Dust refuses to settle in the long-running ownership dispute of the Erongo Desalination plant at the coast.
Sources familiar with the matter told the Windhoek Observer this week that business mogul and United Africa Group (UAG) co-owner, Haddis Tilahun, is demanding US$10 million from French uranium and nuclear fuel group Orano (previously known as Areva) as condition to drop a court case in which he is suing the French company over ownership of Namibia’s only desalination plant.
Tilahun is demanding the money as compensation for his 50 percent stake in the desalination plant.
“Tilahun is a subject of criminal investigations by French authorities for bribery in the Uramin/Areva saga so Orano will never entertain paying him a cent,” the sources said.
Ownership of the desalination plant, which was built in August 2010, has been shrouded in mystery with both UAG and Orano Resources Namibia claiming a stake.
Previous media reports suggest that United Africa Group never paid any money for its claimed stake while Orano Resources Namibia has also claimed sole ownership after the diversified local entity failed to meet certain conditions.
“We had an agreement with United Africa that never came into force. United Africa wanted to open new discussions, which Areva declined,” Orano Paris stated in 2014.
Orano Namibia Chief Financial Officer, Tommie Gouws, could neither deny nor confirm the alleged claim from UAG, saying that the case is sub-judice.
“There are no changes on the case, it is sub-judice, we meet again in court this year September,” Gouws said.
According to reports, when Areva built the plant, United Africa Group joined the project as a local partner, but it never paid money to legalise its stake in the plant as was agreed.
Orano has stuck to its guns that the period during which United Africa Group was supposed to have paid money for a 50 percent stake has already lapsed.
Sources further said the Erongo Desalination Company, which was supposed to be a joint venture between the two companies, was never formerly established because United Africa Group failed to pay for its 50 percent stake.
United Africa Group also failed to meet three unspecified conditions that were set as part of the agreement.
Another source close to the matter, but who did not want to be named, said UAG is entitled to the compensation that it is seeking.
“There is no issue to drop, why should you drop when you know your rights. UAG does not need money from Areva. This country belongs to Namibians and not the French. How does one get a license to operate in the country without having a Namibian partner? How do you claim you have ownership without the Namibian people?” the source said.
Tilahun is linked to two European businessmen implicated in a corruption case in France, in a scandal which also touches President Hage Geingob.
He is linked to two former Areva senior executives, Daniel Wouters and Sébastien de Montessus who were at the center of two contracts in which Areva disbursed almost US$6.9 million in 2009 and 2010 in favour of UAG.
The seawater desalination plant is the largest of its kind in Southern Africa. It was designed, constructed, operated and maintained by Aveng Water and is capable of delivering 20 million cubic meters a year.
Tilahun was not available for comment by the time of going to print as he was out of the country.
Meanwhile, last week the Windhoek Observer quoted Orano Namibia Managing Director Hilifa Mbako as saying the plant had made a profit of N$160 million in 2017, however, the fact is the amount quoted is not correct as the figures for 2017 have not yet been released.
Mbako merely referred to a hypothetical amount to make a point that normally it would be illogical for a company to sell its operations when it was posting healthy profits yet Orano was open for talks with government for an acquisition of the plant. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.