MONROVIA-The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. Hon. Bhofar Chambers office has denied ever sighing for US$500.000(Five hundred thousand United States dollars) from HPX, a mining company that wants to ship its Iron ore from Guinea using Liberian rail and port.

A cash receipt document signed on March 25, 2022  and seen by this paper under the  Emblem of Ivanhoe  Liberia, a subsidiary of HPX states: “This is to confirm that I the undersigned official received $500.000USD for  Legislative engagements from Guy de Selliers(Guy is the CEO  for HPX).  A signature which is said to be that of Hon. Dr. Bhofal Chambers is seen.

But the spokesperson to the speaker, George Watkins told the New Republic over the weekend that it was untrue.

“I am not in the know. What I do understand is that negation  was held between the government set-up committees, that included the investment commission, the Ministry of Mines, the piece of legislation and the delegation from Guinea came here and held the conversations.”

“That is far from the truth. Later, this paper further went to his office to authenticate the receipt by comparing what appeared on the cash receipt and what his spokesman said was his original signature.

“As I told you earlier today,  the speaker denied it.  He challenged it and wants for those who are saying that he signed to come forth with clear evidence. So, all these are lies. Why will someone of his status go to sign for money? It does not make any logic here,” he said.

The cash receipt came after Arcelor Mittal’s MDA was rejected by the speaker. The third amended MDA was rejected by the special committee set up by both houses to review the MDA.

Prior to that also, the government and  HPX  signed a framework document in which the government confirms to HPX non-discriminatory access to Liberian rail and port infrastructure  -that allows its ore from the Guinea Nimba ore project to go through the rail and port of Buchanan.

The Framework document clearly states that it had received payment from HPX  Ivanhoe Liberia. On December 23, 2019 it received the first payment of US$7Million for the rail deal in line with the agreement.

A statement issued last week by HPX denied ever issuing cash payment to the speaker for legislative engagements.

“High Power Exploration (“HPX”), and its subsidiaries Ivanhoe Liberia and Société des Mines de Fer de Guinée (SMFG), note the FrontPage Africa article which suggests HPX issued a payment to the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Liberia in exchange for “Legislative Engagement”.”

It added further: “HPX confirms that this is categorically false and the purported “cash receipt” document pictured in the article is fake. HPX and its subsidiaries operate globally to the highest ethical standards and in full compliance with all legal requirements. HPX is committed to the eradication of corruption and bribery of any kind.”

But late Sunday,   Mr. Watkns, spokesman to the speaker wrote an opinion piece captioned: Juxtaposing Mittal’s $60-M Wedding and Its New MDA in Liberia.

In it,  he questioned the wedding of Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter, Vanisha,  in which he said she spent over US$60M and looked at the investment of Mittal in Liberia. He also justified the rejection of Mittal’s MDA recently which was headed  by his  boss.

Please read the full details of  his opinion piece:

Juxtaposing Mittal’s $60-M Wedding and Its New MDA in Liberia

By George D. Watkins

It was ArcelorMittal 8th year of operations in Liberia, during the festive season of Christmas in 2013 that the Indian steel giant threw a big and lavish wedding in Barcelona-Spain for his brother’s daughter costing a whopping $60-Million USD.

Though Mittal has several other steel operations in many countries of the world, Liberia was recorded as one of the company’s big investments, extracting raw iron ore to fuel her steel plants operations.

The Liberian scenario however does not seem to match the compliance standards as set in the company’s mineral development agreement. In 2012, the company claimed that it was not meeting her profits targets for reasons it blames to the drop in the price of iron ore, globally. ArcelorMittal furthered to the Liberian government in 2013 that it could not meet her obligations to the Liberian government in royalties, social development, equity shares and even taxes, a development the Liberia government painfully bears.

Despite the company’s claims in 2013, its owners continued their lavish life at the disadvantage of some economically deprived countries including Liberia.

According to a report from Vanitatis (Spanish news portal), the wedding of investment banker Gulraj Behl and Shristi Mittal, the then, 26-year old daughter of Pramod Mittal and exercise director of Global Resources of Europe, could become one of the five most expensive weddings in history, as per the figures. “One of the employees of the municipality that is well connected to high places told us that probably the figure among all parties, lodging, rental of premises, hotel rooms and other expenses to be determined, could exceed 60 million Euros. So, according to Forbes, this wedding would be located in the second, between Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Princess Salama, where it cost 76.25 million Euros in 1981 and of the Prince of Wales, for which 53 million Euros was paid in that year also. For now, Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter, Vanisha, holds third place when she married in 2004 with Amit Bhatia, the Indian billionaire and disbursed no more and no less than 46 million Euros,” the report says.

Pramod Mittal wanted discretion for this wedding but his ostentation made news. Mumbai Mirror, using quotes from Spanish media, had said politicians and prominent citizens trashed the whole affair (the Mittal wedding) as ‘obscene display of wealth’ for which ‘the national pride was on sale’.

For now, Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter, Vanisha, holds third place when she married Amit Bhatia in 2004 when the Indian billionaire is said to have disbursed no more and no less than 46 million Euros,” the report says.

The Liberian Scenario

On September 9, 2021, the Liberian government, concluded and signed a MDA for another face of the ArcelorMittal mining operations in the country which brought about plans to invest additional Eight Hundred Million United States Dollars (US $800,000,000) in its iron ore mining operations in the country.

However, the Liberian Legislature could not have agreed to reach a settlement or conclusion during their recent sitting on attempts to pass or ratify the amendment to the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) with ArcelorMittal, the world’s leading steel company for its operations in Liberia.

The Global Witness had once said that ArcelorMittal operations in Liberia is a case study of a well-established pattern of behavior by transnational corporations around the world, to maximize profit by taking advantage of a regulatory void that allows capital flight, aggressive tax avoidance and tax reduction strategies.

At Current, the Liberian Legislature is reviewing all developments surrounding the ArcelorMittal new deal and seems poised to inform President George M. Weah in a communication detailing why they (the Legislature) could not ratify the deal for reasons they noted in their writings to the President.

Few excerpts as contained in the leaked communication to President pointed out that the House of Representatives expressed some critical misgivings about the agreement, particularly the impact of the treaty between Liberia and Guinea on the ownership, operatorship, and users’ rights of the Yekepa to Buchana railroad as enshrined in Article 3 of the treaty with Guinea, including the idea of beneficiation which is best practice.

“Mr. President, the Honorable House of Representatives conveys the following recommendations: That the government retains ownership of the railroads, port of Buchanan, and other related infrastructures; that the government initiates a recruitment process aimed at hiring an independent operator of the railroad to ensure non-discriminatory management of the Railroads and other related infrastructure,” the letter from the House said.

“And any future renegotiation of this concession, other existing concessions, and new concessions gives consideration to the full application of all relevant laws including the Act creating the WASH Commission and the Land Rights Law,” the letter continues. “And that future amendments of the AML MDA, other existing concessions and/or new concessions consider a role for the National Housing Authority to ensure standard and improved housing facilities for employees and their dependents.”

Based on mounting concerns from the public, the House of Representatives has reached a decision to decline any further action on the new Mittal Steel deal following the Senate proposed conference committee, comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives, to sort out and harmonize recommendations stemming from the House for subsequent Legislative action.

The Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal Holdings A.G. made and entered into MDA on August 18, 2005, which was ratified by the Legislature. The agreement has gone through two different amendments, on December 28, 2006, and January 23, 2013, respectively.

Mittal’s France Debacle

In 2006, ArcelorMittal obtained a license for mining in Florange, a traditional steel town in north-eastern France, and ran mining activities 6-years until 2012 when the company could not live up to what she penned in her agreement.

The then Minister of Industrial Recovery, Messr. Arnaud Montebourg made a statement. ‘Arcelor Mittal is no longer welcome in France, he said, accusing the steelmaker of “lying” and “disrespecting” the country’ (France).

Sooner than later, the company (ArcelorMittal) was brought back to the table in a new negotiation with the French government, premised on fair-play and equity, for the smooth operations of the steel giant.

Editor’s note: The writer of this opinion piece is the official spokesperson for the Speaker 

 

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