UN brought to task again

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    >UNtrustworthy - Congo report draws Oryx backlash

    Posted: 2002/10/25 Fri 18:00

    NEW YORK -- The credibility of the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo (that’s UNPEIENROFWDRC if you need the acronym) is rapidly disintegrating following the latest rebuttal of its Report; this time by diamond company Oryx Natural Resources.
    Cayman Islands registered Oryx, which mines six kimberlites and several alluvial concessions near Mbuji Mayi in the Kasaï-Oriental region of south-central Congo, is accused by the UN Panel of “representing covert Zimbabwean military financial interests” in the DRC. The company is targeted for severe financial restrictions to be imposed by the UN Security Council unless it ceases its DRC activities.

    Oryx is controlled by a graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, Omani entrepreneur Thamer bin Said Ahmed al-Shanfari, who was introduced to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe by Kamal Khalfan. Khalfan is a reputed Rhodesian guerrilla war era weapons supplier who now serves as the “honorary consul of Oman” to Zimbabwe along with running Catercraft, a ZANU party airline food service company and duty free retailer. Shanfari has been placed on a proposed travel ban and financial sanctions list by the Panel.

    “Baseless,” was Friday’s retort to the UN report by Oryx deputy managing director Geoffrey White.

    According to Zimbabwean sources, that country’s ruling party’s business arm, Zidco Holdings, is an Oryx stakeholder. Also allegedly involved are Osleg, the commercial branch of the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF), and shadowy Congolese parastatal Comiex. The unusual arrangement is based on the Chinese military-commercial model. A London source says Oryx was given diamond concessions in a deal to pay for Zimbabwe troops on “peacekeeping duty” in its concession area.

    White refutes any ZDF involvement with Oryx whatsoever: “Incorporation documents of ONR (Oryx) and a copy of the Sengamines share register were provided to the Panel. The shares issued in Sengamines was clearly explained by Geoffrey White during his meeting with the Panel and evidenced by the subsequent disclosure of documents.”

    "We understand that the Panel has legal immunity. The Report and its recommendations are extremely damaging to the global Oryx Group business and we are seeking a legal jurisdiction and process where this matter can be resolved and our name can be cleared," White said in a statement datelined New York.

    "This is not the first time that the UN Panel has reported misinformation about Oryx. In its interim Report dated November 2001, the Panel wrongly stated that Oryx had completed a merger with Petra Diamonds Limited [PDL] and was now called Oryx Diamonds Limited. This was not true, just as the allegations in the current report are not true. Oryx wrote to the UN Panel following its publication of this misinformation. The Panel failed to respond or even acknowledge receipt of the numerous letters sent to it."

    The Panel’s high handedness is matched only by its sloppiness. It found reason to consult the “Conference on Central Africa Moist Forest Ecosystems”, but did not engage any of the dozens of companies, public and private, it claimed are complicit in illegal activities in the DRC. None of the companies contacted by Mineweb was sought out by the Panel.

    Shanfari, the son of a former Omani oil minister and a horse racing aficionado who dominates the betting scene in Zimbabwe, is a central target of the report. “Mr. Al-Shanfari has gained privileged access to the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its diamond concessions in exchange for raising capital from some powerful entrepreneurs in the Gulf such as Issa al-Kawari who manages the fortune of the deposed Amir of Qatar.”

    The interim report’s reference to AIM listed Petra Diamonds, which is based in South Africa, relates to its collapsed reverse takeover by Oryx, in mid-2000. It was “scuppered”, according to Petra, by the London Stock Exchange for “unspecified reasons”. The reasons are actually quite well known – a fatal association with “blood diamonds”.

    There was also concern about the listing being contested by Belgian firm Sibeka. It lost its minority stake in the Senga-Senga River diamond concessions, a joint venture with Congolese parastatal Miba, through unilateral expropriation that transferred the assets to Oryx.

    White says the company went to great lengths to correct the 2001 Interim Panel Report errors, including a Nairobi, Kenya meeting with three UN Panel members. “Given that we spent time with the Panel before the Report's publication and their subsequent absence of further enquiry, we find it extraordinary and totally unacceptable that they have the ability and authority to publish such a defamatory report. This is very unprofessional and unjust,” he said.

    Oryx is challenging the UN Panel to what can only be described as a ‘bicycle shed convention’. "We invited the UN Panel to repeat the allegations in a public forum outside of the UN environment. The Panel has told us that they have no intention of repeating these allegations without UN immunity; they have no intention of having the evidence examined in any legal process, and indeed their evidence would not stand up in open court.

    “Although they describe themselves as a fact-finding operation, they have made recommendations to the Security Council, which would, if implemented, destroy our business. The Panel has refused to explain -- indeed has denied that it has -- any evidential methodology. This process is immensely vulnerable to disinformation. The processes of the Panel, when applied to commercial issues, are open to appalling abuse.”

    Ironically, it is the same UN immunity that allows Mugabe and his confidantes to evade European and American sanctions imposed for the ethnic cleansing of white farmers. It certainly would be fun to have the UN’s untouchable status rescinded for a while, if not for good.

    A UN “political officer” based in New York has promised Mineweb an interview with a Panel member.

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