In 2006, the largest public works award, of 75 million dollars, was given to an oil company

In 2006, the largest public works award, of 75 million dollars, was given to an oil company

The latest document leak provided to Diario Rombe was sourced by an anonymous call. It linked dictator Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue to the public water contracts and the oil sector, construction and timber exports.

A flash drive, with more than 200 files; including reports, contracts, agreements and authentic letters, was provided by “Sergei” (not his real name). Sergei, who claims to be a part of a conglomerate of businessmen who lost millions of dollars invested in Equatorial Guinea, went to the dictator’s family with coercion, intimidation and threats.

In addition, there are court documents on one of the biggest corruption scandals, known as the ”General Work” case. The activities of the dictator’s brother, Armengol Ondo Nguema, among others, who are members of the Obiang family, will be published by Diario Rombe in the coming weeks.

A Key Woman in the Country’s Business, Unknown to the Public

At the end of the 90s, Lydia Grunitzky arrived in Equatorial Guinea, following an invitation by the Equatoguinean president. She is an Ethiopian businesswoman, known to be discreet, cunning, intelligent and linked to the powerful presidential family of former Togolese President, Nicolas Grunitzky (1963-1967). This invitation allowed her to access the closest circle of Teodoro Obiang, without problems. The exact circumstances that united them are unknown, “that information never transcended in the circle of investors who were in the country,” says Sergei.

In 2002, the Equatoguinean government was looking for foreign investors to manage the main ports of the country’s economic capital, “Some colleagues, who were in Equatorial Guinea at that time, had the opportunity to do business directly with Teodoro Obiang under the influence of that woman,” says Sergei.

Thanks to Grunitzky’s network of contacts and his business acumen, a French delegation from the powerful Bolloré Group, the industrial holding company owned by French billionaire Vincent Bolloré, landed in the country’s capital, on a private plane. Three sources, on condition of anonymity, collaborated with this journalistic investigation and assured Diario Rombe of the arrival of the group on a private plane under the influence of Grunitzky. Their arrival aroused the attention of the son of the Equatoguinean dictator, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.

The presence of the French holding company in the country was perceived by son, Teodorin Obiang, as a threat that contravened his personal interest. Taking advantage of the absence of the dictator, who was on a private trip to France, the presidential family of the dictator’s wife activated a strong military device to force Grunitzky out of Equatorial Guinea. “It was a very difficult time for many investors who witnessed that event,” Sergei recalls.

A call from the business woman to the dictator, Obiang, prevented her imminent deportation. “Grunitzky called Obiang Nguema informing him of her house arrest and imminent deportation,” the sources recounted. As a result of that incident, the then director of the Bolloré Group left Equatorial Guinea.

On her part, Grunitzky remained in the country until the end of 2010 when she had to leave being threatened and harassed not only by members of the family of First Lady, Constancia Mangue, but also by the presence of the then prime minister of the Government, Ignacio Milan Tang – now president of the Council of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea – because her daughter who had a romantic relationship with a Belgian builder, arrived in Equatorial Guinea through Grunitzky. She wanted to take control of the construction company “It was not new to hear them threaten investors with phrases like, this is our country, if you don’t like it, you can leave,” Sergei laments in the face of the difficulties that foreign investors have to conduct business in Equatorial Guinea.

The largest contract in Equatorial Guinea’s oil history

During the exploration work carried out by the French company TotalFinalElf (now Total SA) in Block E (now Block R) the platform collapsed and the company decided to abandon the project due to the low probability of finding oil reserves under that block. It was then, in early 2003 with oil fields available to bid, that Obiang asked the Ethiopian business woman to get a foreign company with the sufficient human and financial resources to explore the available blocks.

Grunitzky took advantage of her trip to the United States where she would attend an oil conference accompanied by Obiang’s team to meet with different businessmen, including South African politician and businessman Tokyo Sexwale, founder of Mvelaphanda Group. According to Sergei’s account “Grunitzky informed Tokyo Sexwale about business opportunities in Equatorial Guinea’s oil sector.” Sexwale showed his interest and willingness to visit Equatorial Guinea, as well as other countries such as Sudan, Angola and Gabon.

Tokyo Sexwale’s visit to Equatorial Guinea to explore business opportunities with the Obiang government took place in April 2003, alongside a delegation composed of major bank, oil, construction companies and even a senior official from the South African Ministry of Commerce. With Grunitsky’s coordination, the South African delegation met with the Equatoguinean dictator to whom they transferred the interest in acquiring an oil field in Equatorial Guinea. According to different sources consulted by Diario Rombe, “the president promised to ensure that the South Africans obtained a block” and as a result of Grunitzky’s intervention and mediation, the Mvelaphanda Group acquired a stake in Repsol’s operations in Equatorial Guinea.

A year after the South Africans’ visit, on February 2nd 2004, Alan Mckellar Stein, Peter Dolan and Jonathan Mark Taylor founded the offshore oil and gas company, Ophir Energy Plc. Soon after, Tokyo Sexwale reunited with Lydia Grunitzky and co-founder Alan Mckellar Stein in South Africa. Unofficial sources of officials who work during that period in the ministry of mines maintain that, “Alan gave Grunitzky his curriculum vitae and asked if she would help them to get Ophir Energy Plc into the oil markets of Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and other African countries.”

Despite the fact that it was a new company without a recognised international trajectory in the sector, and as stated by a source close to the Equatoguinean government, “it was practically impossible for the Obiang regime to grant them an exploitation licence” additionally, “ Ophir was an aspiring oil and gas company that had no background in drilling, exploration and no history of blockholding.”

Documents delivered to Diario Rombe by Sergei reveal that Grunitzky signed an agreement with Ophir Services (Pty) Ltd, a subsidiary of Ophir Energy Plic. Under the agreement, The Ethiopian businesswoman would be in charge of influencing the decision of the Equatoguinean government to award the R Block to the budding company. One of the consulted sources revealed that, “Obiang Nguema told our colleague Grunitzky that if the oil company Ophir was willing to pay a $50 million bond to the state, it would award them the contract.” It was then that Lydia’s Grunitzky made a proposition to the directors of the oil company that an offer should be made.

In the bidding round, organised by the Equatoguinean government, Ophir Energy Plc. surprised the Obiang regime with a historic offer of 75 million-dollar (signature bonus) for the signing of the contract, an unprecedented amount in the country’s oil trajectory with 4 which Block R won.

While in countries such as Gabon or Angola, foreign oil companies paid a bonus of between 100 and 500 million dollars to explore a work area, in Equatorial Guinea before Grunitzky’s arrival, foreign companies offered a “Carry Over” of 5%. With Grunitizky’s formula, foreign oil companies began offering the Equatoguinean government a 20% “Carry Over” on production-sharing contracts.

On March 4th 2006, the Equatoguinean government signed the long-awaited production-sharing contract for the R PSC Block with the oil company Ophir Energy Plc that took 80% of the production, while the Equatoguinean state through Gepetrol, kept 20%. According to a letter signed by the then Minister of Mines, Industry and Energy, Atanasio Ela Ntugu Nsa, the $75 million was transferred to the Equatorial Guinea public treasury account at the German Bank, Commerzbank on May 22nd 2006.

Ophir Energy’s annual report in 2006 explains that “under a strategic relationship arrangement Ophir acquired Mvelaphanda’s oil and gas businesses, and Mvelaphanda agreed to work exclusively with Ophir on exploration and production operations projects around the world.” Following that agreement Mvelaphanda Group became the main shareholder of Ophir Energy Plc and Tokyo Sexwale was appointed non-executive chairman of the oil and gas company until May 2009, when he resigned to join the Cabinet of the South African government.In May 2019, PT Medco Energi Internasional Tbk bought Ophir Energy Plc in a deal valued at 408.4 million pounds (517.6 million dollars).
The end of Grunitzky in Equatorial Guinea

Beginning in 2007, the deputy Minister of Mines, Industry and Energy, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima – now Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons – began to lead the future relations between Ophir Energy and the government of Equatorial Guinea. “To ensure control of all the negotiations led by Grunitzky, the son of the dictator began a campaign to discredit the Ethiopian business woman”, say several sources.

On some occasions, treated as an influential lobbyist and the Equatoguinean dictator’s Inner Circle, Grunitzky was nonetheless persecuted and threatened by members of the dictators family, above all, for having caused the interruption of negotiations that then CEO of GEPetrol, Candido Nsue Okomo, was having with a British Nigerian oil company known as Energy Equity Resources (EER) to award the ”Block R” (then “Block E”).

According to sources with extensive knowledge, the dictator and his son Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima were aware of the secret negotiations being held by the family of the dictator’s wife in exchange for lucrative commissions.

Four years later, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima had managed to remove Lydia Grunitzky from the regime´s business landscape. According to statements by Grunitzky’s own successor in Equatorial Guinea and a letter seen by Diario Rombe, “Mr. Gabriel Obiang refused to negotiate with Ophir Energy while Ms. Grunitzky was involved”. In addition, Ophir Energy’s proximity to minister Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima determined that the government will allegedly award the oil company six more blocks for less than 2 million dollars in full. This is an advantage to concession with respect to the size of the area and the final price since it has been a regular award process that Ophir Energy would have had to pay millions of dollars in signature bonuses for each block.

The acquisition of Block R in Equatorial Guinea, allowed Ophir Energy to enter the London Stock Exchange in the United Kingdom. Thus becoming one of the largest and richest companies on the African continent. Other countries have relied on them mainly because of their presence in Equatorial Guinea. In a deal valued at 408.4 million pounds or (517.6 million dollars), Ophir Energy was acquired in May 2019, by MedcoEnergi, A Southeast Asian oil company listed on the Indonesian Stock Exchange and operating in three key business segments: Oil & Gas, Energy and Mining.

On Tokyo Sexwale’s visit to Equatorial Guinea, the entrepreneur traveled with another South African partner, Olaf Walter Hennig, founder of Palladino Holdings Ltd. Olaf Walter’s company is implicated in an alleged published corruption scandal that Reuters picked up in an article published in 2017.

According to the press, the son of the late former Gabonese Prime Minister Samuel Mebiane was sentenced to 2 years in prison for violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act related to bribing African officials to obtain public contracts. When the events happened, Samuel Mebiane was working as a consultant for Palladino Holdings Ltd. A company founded by South African investor Olaf Walter Hennig and registered in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2003. When Hennig was introduced to Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, as Diario Rombe has learned, a relationship of friendship was established that was strengthened with the alleged signing of numerous businesses.

As a result of that friendly relationship, the Deputy Minister of Mines and Energy would have offered the South African businessman, Olaf Walter Hennig the administration of the port of Luba. This is how Walter Henning brought the Lonhro Group to Equatorial Guinea to manage the port. Diario Rombe will detail how the negotiations were carried out.

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