Namibia: Tjombe Rejects N$105m Kickback Deal

LAWYER Norman Tjombe yesterday spurned a deal that could have netted his firm a payment of N$105 million.

The firm,Tjombe-Elago Incorporated, could have received this payment from the N$7 billion Hosea Kutako International Airport upgrade tender if a contract for the project was successfully signed.

Tjombe said he was not aware of it and would not have supported the deal.

After he came to know of the agreement concluded between the Chinese tenderer Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Group and his partner Petrus Elago in April 2016, his law firm has put measures in place to ensure such an agreement would not again be entered into with clients, he said.

"I would not have signed such an agreement for contingency fees, and do not support it," Tjombe said.

He only found out about the agreement in mid-May this year, he said.

"Members of the public are entitled to be concerned about such conduct, and I fully understand it. It was regrettable and it would not happen again. Fortunately, this agreement was not carried through."

The Namibian reported this week that the law firms Tjombe-Elago Incorporated and Shikongo Law Chambers were in line to benefit from what appears to be a N$105 million kickback scheme from the N$7 billion airport tender that was awarded and cancelled five years ago.

The questionable N$105 million payment scheme linked to the state-owned Anhui has come to light five years after The Namibian reported that middleman Knowledge Katti was set to benefit from the airport upgrade project with a 'commission' of N$100 million.

Documents filed at the High Court show there was a plan for an amount equivalent to 1,5% of the airport upgrade project costs, which were to be paid by the government, to be paid into an account designated by Tjombe-Elago Inc if the airport contract was successfully signed.

The agreement, signed by Elago and a representative of Anhui, is part of the documents filed in a case in which Shikongo Law Chambers is suing Anhui and a subsidiary of Anhui, Sogecoa Investments Namibia, for N$3,1 million in unpaid legal fees the firm claims is due to it.

Tjombe-Elago Inc and Shikongo Law Chambers face allegations of concluding an illegal agreement with Anhui, a potential conflict of interest and overcharging the Chinese company through legal fees when the firms represented the company in its legal challenge of president Hage Geingob's decision in December 2015 to cancel the airport upgrade contract.

University of Namibia law lecturer Petrus Shoopala yesterday said the report on the deal that was published this week highlights the possibility of irregularities and corruption.

Shoopala said a notice published in the Government Gazette in September 2017 deleted the rule that prevented legal practitioners from charging contingency fees.

"So it is currently completely legal to have a contingency agreement. However, from the reports in the papers, it appears this deal was struck in 2016," Shoopala said.

" . . . which in my view makes the legal practitioners in contravention of the rule at the time. I think they approached the court with 'dirty hands' in a sense, at the very least. Therefore, the Law Society should look into them for that misconduct," he said.

The Law Society of Namibia said it would comment on the matter at a later stage.

Tjombe-Elago Inc invoiced Anhui N$6,3 million for legal services provided from January 2016 to March 2017.

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