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Exclusive: Swiss MGI threatens to seize assets from Equatorial Guinea

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The Swiss telecommunications group intends to go to the courts of its country to
be paid the 17.5 million euros that Malabo owes it.


Martin Keller raises his voice and sends an ultimatum to the Equatorial Guinean
authorities. On July 29, the boss of the Swiss communications group MGI informed
the Attorney General of the Supreme Court of Equatorial Guinea, Anatolio Nzang
Nguema Mangue, of his intention to seize the Swiss courts after August 15 if the sum
of 11.5 billion of F CFA (17.5 million euros) was not paid.


“Beyond this period, no amicable way will be possible anymore and we will be
obliged to apply the decisions of the board of directors of May 17, 2021, namely a
request for freezing of the assets of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea in
Switzerland, among others.


And we will also require a rate of 20% of the amount claimed – or 17.5 million euros –
for each week [in which] this amount has not been paid, ”he wrote to the magistrate
who chairs the commission responsible for finding a way out of this dispute.


A soap opera of several years


The figure of 17.5 million euros is moreover disputed by the opposing party. “This
amount does not even reach half of what is advanced,” argues without more
precision Francisco Evuy Nguema Mikue, one of the lawyers of Equatorial Guinea.
Contacted, neither the Attorney General, who last October informed the Swiss of the
State’s willingness to pay, nor the Minister of Transport, Posts and
Telecommunications, Rufino Ovono Ondo Engonga, responded to the requests of
Jeune Afrique.


This missive marks a new stage in a series of several years. Initially, MGI presented in
Malabo a partnership project for the management of the country’s telephone
gateway, as it does in The Gambia and South Sudan. Clearly, the Swiss group had to
deal with international appeals and solve the problem of grey areas on the border
with Cameroon.


The contract was signed on January 29, 2018, after the creation of MGI GE, a
subsidiary that he controls at 65%, at the request of the authorities. The agreement
was unilaterally canceled on April 18 of the same year. Notably, a cabinet reshuffle
including a change at the head of the telecommunications department took place
between these two dates.


The contract is then finally entrusted to Gateway, a local company. However, the
Swiss group claims to have invested 5.1 million euros in the start of its activities.
Malabo requires an audit. Which will be carried out four months after the termination
of the contract, by the local subsidiary of the firm EY, confirming this amount.
Moreover, an attempt at a resolution was sketched out last November. The
authorities proposed to the Swiss, as compensation, to manage the transport of
communications entering the country for remuneration, after payment of half of the
amount invested. But Malabo suddenly choosing silence, this offer will go unheeded
despite its acceptance by the telecommunications company.


Arm wrestling


MGI had already experienced a showdown of this order with The Gambia over the
management of its telephone gateway. When Adama Barrow came to power in
January 2017, a commission of inquiry criticized the Swiss group for opening an
account from which ex-President Yahya Jammeh had withdrawn $ 18 million. The
Gambia has since sought to recover these funds from the ex-strongman of Banjul.
MGI’s change of attitude towards Equatorial Guinea stems from the authorities’
procrastination. Since the breakdown of the agreement, Zelkifli Rahman Ngoufonja,
who heads MGI GE, continues to reside in Malabo to try to make the government
listen to reason.


Also present in Niger and Angola, where it is responsible for a surveillance system,
the Swiss group also carries out projects in Chad, Benin, Guinea-Bissau and São
Tomé-et-Príncipe. While a legal face-to-face seems inevitable, Malabo is still
counting on an amicable solution. “The discussions are on track and we believe to
reach a satisfactory solution for all the parties in the coming weeks”, maintains
Francisco Evuy Nguema Mikue.

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