Sime Darby To Decide On Its Future Operations In Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia – June 3, 2019: In a first admission of business losses, the world biggest oil palm producer by acreage Sime Darby of Malaysia says its net profit fell by about 70% compared to the first quarter of 2018.

 

Malaysia Headquarters of Sime Darby Plantation

According to the company’s Managing Director Mohd Bakke Salleh, Sime Darby is expected to reach a decision by year’s end on its future operations in the West African country of Liberia. The company has a 63 year concession agreement in the country to develop about 220,000 hectares of land for palm oil and rubber plantations in the administrative districts of Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Bomi and Bong Counties. Sime Darby says it already farming plantations in Grand Cape Mount,. Bomi and Lofa Counties.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map

Liberia will need to maintain the company’s investment, jobs and tax revenues to bolster its struggling economy at a critical time when other major investors including Firestone Rubber and the Turkish MNG Gold Mining Company have slashed jobs to cope to slumping global prices for their commodities.

Sime Darby’s Managing Director who did not disclose names, admitted that there have been ”a number of inquiries about our business in Liberia”. There have been speculations in recent months of that Sime Darby was contemplating leaving Liberia because of heavy business losses. There is no word from the Liberian Government on this latest development.

Economic Affairs Correspondent

West African Journal Magazine

 

Liberia: New Dubai Billionaire Investor Has “Controversial Past” In Ghana

Dubai and Monrovia – March 13, 2019: A would-be investor from Dubai, the United Arab Emirates who is reported by the Government controlled Liberia News Agency (LINA)  on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 to have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding investment agreement with Liberia in the areas of “energy, mining, infrastructures and other crucial sectors” is linked to a report of controversial dealings involving then former Ghanaian President John Mahama.

Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum of Ameri Group LLC

In an investigation conducted by the West African Journal Magazine into the business dealings, it was uncovered that a Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang( VG) reported in November, 2017 that former Ghanaian President John Mahama, in July, 2017, traveled to the southwestern African nation of Namibia to meet representatives of Sheik Maktoum. 

Former Ghana President John Mahama

The paper reported that, “John Mahama brought the two men representing the sheikh to Namibia – seeking to clinch possible energy deals with yet another African nation: Namibia.

This July, Mahama travelled to the Namibian capital, Windhoek, with employees of the “private office” of Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmouk al Maktoum of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

This company now owns the Ameri Group, also known as the Africa Middle East Resources Investment Group LLC.

According to Namibian officials, Mahama claimed he was in Windhoek as an advocate for the African Development Bank.

At a news conference after Mahama’s meeting with Namibian President Hage Geingob, the former Ghanaian leader appeared with two men professionally based in Dubai.

Until now, it has not been officially known who these men were.

But VG can now reveal their identities:

One was Ameri Group CEO Maher Al Alili, who is also CEO of the sheikh’s private office.

Prior Reporting By Verdens Gangs Newspaper

The other was Mustafa Ahmed, who left behind a business card in Namibia embossed with the logo of the sheikh’s office.

…Not until Mahama’s delegation arrived in Namibia were his mysterious companions presented to the Namibian government, according to Aocham:

– The two gentlemen were introduced by Mr John Mahama (as working for) The Private Office of Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook al Maktoum. They were introduced as Mr Mustafa Ahmed and Mr Maher Al Alili. The names of the two gentlemen or the name of the company were not mentioned in the letter from former President Mahama.

– Among his delegation were these two gentlemen, as well as the former ambassador of Ghana to Namibia, Alhaji A. R. Haruna, Aocham adds, then continues:

– Mahama informed President Geingob that he was in Namibia in his capacity as an AfDB (African Development Bank) advocate for African energy self-sufficiency, and brought UAE representatives to Namibia after they identified the country as one of the most attractive destinations for electricity infrastructure investments.

Since July there has been no further contact between the parties.

One of the men, Mustafa Ahmed, denies to VG that he had a role in the Namibia visit.

– I do not work for his highnesses private office,” he says.

– So what happened in Namibia?

– I advise several groups, not just them, he replies.

– Nothing happened in Namibia, so if you want to make a big story, that’s up to you.

– But the sheikh’s logo and your number appear on the same business card. How do you explain that?

– I don’t know what you are talking about. I have nothing to hide. I know him. I have advised him and advise him, but I do not work for him. I do not have an official position with him, insists Ahmed.

A few days later, the company’s CEO, Maher Al Alili, contacted VG and threatened a lawsuit. In 2015 the company had threatened to sue VG for USD 150 million for its reporting on the controversial electrical power deal between Ghana and Ameri Group.

The company said VG had published false claims about Umar Farooq Zahoor, the man who signed the Ameri agreement and is still wanted internationally.

– Who gave you the right to write about Umar? asks Al Alili, the CEO of Ameri Group, by telephone from Dubai.

– If there is anything wrong with the story we have the option of suing you, he says.

– The company does not want to be open with information or grant interviews with the media.

Al Alili nevertheless confirms that he was in Namibia working for the sheikh’s office.

He refuses to comment on Mahama’s ties to the Dubai company.

– You’ll have to ask Mahama about that, says Al Alili.

For seven weeks VG has tried to make direct contact with Ghana’s former president in order to obtain comment.

His special advisor, the lawyer Joyce Bawah-Motare, confirms that Mahama has received VG’s inquiry.

– Of course. Mr Mahama sees any request that arrives. I am telling you he is not available, and that I will get back to you if he becomes available, the special advisor told VG in mid-October.

VG’s many queries have not been well received by the ex-president’s inner circle.

– He has no obligation to give you an interview. You can’t force Mr Mahama to talk to you. Can you force the King of Norway to give you an interview?

The Ameri Group has repeatedly denied that Umar Farooq Zahoor, the man who signed the controversial energy agreement with Ghana in 2015, is a wanted internationally by law enforcement authorities.

That is not the case.

He is still wanted by the police internationally, Norwegian district attorney Carl Graff Hartmann, confirms to VG.

– We have received a response from the United Arab Emirates stating they will not grant our request for the extradition of Umar Farooq Zahoor, he continues.

That means the UAE refuses to turn over the internationally wanted man, who has a Pakistani passport, to Norway.

Zahoor himself has claimed he no longer works for Ameri Group, though VG has disclosed that he still plays a key role in the sheikh’s private office, which owns Ameri Group.

This was also confirmed by a PR officer at the sheikh’s office.

– Yes, he is working there, said Ahmed al Baloushi to VG.

In September, Zahoor travelled to Pakistan with Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmouk al Maktoum and CEO Maher Al Alili to further discuss yet another Ameri-related deal with Pakistani company FWO.

 Zahoor has declined to comment on his professional affairs in Dubai.

– He sees no reason to comment on his working relationships or assignments to a Norwegian newspaper, and it is beyond my mandate as a Norwegian defence lawyer to express an opinion about this,” his Norwegian lawyer, John Christian Elden, writes in email to VG on Zahoor’s behalf.

Zahoor also points out that the Ameri-deal is still ongoing in Ghana.”

The African Development (ADB) at the time denied that former President Mahama was representing them in Namibia, according to the Norwegian newspaper. 

As part of the former Ghanaian President’s engagement with associates of Sheik Maktoum, the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG) also reported in August, 2016 that former Ghanaian Power Minister Kwabena Donkor signed a $510 million dollar deal with one Umar Farooq Zahoor, a Pakistani Norwegian individual from Oslo who the paper alleged “was wanted by Norwegian and Swiss police for spectacular acts of fraud committed the last ten years…”

Former Ghana Power Minister Kwabena Donkor

The paper reported that when it showed a photo of Mr. Zahoor to the Ghanian Power Ministry official, he responded, “I know him; he is the Chief executive of Ameri Group”.

In a press statement issued later the Ghanaian news website Citifmonline reported that, “UAE-based Ameri Group LLC, has rejected claims that its former CEO, Umar Farooq Zahoor, is a criminal who is on the wanted list of Interpol for financial crimes in Norway and Switzerland.”

A statement signed by His Royal Highness, quoted Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook Juma Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Emirati Company and a member of the ruling family of UAE, as saying Umar Farooq Zahoor,  “is not the same person who signed as witness in the Ghana and Ameri power deal.“

The Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang alleged further that Umar Farooq Zahoor is a well-known name among investigators at the Financial Crime Section of the Oslo Police District.

Citifmonline website reported that, “The deal brought ten turbines to Ghana to generate electricity in order to mitigate the power challenges in the country.

However, the Newspaper suggested a possible inflation of the cost of the turbines by more than 200 million dollars, adding that Ghana is paying $510 million for ten power turbines when the market value of the turbines is $220 million”

But the statement from the Ameri Group said Mr. Umar Farooq served as CEO of the company until lst August 2015, but was never a shareholder or a partner of the company, adding that “Mr. Farooq resigned as CEO in order to pursue other bigger business opportunities. Mr. Ziad Barakat was appointed as CEO of the company and is working in this position to date.”

“The tabloid article targets Mr. Umar Farooq, only wrongly portraying him as the owner of the company, but also tries to malign his character. Moreover, it states that Mr. Farooq attempted to swindle the Government of Ghana through this transaction by inflating the price of the contract. A ridiculous claim since the contract was agreed upon by the Ministry of Power and thereafter, ratified by the Ghana Parliament with full pricing transparency.”

“Another falsehood is that Mr. Farooq, on his own caused the transaction to occur. It is a matter of record that the sole owner of the above mentioned company is His Royal Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook Juma Al Maktoum, member of the ruling family of Dubai UAE” the statement added.

Research Documents Compiled

The Ameri Group  company of Sheik Maktoum was apparently angered by the reporting of the Norwegian newspaper and had threatened legal action. 

LINA reports that, “…The agreement covers foreign direct investment in Liberia and further enhances the bilateral relationship between both countries.

During the International Defense Exhibition Conference last month, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed al Nahyan, said President George M. Weah holds a “special place in the hearts of my compatriots,” while also expressing his country’s interest to explore investment opportunities here…”

President George M. Weah

The Weah Administration is under serious pressure to halt the deteriorating economy and attract foreign investors who can generate much needed hard currency and jobs for Liberians. 

However, attempts to attract investors have been dismal and two major loans from non-traditional lenders ETON and EBOMAF have failed to materialize. 

West African Journal Magazine has not linked Sheik Maktoum to any illegal activity and can report that the allegations contained in the Norwegian Newspaper Verdens Gang  against Sheik Maktoum have been denied.

The UAE Billionaire has termed reporting of The Norwegian newspaper as “unfortunate”. 

With the heightened focus on dealings of the Liberian government by ordinary citizens, and the controversial business history of Sheik Maktoum, from the reporting of the Norwegian newspaper, any formal business deal with the Liberian Government will be heavily scrutinized for probity. 

By Our Investigators In Dubai and Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine