Moneylender caught up in SA’s state capture inquiry is behind controversial Lesotho loan
Property 2000, the South African developer earmarked to lend M2.45-billion to three Lesotho building contractors, is simply a middleman sourcing funds from other investors, including the obscure Grissag AG, a company previously linked to shady deals.
The Lesotho ministry of finance has cancelled the deal, but Property 2000 is trying to revive it (see lead story).
If the deal goes ahead, Property 2000 will earn M24-million a year for up to 30 years, according to its owner Napo Eddie Modise, who is also a director of Grissag.
Last year the Lesotho government handed the contractors – Nepco, MFT Lesotho and Design Edge – a sovereign guarantee securing M2.45-billion in loans from Property 2000.
Property 2000 was to finance the construction of sporting facilities intended for the regional games of the African Union Sport Council in Lesotho in December this year.
Modise told the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism that he had agreed to borrow the M2.4-billion from Grissag AG and other investors and lend the money on to Lesotho at a 1% higher rate.
Modise controls 50% of Grissag, formerly part-owned by a mysterious Russian financier controversially involved in trying to raise R15-billion to help clear South African Airways’ (SAA) debts.
Modise said Property 2000 — a South African-registered developer — “doesn’t have the 2.45-billion, but I got investors whom I have partnered with and contracted”.
“I got pockets of investors funding different projects. Some are big names that you know, local and international,” he said.
Modise disclosed that Grissag was among the investors behind the Lesotho project but would not divulge how much the company would contribute, saying this was confidential.
Grissag co-director Pieter van der Merwe said he was aware of the Lesotho project, but referred the MNN centre to Modise.
In a memorandum of September 9 last year, Lesotho’s Minister of Finance, Moeketsi Majoro, approved “negotiations of the loan agreements and guarantee agreements between the Government of Lesotho and Property 2000 … for an amount of R2.45-billion”.
But he also raised numerous red flags about the deal and an investigation by MNN has posed new questions about the Lesotho partners tapped for the project (see “Questions over contractors in Lesotho’s R2.4-billion stadium deal”).
Grissag has previously been embroiled in other contentious deals, many of them involving generous sovereign guarantees.
South African Airways
Daily Maverick reported in June 2019 that Grissag, formerly co-owned by Russian citizen Sergey Pokusaev, was involved in three different bids to help SAA raise R15-billion to consolidate its debt portfolio “under highly questionable and controversial circumstances” in 2015/2016.
Pokusaev first emerged in 2014 as the purported financier behind a $150-million rescue bid for troubled Zimbabwean investment bank Tetrad. The deal failed to materialise and the bank was placed under judicial management.
Grissag AG was registered in 2015, with Free State farmer Pieter Johannes van der Merwe and Pokusaev as co-directors.
SAA executives at SAA pushed to install the unknown company as an arranger for a debt-consolidation package, despite the fact that it had no real trade record and no licence to act as a financial service provider.
Grissag and its partner, BnP Capital, stood to rake in more than R300-million, according to media reports.
At the time, BnP Capital was serving as a transaction adviser to SAA. In terms of its agreement with Grissag, the latter would be paid 1% by SAA for each drawdown amount of the loan, to be shared equally between the two companies.
The proposal crashed amid a public outcry.
Modise replaced Pokusaev as a Grissag director in January 2019, with Van der Merwe remaining as co-director.
In testimony at the Zondo Commission, Van der Merwe said he met Pokusaev in 2014 in Zimbabwe, where the latter was to sign a contract with the Zimbabwean government to raise funds for projects.
“I proposed to Mr Pokusaev that he should look into similar opportunities in South Africa and that I would be the Grissag representative.”
Van der Merwe said he first engaged the Free State Development Corporation (FDC), and attached to his witness statement a letter from the FDC applying for a R5.6-billion line of credit to fund projects in the Free State.
This proposal did not go forward because the FDC could not secure a government guarantee as security for the repayment of the funding, he said.
He then learned of SA’s attempt to raise R15-billion and agreed to partner the FDC in a joint venture to raise the finance, but this was apparently vetoed by national treasury.
In September 2018, the Malawi government struck a deal with Grissag – similar to the Lesotho deal – to provide $400-million (now M6.03-billion) in loan finance for the controversial Salima-Lilongwe Waterway Project, intended to supply Lilongwe with water from Lake Malawi.
Malawi’s Times Group reported the loan agreement as stating that “the interest rate on the long-term loan will be fixed at 1.8% per annum, paid on a yearly basis for the 30-year period”.
Grissag reportedly demanded an upfront payment of $400 000.
The Times said the company driving the project, Khato Civils, pressured the Lilongwe Water Board to hand over an amount of $25-million for pre-project mobilisation. Despite the fact that the project appears to have stalled, Khato was eventually paid $17-million.
Last year the Malawian media reported that the government had frozen the project after losing interest in it.
Khato, owned by Malawi tycoon Simbi Phiri, has also been embroiled in controversies over large water contracts in South Africa and Botswana.
Modise disclosed that he was one of those who negotiated the Malawi deal, adding that the interest rate for that loan was lower than the rate been offered to Lesotho because Malawi negotiated an up-front payment.
He added: “The [Malawi] project will never start due to lack of funds. The new minister of finance is no longer interested and they don’t trust people who were engaged in the project.”
“A Malawi delegation will be here [South Africa] from January 29-31 to negotiate a new deal for financing a different project so that they can field their own loyalists,” he alleged.
Guinea and Ghana
In September 2018 Grissag, in partnership with United States-registered Kallo Inc, which claims it develops customised health care solutions, struck a deal with the Guinea government to raise $8-billion for health, agriculture, infrastructure and water-related projects.
In the agreement, the Guinea government provided “a classic government guarantee” to Grissag, which was represented by Van der Merwe.
“The applicable interest rate is 1.5% with a 30-year loan period, including a five-year grace period,” reads the agreement, filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Kallo, whose chief executive is naturalised Canadian John Cecil, has, according to its SEC filings, made no revenue for years.
In 2017 filings, Kallo also referred to “major concession agreements” reached with government institutions in Ghana for the construction and operation of various hospital facilities.
It noted: “Project Financing for the projects is being arranged by Seawave Invest Ltd. Bahamas, Nova Capital Global LLC, New York, and Grissag AG (Pty) Ltd.”
By 2019, the Ghana hospital project had morphed into a $60-billion oil hub project, to be pursued via a joint venture between Kallo and Ghanaian company Vintage Ventures Limited.
Funding was to be sourced by Techno-Investment Module Ltd, a corporation registered in Belarus and led by Sergey Pokusaev, the former director of Grissag.
Modise said that although he was not involved in the negotiations for the Guinea deal, he understood there was a separate off-take agreement that provided for a cash guarantee.
In January this year Lekoil, a small Nigerian oil firm listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market, was plunged into crisis after it disclosed that a $184-million loan from the Qatari Investment Authority previously announced to investors was fake.
Lekoil said it had paid $600 000 to Seawave Invest to introduce it to the Qataris and advise Lekoil on the process. The Seawave website lists Grissag as a “partner”.
Lekoil had a rude awakening when representatives from the Qatari fund reportedly questioned the deal.
A notice on the Seawave website – which does not disclose any of the company’s officers – says: “Seawave Invest Ltd has been informed of the recent allegations of ‘investment scam’ reported by several media outlets about its arrangement for a loan facility on behalf of Lekoil Ltd with the Qatar Investment Authority … and takes these allegations very seriously. Seawave Invest Ltd will not make any comments at this stage whilst awaiting the results of its own assesment [sic] and investigation of this matter.”
According to a Bahamas newspaper, lawyers acting for Seawave confirmed the company had been struck off the register on 1 January this year – and denied any dealings with Lekoil.
Modise denied any relationship between Grissag and Seawave. “It was only a proposal for funding but it never met conditions for funding. But we can’t ask them to remove our name from their website because we don’t want to burn bridges.”
Modise told MNN that he and the developers were summoned to the office of Lesotho’s director of public debt management, Khotso Moleleki, “to ascertain that I could be entrusted with funding the [stadium] project”.
He revealed that the developers “came to me on recommendation of the late Eddie Poone and Nice Khofu,”.
Mohapi Nice Khofu is a known financier of the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and a close associate of its leader and deputy prime minister, Monyane Moleleki.
In 2017, Khofu and Moleleki were acquitted by the Lesotho High court on charges related to the fraudulent issuing of mining licences. A few months earlier, Moleleki had been appointed police minister.
Poone was a well-known Lesotho and Kimberley diamond mogul who was charged alongside 26 others with diamond illegal dealing in 2014. The charges are reported to have been provisionally withdrawn in 2015. He died last year.
Modise said that at the meeting called by director Moleleki, the terms and conditions of the loan were discussed and agreed.
In 2015, Modise was involved in a court battle with Shackleton Credit Management which raised questions about his solvency.
Modise acknowledged this case, which revolved around payment for a vehicle, but denied ever being sequestrated.
He said he had bought a car for his friend but only learned years later that his friend had not paid for it.
“If I had been insolvent and sequestrated, global and South African laws would never allow me to become director or shareholder of any company,” he argued.
Meanwhile, two developers told MNN that they have spent over M180-million in the construction of the stadium complex and “we’re still waiting for funding from Property 2000”.
The developers are Tayob Jooma, who owns a 51% share of MFT Lesotho, and Makhabane Leluma, who owns 5% of TM2 Construction and Civil, a 22% shareholder in Nepco.
“We are waiting for Property 2000 to return from the holidays to have a meeting. We are in the dark as to what’s happening,” Jooma said.
He claimed his company has spent close to M87-million on the arena, while Leluma said Nepco has spent around M100-million on an athletes village.
The minister Phamotse told MNN she had learned of the involvement of Property 2000 on October 30 last year because tension arose between the company and the Ministry of Finance “when the loan guarantees were supposed to be processed”.
Phamotse said her biggest concern was to have the stadiums constructed, “not who funds the construction. I was pushing to see that Property 2000 gets assisted [by government]. But if they appear to have a dirty background then will have to engage other ones.”
“I really don’t care where the funds are coming from as long as they are approved by Finance and Cabinet … if Finance has concerns about it, let them give us another financier.”