President snubs IGG, DPP, and Financial Crimes Unit
Kampala, Uganda | HAGGAI MATSIKO | Sub-Saharan Africa’s second biggest gold refinery, the Uganda-based African Gold Refinery (AGR) deals in big money – with its volumes of exports, according to informed sources, valued at over Shs. 2 trillion over the last two years. So it is not surprising that there are many powerful individuals and institutions pushing to get a bit of the action.
But the risks involved, for the individuals, government agencies, and the country, are equally great. It does not help matters that the man at the centre of it all; Belgian gold mogul Alain Goetz, is a controversial character in international gold trade circles and is under investigation by a United National experts on DRC and South Sudan, and two local anti-corruption agencies.
Alain Goetz is also involved in fights with some of the most powerful people in Uganda’s mineral trade circles; including Banarbas Taremwa, who is an in-law to President Yoweri Museveni’s brother, Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh, and Richard Kaijuka; an advisor to President Museveni on mineral value addition. Taremwa and Kaijuka claim Goetz diddled them out of co-ownership of the gold company which they set up together. Taremwa is suing Goetz in the courts and Kaijuka, whom Goetz, sacked recently in a very public manner, is threatening to spill company secrets.
Goetz, who now owns AGR 100 percent, and Uganda have previously been fingered by UN investigators for dealing in Congo conflict minerals.
Goetz was named as a key player in the gold trade in 2009 by the United Nations Group of Experts appointed to investigate issues in Congo and in 2005, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Uganda should pay the DRC US$10 billion in reparations for plundering its gold and other natural resources.
President Museveni’s brother Salim Saleh and other elites in Uganda have also severally been implicated by UN investigators for illegal exploitation of Congolese natural resources.
If the array of fights is mind-spinning, there is an even bigger puzzle; why is President Museveni so firmly defending Goetz, a controversial gold merchant whose dealing, experts say, risk dragging Uganda into the murky alleys of international trade in illicit or blood gold?
As recently as December 2017, Museveni directed the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM) to give AGR all the licenses it requires. Apparently, AGR had complained to the President that DGSM was frustrating them.
Museveni’s directive is being seen as a snub in the face of several government agencies which claim to be trying to streamline the activities of AGR and Goetz to ensure that they do not pose a greater risk to Uganda as a country. Apart from the Directorate of minerals, Goetz and AGR are being investigated by the Inspector General of Government (IGG) over alleged malpractices; the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) over suspected money-laundering, and the government Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for possible prosecution in the courts of law over non-compliance.
At the centre of these investigations are three major questions: What is the source of Goetz’s gold? How much does he export? Where does the money from the deals go?
Although Museveni has held some meetings to explain AGR and Goetz’s dealings; the questions remain unanswered, according to informed sources.
The Independent understands that President Museveni, called a meeting with key private players from the Chamber of Mines and Petroleum to discuss issues surrounding AGR. The Chamber lobbies for investors in the mining and petroleum sectors. Early the same month, Museveni had met with sector investors at State House Entebbe and Goetz had complained that DGSM was frustrating the gold refining operation. That is when Museveni directed DGSM to give AGR all the licenses it requires.
But, either known or unknown to Museveni, the source of contention between the gold refiner-cum-exporter and DGSM stems from Goetz’s slippery attempt to evade supervision by all government institutions – and their attempts to beat the investor into line.