NIGERIAN billionaire Benedict Peters, whose business prospects in Zimbabwe are being hampered by financial constraints, is facing more pressure in Ghana, amid allegations that he has creamed off US$160 million from a dubious two-year Covid-19 testing contract with the Ghana Airport Company Limited (GACL), while also being involved in a land undervaluation scandal.
This has further compromised his ability to pull off the Zimbabwean deals which have stalled.
Peters, with links to Ghanaian President Nana Akufo Ado through his younger brother, Edward Ado, owns the Aiteo Group of Companies in Nigeria and has been in self-imposed exile in Ghana since 2018, amid serious charges of tax evasion, fraud, corruption, and money laundering.
Peters also has mining interests in Zimbabwe with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, having launched his US$1 billion platinum, lithium, iron, tin, gold and rare earth minerals project.
Questions have arisen on his involvement in the Covid-19 testing contract awarded to a company linked to him, Frontier Healthcare Services Limited (FHSL).
According to The Independent Ghana newspaper, the Registrar-General’s documents show that FHSL is owned by another Ghanaian company called Healthcare Solution Services Limited (HSSL), which was incorporated on 3 June 2020. However, HSSL itself is wholly owned by another company called The Peters Family Company Ltd, which is incorporated in Dominica, a well-known offshore tax haven.
The two-year contract involved conducting Covid-19 tests at Kotoka International Airport (KIA) in Accra for a hefty fee of US$150, a cost that drew sharp criticism, sparking a political row.
A Ghanian legislator, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, who revealed some details of the Frontier contract with the Ghana Airport Company (GACL), stated that GACL made US$10 out of every US$150 collected for Covid-19 test at Ghana’s Airport, totalling an estimated US$130m.
Peters has also been involved in a scandal involving prime state lands near the KIA in the name of the GACL, which is being given out to one of his companies, Heaven Builders Limited, using some Ghanaians as fronts.
He has also been accused of using his influence and proximity to Ghana’s leader, Ado in a bid to purchase at an undervalued price.
For instance, while the GACL is giving out 38.41 acres of the land to anchor holders at US$85 million for a 45-year period, Peters has insisted on having 62.14 acres for a 99-year period in its counter proposal which analysts have described as hostile to the interest of the country.
This means that, for land — 62.14 acres — which is supposed to be sold at US$139 million, the valuation of GACL is going to be US$85 million, which is the cost of the 38.41 acres of the airport land.
According to The Ghana Herald, while the Ghana Institute of Surveyors is reported to have priced a 1.7 acre of the airport lands for over US$6.3 million, as far back as 2019.
The Peters-owned Heaven Builders has pegged the current value of an acre of the land at a paltry US$1.3 million on average.
This means Peters should be paying more than US$139 million.
As previously reported by The NewsHawks, Peters’ massive investment plans to shell out over US$1 billion are stalling amid panic in government and mounting debt beleaguering his Aiteo Eastern E&P Company Limited.
According to recent disclosures by the Nigerian subsidiary of British multinational oil company, Shell Plc and seven local banks, Peters’ energy company owes a staggering US$2.6 billion in oil-related loans.
This figure represents an increase of US$910 million compared to US$1.7 billion owed when Shell Plc initially reported the debt.
The creditors and Aiteo have been locked in a legal dispute since late 2019 when the lenders complained of the default.
The U$2.6 billion debt can be traced back to Aiteo’s acquisition of a pipeline and operating interest in a highly valuable onshore oil block eight years ago.
Nigerian banks such as Zenith Bank Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, and Guaranty Trust Bank Plc extended loans amounting to US$1.5 billion to support the acquisition, while Shell provided US$504 million in financing as the asset seller.
Since the initial loan agreement, Aiteo, Shell, and the Nigerian lenders have been embroiled in a protracted legal battle.
Aiteo has claimed it has already repaid US$1.2 billion and denies defaulting. However, creditors say its outstanding debt has reached approximately US$2.6 billion, including interest, fees, and penalties.
This led to emergency meetings between Peters and Zimbabwean officials amid fears the deals would collapse like the Russians’ Great Dyke platinum investment.
After coming into Zimbabwe four years ago amid pomp and ceremony promising to invest US$1 billion into the Selous platinum project through Bravura, Peters is struggling to live up to his promises due to financial problems engulfing him back home.
As a result of the crisis, the Zimbabwean government summoned Peters and his country representative to the meeting last week. Government officials are comparing Peters’ platinum project with Tharisa Plc’s platinum investment through Karo Mining Holdings in the same Great Dyke region.
Karo Mining Holdings’ US$4.2 billion platinum project on Zimbabwe’s mineral-rich Great Dyke belt is regarded as a world-class platinum group metals asset which will have a profound impact on Mhondoro-Ngezi communities and surrounding areas, as well as the economy.
The project is located approximately 80 kilometres southwest of Harare.
It covers 23 903 hectares on the Great Dyke. It is located south of the Zimplats Selous Metallurgical Plant and north of the Zimplats Ngezi operations. Karo Mining Holdings plc, which owns the project, is owned 70% by South Africa’s Tharisa plc, while 30% equity is privately held by Leto Settlement Trust.
Tharisa plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the largest bourse in Africa.
The LSE is the second-largest bourse in the world after the New York Stock Exchange, the biggest globally by market capitalisation.
The Karo platinum project is run by Karo Zimbabwe Holdings, which is owned 85% by Karo Mining Holdings plc and 15% by Generation Minerals, a government special purpose vehicle.
Zimbabwe is the second-largest producer of PGMs after South Africa. Russia is third.
The project has an initial life of 17 years with less than 10% of the 23 903ha mining area having been utilised to cover this production lifespan.
Apart from platinum, Bravura also intends to explore mining lithium, gold, rare earth minerals and tin in Zimbabwe.
It is also seeking to mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo, copper in Zambia, gold in Ghana and iron ore in Guinea.
Namibia and Botswana could also be options for the company. However, Bravura seems to be now badly failing to implement its projects largely due to financial problems.
Peters’ initial enthusiasm for the platinum mine development project in the Maflox Claims area of Selous is thus stalling.
Bravura has failed to comply with regulatory requirements and fulfill its commitments to invest, leading to a shift in focus.
Instead, the oil and gas tycoon and his company have discreetly turned attention to what he thinks is a low-hanging fruit, a lithium deposit in Kamativi, a small mining town in Matabeleland North province.