Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dodgy deal suggestions the new Anti-Corruption investigators could look into...

As the corruption prosecutions continue, I noticed how recent the events being used in evidence were. Juma Al Hinai, ex-head of Petroleum Development Oman's major tender board, was the Ministry of Finance's representative who chaired the tender board. Ostensibly there to provide independent oversight of the operator of most of Oman's oil production, instead he was caught with over $2 million in cash in his house and convicted of accepting a bribe from Galfar in 2011.


Mr Al Hinai ran that tenderboard for years. Are we to imagine that this was his first indiscretion? Yeah, right.
it turns out that Juma Al Hinai also took money from OHI, a huge contractor, since the CEO Behram Divecha was just sentenced to 17 years and fined 1.2 million rials, for allegedly bunging old Juma a few 100k for each OHI contract he got through. Sweet deal. At the time. But where does this rabbit hole go? How could you be a director of a company paying massive amounts in bribes, in cash, and not know about it? Are we to believe a lifetime expat employee independently was withdrawing huge amounts of cash and noone noticed? And who in the banks facilitated these transactions? Interesting lines of inquiry indeed officer!
Equally, that an Ex-Minister gave a $1 million bribe to an undersecretary for the airport contract (see previous post), suggests the practice of bribing government officials involved with big construction projects was pervasive and accepted. So, looking back through the Dragon's archives, here are just a few deals that Muscat Confidential reckon the ISS and Government prosecutors could be looking into, because they really don't (and never did) look right:

1 - Omantel's purchase of WorldCall Pakistan.
In 2008, Omantel, a publicly traded company but still majority Government owned at the time, spent $200 million buying 65% of a small telcom company in Pakistan from a reclusive Omani businessman Sheikh Sulieman Ahmad Said Al Hoqani. This, even at the time, represented a huge premium on the traded share price - Omantel paid 25 PKR rupee per share, when a few months earlier it had been at around 10 PKR. Meanwhile, Omantel have pumped in an extra $70 million in cash, as the company continues to bleed cash since the first day of purchase.
As of yesterday, these shares were trading at 2.4 KPR, less than 10% of the purchase price, not including the 40% depreiation in the value of the PKR in US$ from 2008 until now. Market cap of Worldcall is now just US$20 million, with operating losses last year of about US$16 million. All metrics look terrible (negative and increasingly negative EPS, total debt is about 5 x market cap...) Why did Omantel's then CEO, Mohammed bin Ali Al Wahaibi, buy this useless, endebted, loss making company for a huge premium from an Omani businessman? Just coincidence, I'm sure.

The commercial arm of the Ministry of Tourism, Omraan has been playing as an Integrated Tourist Development project developer for quite a while. In the rush to get a venue acceptable to host the Asian Beach games, the usual tender procedures were suspended and OMRAAN got to spend as much as it liked getting things ready. In addition, the highly dubious attempts by MoT and Omraan to try and aquire the beautiful Capital Area Yacht Centre (CAYC) by apparently any means - bullying, threats, multiple legal action, refusal to accept the deed to the land signed by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.

As far as I can see, they have done precious little except launch project after project [Yeti, anyone?] that are pretty much all either uselessly stalled after masses of money spent, or, badly built white elephants in the middle of nowhere, or, stealing real estate worth gazzillions and effectively turning public space into private and gov/oligarch Joint Ventures.

As it was not, strictly, a government department, Omraan could bypass normal government tender board procedures, and we know how strict those were, dont we? Oh, and the head of Omraan was a close relative of the then Minister ( now deceased).

And don't forget that disaster that was and is the high speed ferry . I know, they supposedly have a secret military capabilty if required, after a quick conversion, but still. What a turkey. Executed in the most bungled cock up way imaginable, with unsuitable ferries that burn fuel and can't dock anywhere 3 years after buying them. I'd laugh, but this is where the oil money is being poured down the drain. Now why would anyone do that?

3 - Blue City
Although a private company, the Omani Blue City partners who owned Cyclone LLC, 'HE' Anees Issa Mohamed al Zadjali (a newspaper editor working for his Dad's paper Times Of Oman) & His Royal Highness Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq al Said (His Majesty's cousin and Minister of Heritage and Culture), cost the country a heap of money. The way they got the land from the Government for almost nothing (on paper they paid around $80 million, for prime land that was later valued at almost $1 billion, plus a few extra prime km2 they kept apart from the development for themselves). The Government, via the Omani Investment Fund, eventually repurchased the secured bonds of the bankrupt company at 65 cents in the dollar from international investors, paying around $400 million to avoid an embarrassing claim on the land by Japanese investors.

If HH Sayyid Haitham really is on the official short list of those few Al Said males eligible to succeed His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, I hope he has had a big improvement in his judgement since the Blue City debacle. Let's all hope he would leave running the economy to someone actually qualified to do so...
but guys, ignore the private sector financial stuff. Focus on the original smoking gun: the initial land transactions. There's investigational gold in them there abandoned villas by the beach.


  1. It is really sad. It is sad when you think of the ‘enormity” of human greed. Why amass so much material wealth and go to the extreme to even amass further more through improper and immoral ways?

    At a loss for words.


  2. Mti, yes, it is disappointing how greed is so pervasive. It does seem the easiest thing would be to just go back over every big Government contract and gradually investigate the bank accounts and transfers of all of them. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that they were all at it, including Muscat Municipality, any Government owned state enterprise, all of them.


  3. Thy are investigating Omraan as far as I know... because I was able to get one of my projects back (yay) since nothing was being done on it anyways, and turn it back to a Minstry of Heritage project (still nothing done, because that requires courdination between the Ministry of Housing (also the regional departments OF the Minstry fo Housing are closed for corruption investigations) but at least, that is better than all money being sent and invested outside of the original community on a tourism project that hasn't been thought out and that the locals aren't keen on sooooo....).

    Minstry of Interior also under investigation, in how passports are given out....

  4. And the investigations go on....

    I can't wait for the court cases to start again. It's been a very long and quiet summer. The courts have been open for the past 2 months and still nothing...!



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