Pipe dreams of a cybersquatter

A former cybersquatter and operator of a fraudulent scheme that ripped off African students has emerged as the main promoter of a scheme to build a steel mill, a mega-mall and a gas-fired power station in northern Namibia—if the local town councils would only give him the land for free to realise his R200-billion dream.

And what a dream it is: a bullet train to whisk visitors from his mega-mall near the Etosha National Park to the coast and capital, a six-lane highway from Windhoek to the northern border and a 4 000MW power station that will power it all. Oh—and a million-dollar soccer league and regional beauty contests, just to make sure no one feels left out.

Simon Kapenda, who was criminally prosecuted by the Ohio attorney general in 1999 for operating a fraudulent scholarship scheme targeting, in particular, poor students from Africa, has refused any contact or requests for comment.

But his persistence in punting his schemes appears to have fooled just enough people for him to keep going: several local newspapers recently carried stories of how he and some backers, seemingly fooled by Kapenda’s pitch, were about to launch their new steel mill in Otavi, 400km north of Windhoek.

There were also red faces in some newsrooms after they published articles lauding a new $3-billion (about R24-billion) steel mill that Kapenda and a former manager of a failed mining company were promoting.

Andre Neethling, who in the late 1990s led a management buyout of the former Tsumeb Mine that was restructured as Ongopolo Mining, sought to defend his association with Kapenda, claiming he was “just concentrating on the positive side”.

Neethling and Kapenda claimed that the steel mill, which Kapenda said would list early this year on the local stock exchange, would have an output of 10-million tonnes when it became operational in 2013, and would employ more than 15 000 people. The men claimed that they were in partnership with German steel giant SDS GmbH.

But neither could explain where the iron ore or electricity for this steel would come from: Namibia has no iron mine and is facing major constraints on its electricity supply because of the country’s booming uranium mining industry.

Kapenda, however, claimed on a Facebook page for Groot Town (as he styles his grandiose schemes) that the steel would be supplied by Angola-based scrap dealers.

When pushed for comment, he claimed that his “pre-intelligence assessment” indicated that he was to be assassinated by this reporter.

Kapenda has started inviting applications for jobs at the new steel mill, promising salaries of R110 000 a year to those willing to go to Italy for a six-month training course with Italian industrial firm Danieli.

Several people sought out his contact details but when they were warned against believing Kapenda’s promises he responded by blocking anyone deemed hostile from his site.

In 1999 Kapenda was prosecuted in the US state of Ohio for operating a fraudulent internet-based scholarship scheme that ripped off poor students, mostly from Africa. He later accepted a “consent judgment” without admitting any guilt, but still claims to be a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University.

In June 2000 Wired magazine reported that Kapenda had tried to get former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern to buy back a domain name Kapenda had registered under his TransNames.com website. When a “Bertie Ahern” offered $5million for the site but then refused to pay, Kapenda for weeks posted messages threatening to lay charges of fraud against this individual.

Charles Kariko, the acting chief executive of the nearby Grootfontein municipality, just laughed when asked about Kapenda, who had apparently demanded land for free to build 160 000 houses (the town currently has about 4 000 homes).

“We asked him a few technical questions. He never came back,” he said.

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