On the trail of Tegeta’s offshore shareholder

The view from the dusty offices on the seventh floor of the Amenity Centre. Picture: Susan Comrie
The view from the dusty offices on the seventh floor of the Amenity Centre. Picture: Susan Comrie

This is the only known address of a R167.4 million investor in the Guptas’ coal empire. It is also empty.

The trip from Dubai to Ras al-Khaimah costs R2 000 by taxi, through 120km of desert and past trains of wild camels.

With no oil reserves, Ras al-Khaimah is one of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) less fortunate territories, but it is increasingly attracting business as an offshore jurisdiction, offering a 0% tax rate and 100% secrecy.

According to the Gupta companies’ share registers, it is also the location of Accurate Investments.

On February 26 – two weeks after the Competition Commission approved Tegeta Exploration and Resources’ acquisition of several Eskom coal mines – Accurate Investments acquired an 8% stake in Tegeta, alongside the Guptas’ Oakbay Investments and Duduzane Zuma’s Mabengela Investments.

Oakbay Investments has refused to disclose any information about their new shareholder – but a handwritten entry in Tegeta’s securities register, which City Press gained access to last month, indicates that Accurate Investments paid R167.4 million for their stake in Tegeta.

The share registers list Accurate Investments’ address as “D45, 12th floor, Tower 1, Amenity Centre, Ras al-Khaimah”.

The Amenity Centre is a 12-storey, two-tower office block in steel and blue-tinted glass. On the 12th floor is the RAK Business Square, a virtual office that will take your calls and offer you a desk if you ever need it.

There is no D45, but 45D brings up a company called Navigant Consulting and a phone number for Ruji Anthony.

A woman answers the phone and says it is the wrong number. We are then directed to office 45 on the seventh floor.

But instead of a major investment firm, what we find is a locked cubicle on an entirely deserted floor.

The seventh floor is full of tiny glass cubicles, overlooking the sea and the desert, with no one there to enjoy the view. Everything is covered in a thick layer of dust, with most furniture covered in plastic sheeting.

The only other person on the floor is the janitor.

“But there are no people here?” asks City Press.

He smiles and responds: “No. Of course!”

Tegeta’s share registers reveal that Oakbay Investments willingly diluted their shareholding to make way for Accurate’s entrance into the deal, while other shareholders – including Zuma, through Mabengela – were issued with new shares, seemingly for free.

If this is the home of Accurate Investments, where does their money come from? Oakbay refuses to say.

This is not the only Gupta-linked company in the UAE that terminates at a dead-end in a linoleum-lined passage, in an offshore jurisdiction.

The Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza), a cluster of blue glass and steel six-storey buildings, is located on the last stop on Dubai’s metro, after skyscrapers and golf courses have given way to electricity pylons and sand.

In the parking lot, people in suits order R80 cups of coffee from a hipster coffee bar.

Since 2008, two Gupta-linked companies – Advanced Investments and Fidelity Enterprises – have received transfers of shares from Oakbay Investments, making these two companies at various times indirect shareholders in a number of Gupta businesses, including television (Infinity Media), mining (Tegeta Exploration and Resources) and manufacturing (VR Laser).

There is no trace of either firm on publicly-available company registers in Dubai, and the only addresses come from the Gupta companies’ share registers.

On the fifth floor of Jafza 15, everything is white, carpeted and anonymous. Occasionally, a closed office door announces a company registered in the British Virgin Islands – a notorious tax and secrecy haven in the Caribbean.

The address 15117 appears to be a PO box, and a sign on the door of office 15514 shows it belongs to Giovenzana International. The woman who opens the door says that she has never heard of Fidelity Enterprises.

On Friday, the South African government announced that it had committed itself to ending these kinds of opaque corporate structures in the country, citing risks that they could be used to hide illicit finance, money laundering and corruption.

As part of its third National Action Plan, the government has committed to setting up a public register, disclosing the real owners behind all companies registered in South Africa.

“This is an encouraging announcement, especially because of the commitment to a public register, rather than a register that is only accessible to the authorities,” said Denise Dube Mubaiwa of Economic Justice Network.

“Public registers give investigators, journalists, civil society and the general public the tools necessary to peel back the layers of secrecy that anonymous companies create.”

Alvin Mosioma of Tax Justice Network-Africa added: “South Africa, [in] leading the way, will provide important cover for other African governments to take the same step.”

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