Namibians fleeced of R130m

A string of unrealised multimillion-rand investments with shady financial traders based in South Africa has left some Namibian state-owned companies embarrassed by the fact that they may have been conned into signing away at least R130-million in public funds.

Reports of bogus asset management companies with links to politicians or Namibian business people soliciting money from two state-owned companies have made headline news in Namibia.

The Social Security Commission (SSC), a state welfare corporation that levies fees on workers and companies for maternity, sick leave, disability and death benefits, has failed to retrieve R30-million that it invested with Avid Investment, a firm owned by, among others, a deputy government minister and leader of the ruling party’s youth wing, Paulus Kapia. The investment matured in April, but the capital amount and interest of 14,5% have not been paid back to the SSC.

When the SSC took the matter to court to recover the money, it emerged that the funds had left the country and were fraudulently invested with a Johannesburg trader, Alan Rosenberg Investment Bank. Rosenberg, described in the Namibian court as untrustworthy, has promised to repay the money on several occasions, but has failed to meet his deadlines.
He has not been summoned to testify about the disappearance of workers’ social security funds.

Directors of Avid Investment told a judicial inquiry they were unaware that their Namibian link to Rosenberg, Lazarus Kandara, had transferred the money to a single trader instead of Standard Chartered Bank as he had promised. Kandara is now being sought by the police and is believed to be in South Africa.

While the social security case was playing out in the High Court, a Namibian magazine, Insight, reported that another state-owned corporation, the Offshore Development Company (ODC), had in 2003 and 2004 invested R100-million with a company registered in Botswana and South Africa. Great Triangle Investments has also failed to repay the main amount and the 20% promised interest. Several investments placed with Great Triangle Investments matured last year.

The ODC, the government’s agency set up to manage export process zones (the flagship industrialisation programme that offers tax exemption), hired lawyers to recover the funds, but found the company does not exist in South Africa. Its East London office telephone numbers are no longer in use. The cellphone of Great Triangle Investments went unanswered for several weeks. The voice message identified the owner as a Professor Phillip A Fourie.

On Thursday morning, however, a man who answered did not identify himself and said he was “going to look” for Fourie. He returned within seconds with a reply “there will be no comment at this stage”.

Lawyers’ search for the R100-million has only yielded reports that the Botswana director of the company died two years ago. The Gaborone address provided to the media by the ODC lawyers appears to be that of the deceased director.

The Namibian lawyer leading the search, Andrew Theunissen, was quoted in a Namibian newspaper as saying that he had spoken to Fourie and was given “several excuses”. The two cases involving the SSC and the ODC, state entities with huge financial reserves, appear to be the tip of the iceberg in what officials at other government corporations have described as investments with questionable companies.

Some of the role players are now being exposed as part of a network of bogus companies that approach gullible executives with promises of generous returns. The ring also extends to West Africa and the United Kingdom.

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