Namibia: PDM to Sue Govt Over Russian Farm Deal

A typical cattle farm near Gobabis.

THE Popular Democratic Movement will approach the High Court on an urgent basis to have the deal in which the government sold four farms to a Russian billionaire overturned, its leader McHenry Venaani announced yesterday.

The PDM's decision comes at a time when Job Amupanda of the Affirmative Repositioning movement said they will approach the Anti-Corruption Commission and the ombudsman to investigate the transaction.

Venaani and Amupanda were reacting to news that Russian billionaire Rashid Sardarov bought four farms outside Windhoek for more than N$43 million, donated them to the state, and signed a 99-year lease agreement for them.

The farms, measuring 17 000 hectares, were transferred to Sardarov's Switzerland-based company, Comsar Properties SA, on 28 September 2018, two days before the second national land conference which took place from 1 to 5 October.

Documents seen by The Namibian show that the land reform ministry bought the four farms on behalf of the Russian billionaire. Even though he paid for the farms, they were registered under the ministry's name.

"The minister, in view of the developmental and economic benefit that will arise from the investment to be made by the lessee, has proposed that the four farms should rather be acquired by the government at the full cost and account of the lessee (including both the purchase price and compensation demanded by the farm owners) and the latter to lease the four farms on a 99-year lease in accordance with this agreement," the document states.

Land reform minister Utoni Nujoma did not respond to questions sent to him yesterday.

According to the deal, the Russian will pay annual rent to the government, equal to land taxes paid by commercial farmers.

This transaction was done despite public calls to stop giving or selling land to foreigners.

This month's land conference had passed resolutions prohibiting the sale of land to foreigners, as well as stopping the ownership of multiple farms by individuals.

Sardarov already had land in Namibia measuring 28 000 hectares, which he bought in 2013 at Dordabis, south-east of Windhoek.

The latest acquisitions take his tally to seven farms since 2013. Sardarov is also said to be renting another farm from an absentee Austrian landlord.

During the PDM media briefing yesterday, Venaani said they want the deal "declared null and void".

According to him, the Russian billionaire was not supposed to be allowed to rent the farms from the government after "donating them, because this is just a clear act of resettlement".

"We will be in the High Court, hopefully before the end of the week. This is a serious injustice to generations to come. This deal must be renegotiated, it has no locus standi in our country to resettle foreign oligarchs," Venaani stressed.

He added that the government participated in an illegal process because "the moment those farms were donated to the government, they became state property, and there is no resettlement criteria in this country that gives rights to foreigners to be resettled". This transaction, Venaani said, was proof that the government was not taking the cries from the public to stop foreign land ownership seriously, and that it was evident that the Swapo-led government was busy selling the country to the highest bidder.

Amupanda said they will have the deal investigated.

Sardarov's lawyer, Sisa Namandje, yesterday said he was surprised that some people had the impression that the government used taxpayers' money to buy the farms on behalf of the foreign billionaire, and that his client was only paying N$160 000.

He said the perception was not correct, and that those who want to go to court were free to do so "if they have the money". "We will be there to defend."

"The document is very clear. It was a direct transfer from the farmers to the government at the full cost and account of the lessee, which is my client. They have no case; this transaction is done in terms of the law," he said.

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