disband the parastatal and move some workers to the works ministry.
Geingob, according to Namandje, said workers should not worry about their positions since he will ensure that no one loses their job.
The President said: "There should thus be no fear of uncertainty as the relevant government structures are currently working on the matter, and an announcement will be made through the existing and normal government channels".