US probe links Cape tycoon to mining rights bribery in Africa

Stefaans Brümmer and Craig McKune
Pic: The Simandou mountain range is thought to be Africa’s richest iron ore deposit.

US authorities have implicated Cape Town multimillionaire Walter Hennig, an associate of politician-businessman Tokyo Sexwale, in bribing officials of three African countries for mining rights – including, apparently, the president of Guinea.

Hennig’s Palladino Holdings entered a joint venture named Africa Management with US hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group and Sexwale’s Mvelaphanda Holdings in 2008 to invest in natural resources.

Och-Ziff announced in 2014 that 
US authorities were investigating it for bribery in Africa. Earlier this month it said it had put aside $414-million (about R5.6-billion) for a potential settlement.

In the first overt sign that the probe encompasses the activities of Och-Ziff’s South African partners, US authorities on Tuesday arrested Samuel Mebiame, the son of a former Gabonese prime minister.

Mebiame had allegedly worked as a fixer for Palladino, Africa Management and a mining company in which they were invested.

The criminal complaint against Mebiame, filed in New York, alleges Mebiame “routinely [paid] bribes to foreign govenrment officials” to get mineral rights for the companies.

It does not identify Hennig by name, but refers to “Co-conspirator #1”, to whom it alleges Mebiame reported directly.

Co-conspirator #1 is identified as the “beneficial owner” of a company in the offshore haven of Turks and Caicos – reference to Palladino. Hennig’s lawyer previously confirmed that his client was the beneficial owner.

The lawyer on Wednesday said he was unable to reach Hennig or Palladino for comment. Och-Ziff declined to comment.

‘Co-conspirator #2’

Walter Hennig

Among others allegedly complicit, the complaint identies “Co-conspirator #2” as an employee of the joint venture — reference to Africa Management.

Although Sexwale’s Mvelaphanda appears to have withdrawn from the joint venture due to Reserve Bank strictures, Mvelaphanda CEO Mark Willcox stayed on as Africa Management CEO.

Willcox’s lawyer on Thursday denied his client was a co-conspirator. The complaint contains no detail pointing to him specifically.

The complaint quotes from an email Mebiane had sent to Co-conspirator #2 during a dispute over remuneration. In it, he threatened to go public unless he got paid, saying: “You sistematically used corruption in Africa to get the assets you have” and “I will let the world know what kind of internationnal crooks you are.”

Citing evidence collected from Och-Ziff, bank and travel records, emails, witness statements and earlier admissions by Mebiame, the complaint alleges bribery in Guinea, Niger and Chad.

In Guinea, Mebiame allegedly kept close relations with 
“Guinea Official #1” – apparent reference to President Alpha Condé — before and after he assumed office in 2010.

In his earlier admissions, Mebiame allegedly told US investigators that he had “special access to mining opportunities in Guinea because of payments he provided to senior government officials”.

‘Rewriting’ the Guinean mining code

complaint claims Palladino reimbursed Mebiame for payments and gifts to Guinean officials. Mebiame allegedly gave Condé an S-Class Mercedes and paid $440 000 to rent him a private Airbus.

The complaint also alleges Mebiane and Hennig “were involved in rewriting” the Guinean mining code after Condé assumed office, and that they targeted rival mining firms by drafting correspondence to be printed on Guinean state letterhead and signed by a minister.

Hennig seemed to hit pay dirt in March 2011 when another offshore company he controlled
signed a contract lending Guinea $25-million to set up the state miner, giving the Hennig company options to partner it on favourable terms.

In August 2011, according ot the complaint, Mebiame emailed Hennig good news: “Minister of mines actually sent you his best regards … The outcome looks very interesting as they clearly asked me on the phone what could they give us immediately: [mining concessions].”

In 2012, however, Hennig’s loan hit front pages internationally. Condé repaid the loan and the partnership with the state miner did not go ahead.

Attempts on Wednesday to contact Condé and the Guinean presidency failed.

‘The minister’s man’

According to the complaint, Mebiame told the US investigators he bribed officials in Niger to get uranium licenses for Africa Management and the mining company in which it and Palladino were invested.

This was corroborated by “corporate records, bank records and e-mails”.

In an email to a Niger official, an executive of the mining company wrote: “We are most pleased to be entertaining the mining business in Niger, and we are most hopeful that our licenses will be issued in the coming month … [The mining company] would be pleased to contribute $100 000 to help finance your conference.”

Shortly after that, bank records allegedly show, Palladino transferred $50 000 to the official’s nephew, or “the minister’s man” according to a Mebiame email. Palladino also paid another $1.3-million to the “minister’s man” for “services rendered”.

The complaint further details $2.7-million paid from a Hennig-controlled account to a Panama account beneficially owned by a lawyer linked to the officials.

The complaint also details Mebiame’s admissions and corroborating evidence for bribes allegedly paid to a Chadian official for uranium concessions there on behalf of Africa Management and the mining company.

The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism produced this story. Like it? Be an amaB supporter and help us do more. Know more? Send us
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