Monday, September 28, 2020

Khama’s nephew in BCL shady diamond deal

Former President Ian Khama’s nephew tried to sell the BCL Mine diamond licence a few months after government decided to close the loss making copper and Nickel mine.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up an SMS message from Ian Khama’s nephew (name withheld) to a colleague in the industry asking him for help to find a buyer for the BCL diamond mining licence.

The SMS message is one of the many pieces in the jigsaw puzzle that add to the emerging picture that powerful vested interests with political connections pushed for the closure of BCL to lay their hands on the company’s “substantial diamond deposits” discovery in the CKGR.

BCL has 51% in Maibwe Mining, a joint venture with Botswana Diamonds and Future Minerals which owns the licence for the CKGR diamond mining licence.

In May 2016, a few months before government announced the closure of BCL Mine, Botswana Diamonds released a statement announcing a Large Diameter Drilling (LDD) programme for macro diamond evaluation, to be undertaken by Maibwe Diamonds. Sunday Standard has established that BCL had already paid the MSA Group in South Africa P540 000 as deposit for the supervision of the LDD programme.

This was a follow up on diamond drilling conducted in 2015 on PL 186 which found a number of diamondiferous kimberlites. Work on PL186 identified four diamond bearing kimberlite pipes forming a cluster within close proximity to each other.
The pipes were identified through a series of ground-magnetic surveys at 50m spacing and 800m of diamond core drilling from which 305kg of sampled material returned diamonds.

Botswana Diamonds Plc chairman John Teeling said the company already knows that there are substantial diamond deposits on Prospecting Licence Number 186 and wanted to use the upcoming drilling to establish the grade and quality of the gems. While Botswana Diamond Shareholders and BCL managers were rubbing their hands gleefully in anticipation of a windfall from their diamond lucky strike, government crashed the party as a wet blanket and decided to close down the BCL. The then Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security resisted the move to close down BCL and tried to convince Cabinet against the decision.

The then President Lt Gen Ian Khama immediately stepped in and roiled the water with a cabinet reshuffle, appointing Sadique Kebonang to the ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security and moving Mokaila to the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

The curious cabinet reshuffle threw mining industry watchers into a confused “who farted? Pass the gas game”. While fingers pointed to Kebonang as the party pooper, the former minister told the Sunday Standard that when he was appointed to the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Cabinet had already made a decision to close down the BCL mine and “there was nothing I could do. Kebonang said “BCL was liquidated during the first Cabinet meeting with the decision having almost been made before I became a Minister. The recommendation came from the Cabinet Ministerial Committee among others. The other recommendation came from Paul Smith of MDCB (state-run Minerals Development Company of Botswana).”

Asked if he was aware of the expert report on the BCL diamond find at the CKGR, Kebonang said “not a single day. I’m not aware of the report. The only person who told me in passing about it was the former CEO.” The former minister says the diamond lucky strike “was just a rumour. I was not officially briefed and therefore had nothing to take to Cabinet. Exploration had not yet been done to determine viability. The only person who briefed me about the discovery and license was the former CEO of BCL Mahupela.”

Kebonang absolved himself from the blame of closing down the mine after it had struck lucrative kimberlites that would have returned it to profitability. He told Sunday Standard that he did not “rule out the possibility that the government could have been sabotaged by government officials in the Maibwe project.”   He said government “officials can break you or build you as the minister.” Kebonang says he “strongly believes it was an act of sabotage because he fails to understand why he was never fully briefed about the discovery of diamonds by BCL.”  

Is Kebonang lying?

Chief Executive Officer of Future Minerals which has a % stake in Maibwe Mining, Kgosietsile Ngakaagae who is also a practicing attorney told Sunday Standard  when they learn that BCL was being liquidated he briefed Kebonang about the discovery of diamonds by Maibwe in CKGR and how the mine had the potential to sustain BCL.  “He knew about this. I was in the company of another gentleman. One of the things that concerned us was that the liquidation of BCL meant that we could do nothing and the licenses (for Maibwe project were due for renewal. When we requested renewal of the licenses, the Department of Mines demanded to see our work programme and we could not provide that since the liquidation of BCL threw the spanner into the works,” said Ngakaagae.

Ngakaagae added “and all these add to controversy because so many people in strategic positions knew that about the huge diamond deposits in CKGR.  How do you make sense of this? It makes absolutely no sense.”

Stopping short of confirming allegations BCL may have been hijacked by vested interests, Ngakaagae said “We genuinely believed that something was being done until we realised that they intended to ensure that our licenses expired. The expectation was that government should have been excited about these findings in CKGR. As to why this secrecy, it baffles us.”  Ngakaagae says they were shocked when they learnt that BCL was being liquidated as exploration at Maibwe which was funded by BCL was underway. He explained that as part of their agreement, BCL which had a 51 percent stake in Maibwe had intended to disburse more than P10 million for exploration. It emerged that only P4.5 was spent on exploration. Another partner in Maibwe, Botswana Diamonds (BOD) had only spent P30 000 for renewal of mining licenses (mining licenses have to be renewed from time to time).

“We learnt about the liquidation of BCL not from officials but through the media.  They didn’t even call to tell us that BCL was being liquidated.  We had taken the results to The MSA Group in South Africa and they said they were very good,” he said.  

Ngakaagae said when they inquired from BCL about progress as part of the exploration, the company started to take them from pillar to post.

 “BCL was spearheading the exploration process because they had the capacity and because of their knowledge in mining. They were to report to us,” said Ngakaagae. 

Local businessman and director of Future Minerals, Benny Thomas on the other hand told Sunday Standard that “we requested a meeting with the then Minister Kebonang but up to this day that meeting never materialised. We are not even show if Government Ministries have the report on the findings (from The MSA Group) of diamonds at Maibwe project.”  Kebonang has however denied that he spurned requests for a meeting from Thomas.

What did Khama know?

Thomas further revealed that when reports emerged that BCL was being liquidated they were worried that former President Khama was not aware of the discovery of diamonds worth hundreds of billions by Maibwe Diamond Mine which would sustain BCL. “We were a bit concerned that maybe the former President was unaware of these findings in CKGR…. I approached one of his personal friends (names known to this paper) to ask him to inquire from the former President if he was aware of the Maibwe project findings. According to the person close to the President that I had approached, former President Khama explained that he was aware of the project but did not have enough details.”

It was then that former President Khama assigned his ally and another man to accompany Thomas to the MSA laboratory testing premises in South Africa. “We had a meeting with the testing lab officials in South Africa and the two men who had accompanied me were impressed saying this was a good project. The laboratory testing firm confirmed that there were 550 carats per a 100 ton. We came back and they gave the former President feedback. I’m told the former president also said this was a good project.” Thomas also stated that he took the initiative to brief Molefhi as the area MP although mining did not fall under his portfolio. Khama however did not intervene to stop the BCL liquidation. Instead BCL decided to keep Future Minerals in the dark about what the liquidation of BCL meant for Maibwe project. “Government did not show concern about the licenses for the project.  As Future Minerals, we were really concerned. First and foremost, we were concerned that should our licenses expire not only would we lose out but BCL too as a state owned company was going to lose out. This meant the license would expire and end up being awarded to others later. We were also concerned trying to understand what government’s intention was as far as the discovery of this diamonds,” he said.

Ngakaagae echoed Thomas’ sentiments saying, “it was not that we were only concerned for ourselves as Future Minerals, but for BCL as well. It troubled us because these diamonds belong to Batswana. This troubled us as mining shareholders and as Batswana.  At the time we had a meeting with Dixon-Warren (liquidator) trying to understand what would happen to the licenses,” he said.

While Thomas and Ngakaagae were battling to save the Maibwe licence from expiring, former President Khama’s nephew on the other hand was looking for buyers interested in the licence.

Who is fooling who?

While Future Minerals was trying to stop the Maibwe licence from expiring, they also battled to ward off Botswana Diamonds BOD which wanted to buy BCL shares in Maibwe. Ngakaagae told Sunday Standard that “another thing that concerned us was that BOD was not a citizen owned company. We fought very hard because BOD wanted to buy 25 percent out of BLC’s 51 percent which would result in them being the majority shareholders in Maibwe. We refused as Future Minerals.”  

The two men said “BOD wanted to buy BCL shares for US$ 250 000 and this was one of the things that troubled us. Remember BCL had not paid the full amount for these shares (They had only paid P4.5 million out of the agreed more than P10 million) when they entered into partnership with Future Minerals).  Ngakaagae explained that “These are some of the boardroom politics of Maibwe. But we have no evidence as to whether this was one of the reasons that led to the liquidation of BCL.” He was quick to add that “our suspicions are that the game plan was to let the licenses expire, which would see BCL losing out, Batswana who have shares in Maibwe also losing out.  That was the arrangement, that was the game plan.”

He said when the licenses were due for renewal they asked the liquidator and he said he had asked for the suspension of the licenses. “He refused to show us documents. He said it was private and confidential as it affects other companies. We said expunge the portion that affects other stakeholders and give us a copy but he refused. We had to fight hard to ensure that the licenses are suspended,” said Ngakaagae. For his part, Dixon Warren declined to comment citing confidentiality. Ngakaagae said “Batswana would have lost their diamonds; had we not fought so hard.”

Earlier this year Botswana Diamonds (BOD) Managing Director James Campbell disclosed that they had lodged a proposal to buy BCL shared in Maibwe Diamonds. “We have put in an offer to the liquidator of BCL and we hope to get a response in the next few months.”

Campbell indicated that BCL was currently compiling a prospectus with a view to selling their stake, and BOD had approached the liquidator with several possibilities. It is understood that, BCL mine group, which has been under liquidation since 2016, is selling its 51 percent stake in Maibwe Diamonds for an undisclosed amount.  The BCL liquidator Nigel Warren-Dixon however dismissed the claims by Botswana Diamonds.

“No formal offer has been made to the provisional liquidator of BCL Investments, who owns the shares in Maibwe Diamonds, by BOD or any other party. The provisional liquidator is not in formal discussions with any party to sell the shares of Maibwe Diamonds”, Warren-Dixon told the Sunday Standard. He said the value of Maibwe had not even been determined.  Contacted to confirm if they still stand by their statement, the London based, BOD Executive Chairman, John Teeling was quick to say, “I regret that we cannot add to what we have said.”

Ngakaagae on the other hand told Sunday Standard that they had made a proposal to the liquidator to refund BCL the P4.5 million that the defunct mining company had spent on the exploration “as part of our agreement when they bought the shares, he refused claiming that he had to consult the Registrar of the High Court first.”

He is adamant that “this was a project that could have saved BCL.  It was allowed to fall with the component of nickel (government placed BCL under liquidation citing declining commodity prices). But those who have eyes can see what the grand plan was.”

Ngakaagae further said what shocked them was that this happened at the time when BCL wanted to diversify the mine away from copper nickel and “they told us that the Maibwe project was number one priority under Polaris II.”

Thomas asked rhetorically: “Why the secrecy around this issue? This still troubles us. How would government not know about this project because it is a 100 percent shareholder in BCL? Mahupela reports to the Minister and the Minister must inform Cabinet.”

Chief Public Relations Officer at Office Of The president said “Kindly note this is an issue for the Ministry of Green Technology, Minerals and Mining. The department for mines will be better equipped to deal with this issue.”

She added that “Secondly what has the liquidator said about this?  Note that I have also forwarded this to JT Dipowe who is the government spokesperson. Is it most unfortunate that you want an answer so quickly yet this seems to be an issue from October 2017?”

Former BCL CEO Dan Mahupela said “I have been trying to get information. Mr Mack Williams was the Divisional Manager looking after Strategy and he would have good information on all Polaris projects under BCL…” Citing confidentiality, Williams said he did not have the mandate to discuss matters relating to BCL.

Minister Nonofo Molefhi confirmed that he was made aware of the Maibwe project by Thomas. But he would not be drawn into details. “I’m limited to make a comment on that matter,” he said. Sunday Standard sought to establish if he briefed Cabinet as the area MP when he was made aware of the project. It has since emerged that another area MP Dithapelo Keorapetse was also made aware of the Maibwe project.

Contacted for comment Keorapetse said he was aware about the diamonds that were discovered in CKGR. He said he was informed by the BCL management about the discovery and that the project was approved. He said what surprised him most was the fact that government decided to keep the discovery a “secret.”  “That is totally un acceptable,” he said.

Khama was not available to respond as his Personal Assistant Kgalalelo Nnoi said he was in the Okavango region.

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