SeaArk 'lied' about Saudi deal

A major Saudi Arabian marine company has accused controversial Coega prawn farm SeaArk Africa of lying about an alleged R70-million deal between the companies.

“We have no contract with SeaArk,” was the response of Jeddah-based Al Fulk after being confronted with a SeaArk Africa press statement on January 21, which announced a “R70-million contract to develop a pilot prawn-farming site in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, by the Al Faulk [sic] Group”.

Three weeks ago, the Mail & Guardian revealed the identities of the people behind SeaArk Africa: an American fraud convict and a local empowerment company that is under investigation for tender rigging in the Department of Correctional Services.

Bosasa Operations, of which SeaArk Africa is a 100% subsidiary, this week backtracked on the January 21 statement, saying that it was “based on our information that the terms of a memorandum of understanding [had] been agreed to by the board of Al Fulk”.

SeaArk Africa is planning to develop a R9-billion marine farming project in the Coega industrial development zone. But the development is still under an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

After revealing the true identity of SeaArk Africa, the M&G was contacted by Al Fulk project’s general manager, MS Hazzaa, about a statement in one of the published articles which indicated that a deal had been signed between his company and SeaArk Africa.

Hazzaa denied the deal was signed and was upset that both the South African and international media had widely reported on it.

In a telephonic interview with the M&G he said: “We know these people in the story. We know the players.
They are not unfamiliar to us, but they have nothing to do with us.”

Hazzaa declined to elaborate on the nature of Al Fulk’s interaction with SeaArk Africa. “We have been receiving calls from our associates worldwide, saying to us: ‘Be careful of your partners.’ But these people in the article—SeaArk Africa—have no links to us. We have no contract with SeaArk.”

After publication of the first articles in the M&G, SeaArk Africa’s lawyers sent a letter accusing the newspaper of defamation and claimed that the company had suffered “financial harm and prejudice — emanating from their bankers and trade creditors”. A complaint was also lodged with the press ombudsman.

Responding to the M&G‘s questions about Hazzaa’s claims, Bosasa spokesperson Papa Leshabane said: “Suffice to state that our announcement made in January 2008 was based on our information that the terms of a memorandum of understanding been agreed to by the board of Al Fulk. Notwithstanding, negotiations remain ongoing.”

A subsequent letter from Bosasa’s lawyers states: “Our clients are private companies and enjoy the right to conduct their business as such. Henceforth our client will not respond to any questions raised by your journalists.”

In the January 21 press release, SeaArk Africa claimed that its “patented processes” in the Jeddah pilot project would be run remotely from Coega. Water quality and temperature, among others, would be monitored online from Coega.

The Saudi plant would be built and managed by two other Bosasa companies—project management company BuildAll and Sondolo IT.

After the M&G‘s revelation of his criminal background, SeaArk Africa’s international business associate, David Wills, retaliated with a 3 000-word interview published on the website of the shadowy NGO the International Foundation for the Conservation of National Resources (IFCNR).

Wills and Bosasa and SeaArk Africa chief executive Gavin Watson are members of the IFCNR.

In the interview, Wills alleges that his enemies, who “tarred” his life with “misleading shadows”, were destroying his reputation. He admitted pleading guilty to a charge of embezzlement, but alleges he was forced to do so because of financial and social pressures.

“Just a few weeks ago another newspaper [the M&G] in a country halfway around the world ran the laundry list of allegations verbatim in yet another story on me, printing word for word what they got off the internet written by my enemies 10 or more years ago.”

Meanwhile, the Coega Development Corporation (CDC) has confirmed that SeaArk Africa is still subject to a due diligence process after completion of the EIA process.

“Depending on the outcomes of the EIA, we will conduct a due diligence and we cannot ignore the information raised in the [M&G] article if it becomes relevant at the time,” CDC spokesperson Ongama Mtimka said.

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