Togo's very own Gupta family also courting controversy

2017-10-15 06:00
Ashok Gupta

Ashok Gupta

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The west African state of Togo has its very own Gupta family, which has set about shipping away the nation’s mineral resource – phosphates.

A transnational team of investigative journalists, looking at how African political elites enrich themselves, has discovered curious parallels between South Africa and Togo.

Togo’s Guptas, who are firm friends of the country’s president, pay little for the phosphates, which are crucial to the production of fertiliser.

UN trade statistics and phosphate sales sheets bear this out.

The Kalyan Group of companies, owned by one Ashok Gupta and his family, is, according to the website of Togo’s state phosphates company Société Nouvelle des Phosphates du Togo (SNPT), its “privileged client”.

Kalyan buys practically all of Togo’s phosphate and does the shipping, too.

The Guptas acquire the loads they transport to their original home base, Australia, for two-thirds of the price that others pay.

Why Togo’s presidency, which controls the country’s main mineral resource via the SNPT, sells it so cheaply cannot be established.

Also, the fact that Ashok’s former company, Getax, is under investigation by the Australian Federal Police for bribing politicians in exchange for cheap phosphates on the Pacific Island nation of Nauru seems not to bother it.

Last year, Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé subsidised another bargain for his Gupta family: the luxurious R1bn Radisson Blu 2 Février Hotel in the capital, Lomé.


The Guptas acquired it for an investment of R393m; Togo and the West African Development Bank paid the rest.

Gupta is a common Indian surname and it cannot be presumed that Togo’s Guptas are related to South Africa’s Ajay, Atul and Rajesh.

Neither Gupta family would respond to requests for comment.

However, Togo’s Guptas also have business links here in South Africa, which have caused losses for the state.

In 2005, at about the same time that South Africa’s Guptas acquired their JIC mining company, Togo’s Guptas’ joint venture partner, Indian fertiliser company Coromandel acquired a 2.5% shareholding in South Africa’s phosphates company, Foskor.

According to Indian media reports, the 2.5% stake was given to Coromandel “on the understanding that it could rise to 16.5% without having to pay anything more” because the new partner would “increase Foskor’s efficiency”.

However, in subsequent years, during which the Indians’ shareholding in Foskor indeed went up to 14%, Foskor saw its performance go from bad to worse.

It had to be bailed out by the Industrial Development Corporation, its major shareholder, repeatedly.

In addition, it was accused of price fixing – resulting in local phosphates becoming more expensive than imported ones – in the interest of what it said were “foreign shareholders” in 2009; and it posted a R568m loss in 2015.

Investigating Foskor’s exports, journalists further found that $100m (about R1.3bn) worth of phosphate exports from South Africa to foreign clients had been undeclared in 2015, with only $131 000 officially registered with the customs division of the SA Revenue Service (Sars).

Asked how ships full of bulk phosphates could have left South Africa, a Sars customs official said: “We do not have the capacity to differentiate between a reasonably valuable substance such as phosphate rocks, and real rocks, or gravel or sand.”

The official said customs capability had suffered since the exodus of senior executives from Sars following the arrival of commissioner Tom Moyane in 2014.

“We used to triangulate export data with foreign income via Sars.

“If foreign clients paid $100m to our phosphate exporters, where is that money? But I am not sure that happens now,” said the official.

Sars spokesperson Sandile Memela said Sars has “noticed a similar trend in the UN Comtrade data [referring to the UN’s international trade statistics database]”, and discrepancies between its data and theirs.

“Sars has already engaged UN Comtrade to review the data being queried in order to reconcile our data,” he said, adding that there is ongoing data analysis at Sars which highlights discrepancies and addresses them.

Memela said discrepancies often arose because of different reporting systems, and Sars was working with the SA Reserve Bank, Stats SA and trading partners to resolve them.

“Customs officers ... conduct risk-based physical inspections on imports and exports,” he said.

Sars customs has not reached a stage where it compares all foreign exchange data with that of the Reserve Bank.

However, Sars has on its information technology landscape “a project that will automate [this].”

Foskor spokesperson Abram Ledwaba said Foskor’s phosphates exports were “as reported in our audited annual financial statements”.

“They have been declared as such to the relevant authorities in South Africa,” he said.

“We have no idea why you and UN Comtrade have published the numbers that you say they have published.”

Ledwaba said Foskor did not know that its shareholder, Coromandel, was under investigation by the Australian police, or of any other allegations of wrongdoing by them or the Kalyan Group.

After Foskor was sent questions, some of which related to annual reports detailing phosphate exports, the company placed these reports behind a login on its website, making them inaccessible. But Ledwaba denied this.

Coromandel did not respond to emailed questions.

Contacted by phone at their Dubai headquarters, the Togolese Guptas seemed puzzled when asked questions and requested time “to find an email address” where questions could be directed, to which they promised to respond.

However, no comment was forthcoming for six weeks.

HOW AFRICAN STATES GET SCREWED

Mozambique’s provincial mining director in the ruby-rich region of Montepuez appears powerless to stop the illicit outflow of resources that should benefit its citizens.

Nguiraz said Mustang only had an exploration licence, which did “not allow [for] exports or sales”.

However, Mustang director Christiaan Jordaan vehemently denied any illegality, saying: “Our licence allows exports to finance further exploration.”

But after he was asked to provide the text of the licence, Jordaan did not respond.

And, as far as can be established, Mozambican authorities have not taken action against Mustang.

The company’s Mozambican partner is Public Works Minister Felicio Zacarias, one of about a dozen governing Frelimo party inner circle members – which also include army general and secret service head Lagos Lidimo and Maputo Mayor David Simango – who hold ruby mining licences in Montepuez.

They barter these with foreign partners, such as Mustang, for shares.

The result of the hunger for mining ventures and mining partners among the Frelimo elite in Montepuez has seen citizens removed forcibly from their homes and lands, as well as beatings, rapes, robberies and even the murder of citizens by security forces, who have so far not been reined in by the Mozambican government.

Official government spokespeople, such as Montepuez district administrator Etelvina Fevereiro, say the removal of people from mining concessions is necessary because mining is to bring “tax and prosperity”.

But asked when citizens in the impoverished region will finally see some prosperity, Fevereiro only says she is busy “setting up a committee” to look into it.

She also claims not to know where the royalties – legally due to Montepuez’s Cabo Delgado province – are, saying: “Ask the provincial financial department.”

The majority shareholder of major ruby producer Montepuez Ruby Mining, Gemfields (now Pallinghurst) – based in London, UK – says that to date, besides corporate tax, it has paid $29m (about R384m) in royalties to the state of Mozambique.

This constitutes 10% of the rubies’ sales value of $288m since 2012.

Slightly more than a quarter of this, $7m, is owed to Cabo Delgado province as a direct benefit, as provincial financial director Fernando Djange confirms: “2.75% of total royalties is paid to us every year.”

But the books show only one royalty payment of $100 000, made in 2016.

We won’t find out what happened to the province’s mining royalties, just as we won’t find out why Burundi’s presidency paid the country’s entire dollar reserve to only one petrol company in May – disadvantaging other petrol importers and causing traffic jams and the permanent closure of six petrol stations in Bujumbura.

Burundi corruption watchdog head Gabriel Rufyiri said he was also still waiting for answers.

His organisation lodged a complaint of “favouritism and clientelism” – also with respect to other sectors of the economy – months ago, both with the Burundi presidency and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

But the presidency did not respond “and the NPA said it would not follow up on the dossier”, he said.

. The African Investigative Publishing Collective investigated self-enrichment and plunder by “African oligarchs” in Mozambique, Togo, Burundi, South Africa, Botswana, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Persisting amid violent threats by security forces and more subtle intimidation, and mostly in conditions of opacity and stonewalling by authorities, they succeeded in launching their report, The Plunder Route to Panama – How African Oligarchs Steal from their Countries, last Thursday in Amsterdam.

For the full report and journalist biographies, go to https://www.zammagazine.com/images/pdf/documents/
African_Oligarchs.pdf

TALK TO US

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SMS us on 35697 using the keyword TOGO and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Read more on:    sars  |  guptas

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