Liberia: US Sanctions Russian Linked to Solway Mining Company

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An aerial view of the Fenix Mine, run by the Swiss-based Solway Investment Group, that is under a court order to carry out a public consultation process in the community about the project, in El Estor, Guatemala

Monrovia – The United States Treasury Department has issued sanctions on two companies and a Russian national linked to the Solway Investment Group engaged into mining operations in Liberia for allegedly leading bribery and corruption schemes showcasing the Russian involvement in the Guatemalan nickel sector.

Guatemala is a Central American country south of Mexico. With an estimated population of around 17.6 million, it is the most populous country in Central America and is the 11th most populous country in the Americas.


By: Obediah Johnson


The US sanctions were imposed on Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel ProNiCo and Mayaniquel, Guatemalan-based subsidiaries of Solway Investment Group, which is also operating in Liberia.

Solway is the world’s largest privately owned nickel producer in a sector dominated by public companies, turning over USD1 billion and being active in the nickel business since 2003.

The group is a leading global producer of iron ore and nickel, with an established production capacity of over 45,000 tons per annum of refined nickel.

It is a subsidiary of Solway Industries Swiss AG and has been licensed by the Liberian Government to undertake iron ore exploration to ascertain the existence, location, quantity, and quality of commercial value of deposits in the exploration area that covers approximately 56 Sq km following an application for a Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) over the licensed area (MEL 8000119), with an objective to develop an exemplary iron-ore mine with production ramping up to 10Mt of iron ore for exports in global markets.

In October 2019, the Government of Liberia, by and through the Ministry of Mines and Energy, awarded Solway Mining Inc. a three-year Mineral Exploration License (MEL).  The MEL 8000119 gives Solway Mining Inc. the right to explore the Mt. Detton and Mt. Blei tenements, which are situated approximately 7 kilometers Northeast of Sanniquellie, Nimba County.

Since then, the company has been developing an iron-ore exploration project in Liberia for a few years and is now entering its new cycle of production. Maxime Sinecaut is the official representative of Solway Investment Group in Liberia.

But recently, the US government, through its Treasury Department also sanctioned Russian national Dmitry Kudryakov, who leads Solway’s mining operations in Guatemala, and a Belarusian national for allegedly leading bribery and corruption schemes.

“The U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on one Russian individual, Dmitry Kudryakov, and one Belarusian individual, Irina Gennadievna Litviniuk, for their role in corruptly exploiting the Guatemalan mining sector, as well as three associated entities connected with their corruption schemes.

Kudryakov, along with Litviniuk, allegedly led multiple bribery schemes over several years involving politicians, judges, and government officials to advance Russian mining interests,” a statement issued by the Treasury Department noted.

The report maintained that these individuals and entities are designated pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world.

It added that corruption is a key vector for Russian harmful influence.

Russian corruption network

“These designations target an egregious Russian corruption network to disrupt its exploitative practices within the Guatemalan mining industry. The United States stands steadfastly with the people of Guatemala and supports their efforts to protect their country’s natural resources. We will not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to help ensure that those who profit from corruption face tangible and significant consequences.”

The United States government, through its Treasury Department justified that the action was taken to promote accountability for Russia-linked actors engaging in corruption in Guatemala.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to identify acts of corruption that threaten the United States and the democratic institutions of our partners and allies.

Solway response

In its response to the US government sanctions, Solway Investment Group says the entity and all its subsidiaries, employees, officers, and directors take “this matter very seriously and believe in strict compliance with all government laws in the conduct of our businesses.”

Solway said it is fully cooperating with the US government through its U.S. law firm Seiden Law Group LLP.

“It is actively investigating the facts and circumstances that gave rise to the alleged conduct by two now-suspended employees related to their sanctions. We note that Solway is not sanctioned and plans to have a transparent and amicable resolution to this matter as soon as legally possible. We further note that the sanctioned entity Mayaniquel is not and has never been a part of Solway Investment Group.”

The company pointed out that its subsidiaries Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel SA (CGN), Compania Procesadora de Niquel de Isabal SA (Pronico), are not and have never been controlled by the individuals mentioned and sanctioned.

“These entities and Solway are not owned, associated or affiliated with Russian state government figures. Both sanctioned individuals Dmitry Kudryakov and Iryna Litviniuk had held management positions in the subsidiaries for many years; both have been immediately suspended from their positions pending the results of the investigation by outside legal counsel.”

The company emphasized that Solway Investment Group is not a subject of the recent decision by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on sanctions targeting Russian involvement in Guatemala’s mining sector and does not fall under sanctions.

No business with Russia

“We reiterate that Solway is not a Russian company and does not have any business relations with Russia. As early as 3 March 2022, Solway clearly stated its position against the war in Ukraine and announced its withdrawal from its only two investments and operational projects in Russia which represented less than 10% of the global operations of the Group and did legally complete this process. Please do not hesitate to contact us for any statement, comment, question or clarification.”

It added that the company is a private mining and metals group headquartered in Switzerland with global operations.

“We invest in industrial assets; re-launch producing assets and develop greenfield projects. We identify unique investment opportunities with the potential to have a significant positive impact on both the production facility and the region. At Solway, we strive to bring not just projects, but also local communities, back to life.”

Solway disclosed that it operates mines and smelting plants in Guatemala, Ukraine, Macedonia, and Indonesia, with a focus on nickel production.

Solway is the world’s largest privately owned nickel producer in a sector dominated by public companies and has been active in the nickel business since 2003. The group is a leading global producer of Fe-Ni, with established production capacity of over 45kt pa of refined nickel.

Contrary

The latest sanctions imposed on Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel ProNiCo and Mayaniquel, Guatemalan-based subsidiaries of Solway Investment Group,  Russian national Dmitry Kudryakov, who leads Solway’s mining operations in Guatemala, and a Belarusian Irina Gennadievna Litviniuk, for their role in “corruptly exploiting the Guatemalan mining sector” runs contrary to the statement issued from the headquarters of the swiss-based company and recent assertions made by the company’s official Representative to Liberia Maxime Sinecaut that Solway has no link to Russia.

Speaking when he addressed the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Edward Wilmot Blyden Forum to commemorate the 58th anniversary of the union in Sanniquellie City, Nimba on Thursday, September 29, 2022, Mr. Sinecaut justified that Solway is like any other mining company that has operated in Russia.

“In the past, we had exploration to Russia like Mittal Steel did, like any other company would, but since the war between Russia and Ukraine surfaced, we had few investments and operational projects in Russia and on 3rd March 2022, Solway exited Russia because of the war against Ukraine. This process is legally completed.”

‘‘Solway has neither Russian roots nor does it have business relations with Russia. Solway Investment Group is a private international mining and metals group based in Switzerland and operates mines with a focus on nickel and copper production in Northern Macedonia, Argentina, Guatemala, Liberia, Indonesia, and Ukraine. None of the owners of Solway is a Russian citizen or resident. Solway is wholly owned and managed by EU citizens.”

“Solway has been developing an iron-ore exploration project in Liberia for a few years and is now entering its new cycle of production. We were always dedicated to making it right from the very beginning and working in compliance with international regulations and global standards of good practice. Our emphasis is on constructive and open engagement with our stakeholders, including ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms. From our experiences in other countries, we know about the importance of understanding and explaining complex issues, respecting pluralistic information systems and freedom of opinion and expression. These can highly impact the quality of life of citizens in the regions where we operate, mostly in terms of good governance and accountability. We believe that collaborating with the National Press Union will help us bring sustainability of our business practices to the next level on the way to becoming a good and trusted local corporate citizen, appreciated by all the communities in which we operate,” a statement on the company’s website quoted Maxime Sinecaut as saying.

Solway is President Weah’s Interest

Following a standoff between Solway Investment Group and ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) over the alleged encroachment of Solway on AML’s concession area, Liberia’s President George Manneh Weah says he would prioritize Liberian businesses as he and the owners of Solway “are my family, we lived together in the same house so you can see they’re my family and I have their interest.”

The Liberian leader made these comments when he attended a cabinet retreat in July, this year.

He told citizens of the county who were concerned about the consummation of the Mineral Development Agreement with Solway that he has asked Solway and AML to sit together and sort out their differences.

“I met ArcelorMittal, we sat down and the first thing I told them was Liberians would not be spectators in their own country. So, up to today, the Solway and this issue is on the table; the government is looking into it and the people that have the Solway – the Liberian boy, and the Indian guy, they need to sit and talk, this is business, they need to sit and talk so they can agree because government also needs to move forward,” Pres. Weah said.

According to him, Solway is “my interest”, therefore, would be a solution to the stalemate.

The Stalemate

Solway raised eyebrows in July 2020 when Emmanuel Sherman, Deputy Minister of Mines & Energy, introduced the company to the people of Nimba County and to the President of their traditional chiefs, Peter Barlon.

Prior to that ceremony, ArcelorMittal, in a communication dated June 26, 2020, directly confronted Solway Mining Inc. informing them of the alleged encroachment on their concession area.

In the communication, titled “Unlawful entry and exploration activities in ArcelorMittal Liberia’s concession area”, ArcelorMittal stated:

“For and on behalf of ArcelorMittal Liberia Ltd. (“AML”), please be informed that Solway Mining Inc. (“Solway Mining”) has unlawfully entered upon and engaged in exploration activities in an area overlapping the concession area in Nimba County granted by the Government of Liberia (the

“Government”) to AML pursuant to the Mineral Development Agreement dated August 17, 2005, as amended (“the AML MDA”).” The communication was signed by Mr. Scott Lowe, the General Manager at the time.

The communication continues: “As you cannot possibly ignore, AML has been granted exclusive mining rights by the Government on the former LAMCO concession pursuant to the MDA. The MDA and each of its amendments, as you should be aware, have been duly ratified by the Liberian Legislature and have the force of law. The MDA includes the exclusive right for AML to conduct, among other activities, the exploration, development and production of mining products in the Concession Area, as this term is defined in the MDA.”

The company is said to be a subsidiary of Solway Industries Limited that has been licensed by the Liberia Government to undertake iron ore exploration to ascertain the existence, location, quantity, and quality of commercial value of deposits in the exploration area that covers approximately 56 Sq. Km defined by the UTM coordinates of Spatial Reference.

The Russian-linked Liberian Ownership

Solway is claiming Liberian ownership but very little is known about the owners.

Mr. Boimah Alford Morgan is listed as the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), while Theo Dennis is listed as Comptroller.

While President Weah presents the owners of Solway as Liberians, a FrontPageAfrica investigation in 2020 revealed that the company is being bankrolled by a Russian multi-billionaire, Aleksandr Bronstein, who has strong ties to the inner circle of Russian President, Vladmir Putin, including Alexey Mordashov, owner of the failed Putu Mining Operations in Liberia.

The Russian publication, Kommersant.ru, in 2020 reported that the Solway Group is run by the Estonian oligarch, Aleksandr Bronstein, and his son, Dan Bronstein. Dan is currently the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the company.

Aleksandr Bronstein, according to the publication is a business magnate who founded Solway Investment in 2002, after chairing the board of directors of Siberian-Urals Aluminum Company, a Russian bauxite and aluminum producer that merged in 2007 with its main competitor in the country, Rusal, and Swiss trader Glencore.

Said the report: “Aleksandr Bronstein has also been the head of several mining companies, after starting his career at Estonia’s Ministry of Forestry and Environment. He is reputedly well connected in the business and political world of both Estonia and Russia. Born in St. Petersburg to a family that left Russia to escape anti-Semitism, Aleksandr Bronstein is heavily involved in philanthropic activities for the Jewish community and has served as vice-president of the World Jewish Congress.”

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