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Friday, September 30, 2022

Pandora Papers / Africa West: A nebula at the heart of Lomé airport?

According to documents from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the GSA Global Investments Limited, a trading company based in the British Virgin Islands, archipelago of the West Indies and an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, is presented as an offshore company. Otherwise, a company specializing in tax havens. Further on, it is found, in the continuation of the facts, that this company, which has among other authorized representatives, the Emirati businessman Issa Balush has a link with Togo.

In fact, since 2011, GSA Global Investments Ltd, headed by Mr Baluch, has become, with 51%, the shareholder of Africa West Cargo, a Togolese company based at Gnassingbé Eyadema International Airport (AIGE). from Lomé. From this airport platform, Africa West Cargo, operating in 100% air freight, transit, delivery and logistics flights, serves a dozen African capitals to Europe, Asia and the Middle East, then the United States. Clues that suggest suspicion and ambiguities around the real operations carried out by Africa West Cargo. Company at the heart of this investigation of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), in collaboration with its partner newspapers including Flambeau des Démocrates. Pandora Papers!

GSA (Global Investments Limited), an offshore company created in a tax haven, is storming the Togolese market. ICIJ documents reveal that on July 7, 2011, there was a managerial reorganization of the Trident Trust Company (BVI) Limited, based in Road Town, capital of the British Virgin Islands. This company changes its name and becomes GSA Global Investments Limited. From four initially after sale, GSA Global Investment Limited opens up to new shareholders. With the value of the share set at $ 1.00, for a total number of shares authorized at a maximum of 50,000 (document reference ICIJ).

Thus, according to the documents held by ICIJ, its founder residing in Dubai, the Emirati Issa Shero Mohd Hussein Baluch holds 18,000 shares there, in addition to 18,000 others transferred to him on January 15, 2012. His three other starting partners, all Emirati businessmen, are Zein Amin Baluch, (holder of 10,000 shares, residing in Téma, Ghana), Jaseem Hassan Haider Mohammed, (also residing in Dubai), and Kannan Nachiappan, (still residing in Dubai).

Then, the new administrative team of GSA Global Investments Limited expands to two new shareholders. They are the French businessmen Claude Charles Jospeh Sitterlin, and Yannick Erbs, both residing in Lomé, at the time of the cession.

Issa Balush

GSA storming the Togolese market

At six (06), the college of main shareholders appoints, in the process, Yannick Erbs (3,500 shares transferred to him by Claude Charles Jospeh Sitterlin), the CEO of GSA Investments Limited in West Africa. Under this administration, GSA Investments Limited, only a short time later, set off to storm the Togolese market. Africa West Cargo, a company incorporated under Togolese law, created in 1997 specializing in air freight and housed in the Lomé airport free zone, comes under the control of GSA Global Investments Limited, with 51% of the shares. ”  Africa West is now under a new owner and a new administration  “, informs, on July 26, 2011, the online newspaper Islamic Finance News, based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

“  It is a fascinating moment for Africa West to welcome the new management team led by Issa Baluch. We have known each other for a long time and have collaborated on several projects in the field of Air freight to Africa. So, this alliance is meant to be quite natural. I believe that this new administration under GSA Global Investments Limited will have doubly equipped Africa West for better commercial coverage from and to the West African market ”, indicated Yannick Erbs, reported by the Emirati newspaper.

In an article published a few days later, on September 1, 2011, the information site close to the power of Lomé, republicoftogo.com, also informed, for its part, that Africa West, the airline specializing in logistics and air freight transport, based in Togo, has just rented a second DC 9 in order to extend its network to Liberia and Sierra Leone. In total, ten African capitals are served.

Africa West, specifies the information site administered by the French Bruno Finel, operates 100% freight flights from Europe, Asia and the Middle East to Lomé airport. It has recently started performing Togo- United States and Togo-Milan (Italy) rotations thanks to the arrival of an MD 11F, in partnership with CargoItalia. Article relayed by the National Civil Aviation Agency of Gabon.

In addition, the UAE newspaper Islamic Finance, still in its article, specifies that Air Cargo Trader, based in Dubai, continues to act as a GSA in the United Arab Emirates, India and other Asian countries. . In another article published on August 25, 2012, republicoftogo informs that ” the company Africa West Cargo Togo hopes to serve ten new African destinations “. The company, the news site continues, is reportedly interested in Southeast Asia with the expansion of trade between China and Africa. ”  To adapt to new opportunities, the company has renewed its fleet by replacing its MD11s with Boeings 767F-300 “, said this newspaper which reports Mr. Erbs.

Between silence and indiscretions

To compare the facts revealed by the documents, with regard to the ramifications and operations of GSA Global Investments Limited, ICIJ carried out checks with the Togolese airport authorities. In particular the Lomé Tokoin Airport Company (SALT). Contacted by Will Fitzgibbon, Colonel Latta Gnama Dokissim, Director General of SALT replied: “ The Africa West company has filed for bankruptcy and has not existed for several years ”. “  Africa West is closed 15 years ago», Specifies an anonymous source. Indeed in the airport area where it is supposed to be housed, no sign indicates the location of this company. Our searches were also unable to locate them. Even it is not possible to reach them on the various numbers of the company (+22822268810 / +22822263865 / +22822261749).

On the other hand, is well present on site, another company with strong roots in the organization of logistics and freight at Gnassingbé Eyadema International Airport in Lomé (AIGE). This is the Société Togolaise de Handling SA (ST Handling). It was created by decree N ° 97067 / PR of April 29, 1997. Curious, the same year as that of the creation of Africa West Cargo. On the website of Gnassingbé Eyadema international airport in Lomé, ST Handling SA is the only service responsible for freight. Its operations concern, among other things, the check-in of baggage and freight, embarkation, disembarkation of baggage and freight, freight warehousing and all import and export operations.

Surprise, among the customers mentioned, on an updated list of the ST Handling SA information site, (http://sthandling-aero.tg/?page_id=2270#) indeed appears Africa West, the only one specializing in freight. Other customers such as Air France, ASKY, Ethiopian Air Line, Royal Air Maroc, Air Burkina, Brussels AirLines are involved in the boarding and transport of passengers.

Lomé Airport

According to information published in the newsletter of the National Agency for Civil Aviation of Togo (ANAC-Togo) on air traffic, in particular its publication N ° 004 from October to December 2015, the freight trend was relatively stable around 3,000 tonnes between 1993 and 1995, then around 4,500 tonnes in subsequent years, and 6,000 tonnes in 2003.

In 2004, continues this quarterly, the progression was very good with an increase of 48% compared to 2003. ” This level fell consecutively over 5 years between 2009 and 2013, corresponding to the period of cessation of activity of the Africa West Cargo company (acquired in 2011 by GSA Global). The years 2014 and 2015 represent a new era with an increase to more than 12,000 tonnes. ”

In view of this increase observed in the yield which confirms the ambitions of GSA Global Investments to double the equipment of Africa West “for better commercial coverage from and to the West African market”, it is to be believed that Africa West Cargo, after its takeover allowed freight to regain its marks. Therefore, one can be surprised by the statement of the Director General of SALT: ”  Africa West has filed for bankruptcy and has not existed for several years “. This, when we know that this company is, to this day, among the clients of Société Togolaise de Handling. So operates under the umbrella, or does it operate under the guise of ST Handling?

All our negotiations for cross-checks with the administration of GSA Global Investments Limited were unsuccessful. The email address of the Company Manager ([email protected]) found by ICIJ turned out to be false. The Lomé Tokoin Airport Company (SALT), as a reminder, is the entity responsible for the management, operation and development of Lomé and Niamtougou airports. One of its structures is the Togolese Handling Company (ST Handling) of which Africa West is one of the clients.

Lomé Airport / @ IciLomé

Also, our research reveals that the administration of GSA Gblobal Investments is also the owner of a consulting firm AGEX Group (African Global Expertise Cargo) based in Dubai, but operating in several African countries. These include Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Congo, DRC, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Togo. This means that despite its cessation of activity officially declared by the airport authorities of Lomé, the shadow of Africa West Cargo still hangs over Togo.

Question. Why would we hide the presence of Africa West in Togo, if there is no backroom? To this question, seems to answer us a former employee by revealing that it is a company which makes embrace several billion FCFA as turnover per week at ST Handling.

All our efforts to find out whether Africa West is recognized by the tax authorities (Togolese Revenue Office) have been in vain. “  If you approach the first people in charge, they won’t give you more details on the numbers she’s racking up. The administrative and financial department is managed by a henchman, and loyal to the faithful of the Chief Executive Officer. Even behind the scenes, no employee will run the risk of spun you an accounting file of the company, because the instructions given to them by the bosses are firm,  ”adds, indiscreet, our source.

This explains, he says, a certain omerta that has been maintained for years around this company. Which, another informant specifies us, is ”  a front company set up by several high personalities of the country. Among them, senior officers and senior officers of the Togolese army  ”.

Curious nomenclature

Several names are cited as promoters and shareholders, according to a former employee today, admitted to retirement. First, the former President of the Republic, the late General Gnassingbé Eyadéma. A soldier of the French army, the latter ruled Togo between 1967 and 2005. That is to say 37 years, 9 months and 21 days.

Also, Gal Zoumarou Gnofam. Former Chief of Staff of the Togolese Armed Forces (FAT), this senior officer from Bassar (a town in central Togo), is one of the faithful companions of former President Gnassingbé Eyadéma and dignitary of his regime. which lasted 36 years (1967-2005). A loyalty that has earned him the honor of being at the wheel of the bus which solemnly transported the mortal remains of the late president, during the tribute ceremony at the Palais des Congrès in Lomé, on March 16, 2005.

Retired, this former Minister of the Environment is also a sports fanatic. Field in which he left his imprints as ex-President of AGAZA Ominisports de Lomé and of the National Olympic Committee (CNO-Togo). “  Today, he is old enough but he is the one who makes all the decisions at the Handling Company. Even when it comes to recruiting staff, he has a say in the profile. Nothing is done without his advice,  ”confided an employee from whom we managed to extract a few words.

” All this information is false, ” retorts Gal Gnonfam who refutes these allegations. On the other hand, “ I know Sitterlin (Editor’s note: Caude Charles Jospeh Sitterlin). Her company (Editor’s note: Africa West) because my company “Air Horizon” is located next to her. But he retired to Senegal after the bankruptcy of his company, ”he then said. Relaunched on his possible shareholding within ST Handling, he replies, like a good soldier, “ NO! “. ”  Who told you that? », He then replied with a good dose of good humor.

Another name that came up frequently during our investigation is that of the late Gal Assani Tidjani. Died December 7, 2012 in Limoges, France. He is one of the great architects of the accession to power of the current president Faure Gnassingbé in 2005. Falling out of favor, he was arrested on July 22, 2011 and sentenced to twenty (20) years of criminal imprisonment, in the ‘case of attempted destabilization of the institutions of the Republic, which occurred in April 2009. A case of conspiracy attributed to deputy Kpatcha Gnassingbé and including Gal Assani Tidjani, nicknamed General “Adidas” – in reference to his large scars on his cheeks which identify him from afar – denied his involvement until his death.

This other senior FAT officer, originally from Nigeria, was a former Chief of Staff of the FAT, then Minister of Defense and Veterans. ”  Almighty that he was, all the employees feared him  “, informs us a former executive of the international airport Gnassingbé Eyadéma, admitted to retirement.

This hierarchy at the military limit of this society seems very suspect. The names whispered are, without a doubt, barons of the Lomé regime. What is more, two former Chiefs of Staff of the Togolese armed forces. Their proximity, if not presence at the heart of this society, does not seem accidental. It gives food for thought. Especially on the sectarian character of this company and the profile that is revealed to us very particular of its employees. Moreover, Africa West seems ignored, at the time of our investigation, by most of the staff at Lomé airport.

Kanka-Malick Natchaba, current Secretary-General of the Government of Togo / @Republicoftogo

However, is Chairman of the Board of Directors of ST Handling SA, Kanka-Malick Natchaba. Currently Secretary-General of the Government, this graduate in “Public Finances” from the Law Faculty of Aix-en-Provence where he obtained a Masters in Public Finances and Taxation, was between May 2016 and November 2017, the Director-General of the SALT.

Contacted by Pierre-Claver Kuvo, journalist and coordinator of the “Pandoras Papers” survey in Togo, Mr. Natchaba replied: “  Africa West has indeed filed for bankruptcy. He is one of ST Handling’s clients. If you are in a customer relationship with someone, that doesn’t mean that you are the one managing them. There is no link between the two companies ”.

On the subject of the date of cessation of Africa West’s activities in Togo, the PCA of ST Handling declares: “ I have a company which deals with a hundred clients. For me, it is not a question of individually knowing which customers have left and in which year. It is my responsibility, I do not deal directly with clients, I have no balance sheet to provide you with regard to that. I have no information to give you in relation to that ”

Regarding the shareholding, “ It’s in the private sector. I do not have the right to enter into the domain of their heritage. It is prohibited by law. There are state structures that verify each other’s assets. Not for me to comment on that, as President of the Council (Editor’s note: Board of Directors) ”, retorted the current Secretary of the Government.

Malick-Kanka Natchaba, it should be remembered, is the son of the late Fambare Ouattara Natchamba. Died in October 2020, he was a dignitary of the Eyadema regime, one of the main shareholders of ST Handling, of which he signed the creation decree N ° 97-067 / PR of April 29, 1997.

A nebula?

The fact that the main shareholders of the Togolese company of Handling are also barons of the power of Lomé, does this not explain the fact that the information relating to the acquisition of Africa West by GSA Global is exclusively relayed to the national plan by the online newspaper republicoftogo.com?

Through the elements revealed by this investigation, Africa West is still displayed in the ST Handling database. But then, this first leads to wonder if the Togolese State is he aware that GSA Global Investments Limited, buyer of Africa West, is cited in tax havens. Then, if this is the case, does this mean that it is in connection with the omerta maintained by the airport authorities around its existence in Togo?

As a reminder, in its scientific and methodical steps, within the framework of “Pandora Papers”, ICIJ has managed to be in possession of more than 11 million documents. Which documents reveal leaked documents sanctioning work meetings, certificates of transfer of company shares, and employment contracts, among others. These include emails, passports, apartment purchase agreements. To name only those documents which reveal facts covering 1990 to 2019.

A survey carried out by Magloire Têko Kinvi and Sylvie Jannot as part of the Pandora Papers under the coordination of the ICIJ and CENOZO

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