National

Hawks turn the screws on Imperial

Lionel Faull

Legal battle for the world's biggest opencast iron ore mine intensifies with new claims of forgery.

The Hawks claim to have unearthed more evidence to suggest that empowerment mining company Imperial Crown Trading forged a rival’s mining right application in 2009.

Imperial and Sishen Iron Ore Company, a subsidiary of mining giant Kumba Iron Ore, are facing off over a 21.4% share in the biggest opencast iron ore mine in the world—the Sishen mine in the Northern Cape.

The department of mineral resources awarded the stake to Imperial in 2009.

In the latest round of court papers lodged at the Kimberley High Court, relating to the July 27 raids by the Hawks on Imperial’s offices in Kimberley, the Hawks claim that a land surveyor admitted receiving a manipulated copy of a title deed from Imperial founder Phemelo Sehunelo.

Sehunelo reportedly showed the surveyor, Coen Fraenkel, the title deed after the date on which Imperial claims it submitted its bona fide application to the department.

If true, the land surveyor’s claim would discredit Imperial’s assertion that the manipulated documents originated from Sishen, and would suggest that Imperial was responsible for the forgeries.

But Imperial’s lawyer, Ronnie Mendelow, told the Mail & Guardian this week that Fraenkel denied “ever having, seeing or using the title deed” from Imperial.

Fraenkel declined to tell the M&G whose version of his testimony—the Hawks’ or Imperial’s—was true.

Civil case
In a separate civil case, currently before Judge Raymond Zondo in the North Gauteng High Court about who owns the disputed mining right, Sishen alleges that Imperial stole its mining right application documents to make last-minute photocopies for its own application for the same stake.

Imperial has denied the fraud allegation, claiming that Sishen inserted the forged documentation into Imperial’s application to discredit it.

The civil case was heard by Zondo over an entire week in August, but a date for judgment to be handed down has not been announced.

On August 19, Imperial brought an urgent interim interdict before acting senior magistrate Richard Bird at the Kimberley High Court, to have all material seized in the Hawks’ July raids sealed and stored at the Kimberley court registrar’s office.

Imperial also want the Hawks’ raids declared illegal. In addition, Imperial want the court to interdict the Hawks from disclosing any information stemming from the raids to Imperial’s rival, Sishen.

In an affidavit submitted with the urgent application in Kimberley, Sehunelo queried the timing of the Hawks raid, which occurred in the run-up to the separate civil court hearing into the mining right dispute.

Sehunelo called the raid “a transparent attempt to influence the imminent hearing and to create the impression that the applicant [Imperial] had in fact committed fraud”.

‘Underhand’
In her answering affidavit, Hawks investigator Lieutenant Colonel Sandra van Wyk accused Imperial of bringing its interim interdict before the Kimberley High Court by “underhand” means.

“The judgment was obtained on practically no notice,” Van Wyk said, adding that she was working in Pretoria, and given notice of Imperial’s application “barely half an hour” before the matter was heard in Kimberley.

“This was a designed stratagem aimed at obtaining an unwarranted order in circumstances where, with proper notice, the application would never have been granted.”

Imperial’s interim application was granted on August 22, with the caveat that the seized material be sealed and stored at the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein, and not in Kimberley.

In her answering affidavit, Van Wyk explained why the seized material had to be moved elsewhere: the Kimberley High Court registrar, known only to Van Wyk as “Mr Cidras”, is suspected of assisting Imperial to falsely certify its allegedly photocopied mining right documentation.

Van Wyk also expressed frustration in her affidavit at the ongoing delays: “My investigation is jeopardised by ... this very application.”

The return-date hearing on the legality of the Hawks raid has been postponed until October 28, to give Imperial the opportunity to respond to court papers filed by Sishen.

Sishen had applied to be admitted as an interested party in the face-off between the Hawks and Imperial.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.


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