Namibia: Prime Minister Vows to Defend Russian Land Deal

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(File photo).

PRIME minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said the government is ready to defend its decision to lease four farms to Russian billionaire Rashid Sardarov.

She made these remarks in an interview aired on the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) on Friday.

"Whoever is aggrieved is entitled to approach the courts, but we are confident that we will make our case successfully in the courts," she said.

The prime minister added that all procedures in financial and land laws were followed in leasing the land to the Russian.

"All requirements of all the laws of the state have been followed. We made use of the legal expertise within government to make sure that it has been done," she stated.

Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said apart from the magnitude of the Russian's proposed investment, it was also necessary to guarantee the investor that he would recover his investment while putting the land to "good use".

"We felt it could be a good deal for Namibia if they [Sardarov's company] could agree to pay the purchase price, the leasehold, and whatever compensation the sellers of the farms may ask," she added.

According to the report, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said the land reform minister had the power to approve lease agreements for longer than 10 years.

Attorney general Albert Kawana told The Namibian yesterday that he would not comment on the matter since the government issued a statement last week.

"That is enough. Let those who want to go to court, go to court. It's their constitutional right to do so," he said,

The government leased four farms in September for 99 years to a company called Comsar Properties SA, owned by Sardarov.

The four farms, valued at N$43 million and measuring a combined 17 000 hectares, were paid for by the Russian, and registered as state property by the land reform ministry.

However, unanswered questions plague this transaction, especially why the government opted to lease the land for N$160 000 a year, and rejected a N$24 million donation by the Russian to needy causes and development projects.

The N$24 million donation would have been distributed as follows: N$12 million to the land reform ministry; N$10 million to the Namibia Premier League (NPL); N$1 million to renovate schools; and N$1 million to train resettled farmers to be more productive.

Land reform minister Nujoma defended the Russian deal last week at a media briefing, insisting that it was in the best interest of the country, considering the "massive investment and developments" proposed by the Russian.

He added that the Agricultural Commercial Land Reform Act of 1995 allowed the government to lease farmland to foreigners "for investment purposes".

He said although there has been a public outcry over land ownership by foreigners, the government allowed the deal to go through because current laws were not amended to prohibit such transactions.

The Namibian reported last week that a Namibian company emerged as the key vehicle used by Sardarov to buy farms worth around N$200 million in 2012 and 2013.

Namibian lawyer Henner Diekmann appears to be one of the central figures in the sale of farms to the Russian billionaire.

In short, here is how Sardarov has managed to occupy 10 farms.

Sardarov bought 5 farms (including the farm that hosts the Marula Game Ranch, three under Otjimukona Pty Ltd, and one portion of Hillside farm) in 2012 and 2013.

The other five farms include the farm he is renting from an Austrian national, and the four farms he will now rent from the government until 2117.

- shinovene@namibian.com.na

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