23 Jul 2018

Arron Banks denies allegation of bribery over mining interest

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

In part two of our investigation into Arron Banks’ mining interests in Southern Africa, Channel 4 News details the transfer of thousands of pounds to a Lesotho cabinet minister and the subsequent issuing of a mining licence.

Channel 4 News has spoken to the minister, who admits he received the money, but both he and Banks strenuously deny that this was for the licence or a bribe.

Channel 4 News reveals the Brexit-backing businessman arranged and authorised the payments totalling ZAR 330,000 (GBP 19,000). One of these payments was paid in cash, and another was transferred to a private account in South Africa.

The investigation reveals allegations that:

•At the time of the payments, Banks was in the process of applying for a government licence to prospect for alluvial diamonds in Lesotho.

•Banks appears to have made false public statements about the success of his diamond mining operation in Lesotho.

•Banks made misleading statements about his charitable activities in Lesotho.

The evidence includes a series of emails seen by Channel 4 News, court documents and also in interviews carried out by this programme.

 

John Maseribane relationship

Channel 4 News reports that Banks fostered a close relationship with a leader of the Basuto National Party in 2013 and 2014. During that time Mr John Maseribane was a cabinet minister in the coalition government that was running Lesotho.

It was during this period that Banks applied through Mohokare Mining for a government licence to prospect for alluvial diamonds at the Sebapala site.

Channel 4 News has obtained a series of emails between Banks and his associates which lay out payments made to John Maseribane in 2013 and 2014. One of these payments was made in cash, and a second was transferred to a personal bank account in South Africa from his personal account.

The emails raise serious questions about whether these payments were intended to facilitate Banks’ obtaining of a prospecting licence in Lesotho. He strongly refutes this.

A series of emails seen by Channel 4 News reveals that:

On 13th December 2013, Banks emailed John Maseribane to say: “The money for both purposes will be ready for collection by moss next week.”

Banks is copied in to a series of emails on 18th December 2013 in which a cash payment of ZAR50,000 to John Maseribane, via Moss Maseribane, is facilitated. The emails also discuss a further payment (ZAR280,000) which needs to be paid to the minister. When an associate of Banks suggests that Banks transfers the money from a UK bank account, he replied: “I prefer to deliver the cash…”.

On 24th December, Moss Maseribane, the daughter of John Maseribane, emails Banks and others saying: “Looking forward towards a fruitful business relationship this coming year.”

On 30th December 2013 an associate emails Banks to say that John Maseribane would prefer the further ZAR280,000 to be transferred into “his South African account”, and provides the bank account details.

Later that day, Banks emails his personal bankers requesting an “immediate transfer” of “280K SARand” to that very bank account.

On 16th February 2014, Moss Maseribane emails Banks to say: “My father had meeting with the minister of minings and our application has been approved.” Banks’ reaction to this was: “Finally – now the fun begins !!!”

On 5th June 2014 an associate sends Banks an email regarding a licence which will allow his company Mohokare Mining to prospect in Lesotho for two years. The email reads: “at long last………..one more for the mining portfolio”.

It is an offence under the Bribery Act 2010 to offer, promise or give any financial advantage to induce or reward a person to perform a function or activity improperly. It is also an offence to offer, promise or give any financial advantage to a foreign public official in order to obtain or retain business, or an advantage in the conduct of business.

Channel 4 News has interviewed Mr Maseribane and has asked him about these payments.

Mr Maseribane did not deny he had received the payments but instead he claimed Banks had provided him with financial support, including during his 2012 election campaign. Both Maseribane and Banks deny that the payments constituted a bribe.

Interview with John Maseribane

“We’ve got a long way… me and Arron. We can talk, we can look at other options of investing in Lesotho. He was very… an influential person in terms of finding how he could also become a economic advisor for Lesotho.”

“Yes, Arron supported my party. Because I am a politician and I am running Basotho National Party. They supported me for 2012 elections. Yeah.”

Reporter: “You mean financial support?”

“Financial support, t-shirts, marketing. And also my policy conference, he supported my policy conference.”

“There was a way that he proposed that we work. He will pay for the – what do you call – for the supplier – let’s pay the supplier – let’s see what the design of the t-shirts – this is not what I like, I will bring somebody professional from London, from South Africa, to say can we please try and fine tune this. Then he will pay for everything like that. Then at the end we will receive the goods.”

Reporter: “I saw an email from Moss, your daughter, in 2013 or early 2014 that said: “My father had a meeting with the mining minister and our application has been approved.”

“That is an information.”

Reporter: “She said ‘our application’ as if you were involved?”

“No no no no. ‘Our application’ can be implicated in so many ways. The application was, information will be relayed to Arron.”

Reporter: “But why wasn’t he dealing with the mining ministry direct? Why was he dealing with you?”

“No, I just wanted to know how far his application was, like, you know. It’s normal. To ask how far you are..? I am aware because I am a friend of Arron, but I am not his partner.”

Reporter: “So he wasn’t paying you to lobby to get a prospecting contract? To get a prospecting contract?”

“No, I do not think that was the motive.”

Reporter: “But he was paying you?”

“No. What do you mean paying me?”

Reporter: “Well, he was paying you what I think was described as political donations?”

“No. I don’t think journalists will be able to understand when you ask somebody, “can you please support me on my t-shirts?”

Reporter: “So it was just t-shirts and marketing?”

“That was not paying; that was helping a friend. To say I am leading your party and then I am going for elections. And elections are so expensive in Lesotho as you will get the [unclear] situation that we have. So the interpretation should not be paying me. Was just a relationship that I wanted to have. Like you can have a relationship with a South African person or even a Basotho business person, or someone you can approach.”

Reporter: “So why were there all these emails between your daughter Moss and Arron Banks, some of them copying you, about the exchange of money?”

“In terms of what?”

Reporter: “Well, from December 2013 an email to you from Arron Banks saying: ‘Hi john, the money for both purposes will be ready for collection by moss next week’ — and that’s your daughter’. So, clearly money was being sent to you.“

“Yeah, well, not to me, but to the operations. But not to me.“

Reporter: “But you are on the email. And there are several emails. And there was one saying: “the minister” –that is you– ”said he only collected 50,000 rand” that is about £2,800. So the minister did collect money, and the minister is you. “

“Yeah but that money was used to pay transport because you have to pay transport for people to come from Lesotho all over. It was not used to bribe or to do anything.”

“He contributed to Lesotho, that is all.”

Reporter: “Well I mean it says here”

“I have the right to talk to anybody. Anybody! So many people”.

Reporter:” And you talked to the minister for mining?”

“Not Arron only.”

Reporter…” the thing is, you were minister for er youth, gender, recreation. And he was asking your advice, and sending you money, on the subject of of diamond mines? That is what I don’t quite understand. The emails clearly show that he was in contact with you while he was trying to get a mining licence. Except you were the minister for gender, youth and recreation“

“No bribe was paid to release the prospecting licence. Please, I said this earlier. Don’t go around and come with the same question.”

Reporter: “The thing is, that when your daughter writes an email to Banks saying she looks forward to a “fruitful business relationship, what am I supposed to make of that?”

“But who are you? Are you Banks cousin? Are you Banks lawyer? Or what…?

Reporter: “But what relationship is it?”

“It’s a relationship”

Reporter: “Business relationship?”

“No, it’s a relationship.”

Reporter: “You say he was just giving you some money to support your party”

“But it’s a relationship that she requested, what’s the problem, what’s the problem”

Reporter: “So did she work for him?”

“No”

Reporter: “So why would she write that?”

“She would write it because Arron was part of the family. He’s a friend, he was a friend to me. Please man, can you respect my friendship with Arron?!”

Reporter: “It says on your office wall we shall cultivate a culture of zero tolerance towards corruption? You believe that?”

“Yeah, I believe that.”

Reporter: “And nothing in your relationship with Mr Banks might make me question that?”

“It is your own opinion. I am putting my own opinion.”

The Sebapala Mine

Channel 4 News travelled to Banks’ Sebapala Mine in Quting, Southern Lesotho.

The mine is a small operation employing just 18 people. Workers on the site told this programme they are paid approximately ZAR2000, approximately £100 a month. The local community suffers from extreme poverty. Many have no access to basic utilities like electricity.

Channel 4 News carried out interviews with Banks’ employees who said that in the three years in which the mine has been operational, they have never heard of any diamonds being recovered from the site. Now they have been told the mine will close in August 2018.

Channel 4 News has also spoken to the woman who owns the land where the mine is situated. In an on-camera interview she said that Banks has paid her no money to mine her land, but that he compensates her for that work with 13 sacks of maize meal a year.

The Lesotho Minister of Mines, Hon Keketso Sello, has told Channel 4 News this constituted “daylight robbery” and did not amount to fair compensation.

She is also separately employed and paid by Banks as a general worker at the mine.

Banks’ claims about the Lesotho diamond mine

In September 2017 an article appeared in the “Economic Voice” in which Banks claimed to have made a “significant find” at his mine in Sebapala.

The article stated:

“THIS IS AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY
The diamonds found have been identified as the same quality and price per carat as ‘Letseng’ diamonds ($2,000 per carat).”

In a statement given to the publication he stated:

“This is another important development for Lesotho’s future economic growth, spearheading the revival of the kingdom’s diamond industry. We are confident the mine will generate important royalties for the economy, which we will continue to distribute through our ongoing program of philanthropy in Lesotho via www.lovesavestheday.org.uk.

“The area around the latest find has already produced some of the world’s most beautiful and clear stones, and judging by our initial exploration I am confident it won’t be too long before we find similar large diamonds.

“Our aim now is to invest heavily in the future development of the mine and ultimately the Lesotho economy.”

Channel 4 News reports that contrary to his statement that he intends to “invest heavily in the future development of the mine”, the workers have been told operations at the Sebapala mine will cease in August 2018.

The programme has also filmed the apparently “significant find” which is held by the Ministry of Mining in Lesotho. The Commissioner of Mines, Mr Piel Rochacha, showed Channel 4 News five small stones which he told us amounted to a total of 12 carats. He said the value of the stones found was less than $3,000.

Asked about Banks’ claims in the Economic Voice, The Commissioner told us:

“that is a pure lie… the stones are small… for the quality of diamonds you would normally expect for a find in Lesotho I wouldn’t call it significant.”

Arron Banks told Channel 4 News

“Our mining activities in Lesotho were restricted to one licence where we have undertaken exploration work rather than full scale mining, we have made a small number of high quality alluvial diamond finds and we continue to assess the viability of mining in Lesotho. The purpose of an exploration licence is to establish whether diamonds are present in the area and then for alluvial traps.

“We absolutely refute the allegation that payments made to Mr Masirebane were made for granting of any licences. We have made four such applications for licences in Lesotho all of which are outstanding, two years after the original applications, for the very reason we would not prepared to make such payments.

“We met Mr Thesele Masirebane, who was the minister for Women and equalities , who promoted a number of charitable projects in Lesotho including Women’s empowerment and a group called the Lesotho Federation of Lady Business women.

“We financed a project to create a co-operative chicken farm in Lesotho and a number of micro projects that would employ women in their own cooperative businesses. The funds went directly to the Women’s group and not via the BNP or Mr Masirebane.

“I also donated £100,000 to “Sentbale”, to a charity formed jointly by the King and Prince Harry to help AIDS orphans in the country.

“We donated under R2M to help “Thesele Masirebane” and his work in Lesotho and were pleased to do so, given his commitment to women’s empowerment and poverty issues in the Kingdom, far from hiding this association we attended a rally in Maseru where we were publicly thanked in front of the crowd. This was reported in “the Times” at the time. We are proud of the work we did in Lesotho!…”