TOGO - The Presidents’ friends handle the phosphates

“I don’t know why these people are here,” board chairman Ignace Klomégah of the Société Nouvelle des Phosphates du Togo (SNPT), says nervously when caught in the corridors of Lomé’s Ecobank. “They were here when I started. The president put them
there.” Refusing to answer any more questions, he disappears in one of the passages of the bank.

“They” are the Moroccan-Israeli father-and-son-couple of Raphael and Liron Edery, who administer Togo’s main mineral resource, phosphate, from the offices of President Faure Gnassingbé. From there, the president and his friends sell the countries phosphates to “whomever they want and at which price they want,” say sources within the company. But even our contacts say they don’t know how much phosphate the country actually produces annually. “Only the SNPT has access to the countries’ phosphate production figures,” says a report from Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, EITI 1.

All that the citizens of Togo know is that the phosphate, nationalised in 1974 as a grand gesture of ‘economic liberation’ by President Gnassingbé (senior, the father of the current president) at the time, has been managed not by ‘the people,’ but by the Gnassingbés: first by papa, who took the reins of the country seven It is known, however, who the main buyers of Togo’s
phosphates are: a family of Indian shippers called Gupta and their company Kalyan. According to company sales sheets over 2016 and 2017 the father-and-son venture of Ashok and son Amit Gupta buys close to ninety percent of Togo’s phosphates. The company web entry by the Société Nouvelle des Phosphates du Togo calls them their “privileged clients 2.”
Ashok Gupta also used to be the director of Getax, an Australian enterprise incorporated in tax-friendly years after independence by shooting his predecessor in 1967, now by fils Faure Gnassingbé. Phosphate manager Raphael Edery controls the resource from the president’s office, son Liron Edery helps from the office of the SNPT in Paris. (Nobody knows why the SNPT has an office in Paris since according to export data, Togo doesn’t sell phosphates to that country. “But every former French colony’s state enterprise has an office in Paris, in the Marais,” says a South African anti-corruption expert whose work has taken him to many places in the West where African elites like to hang out.) Singapore, now under investigation by the Australian Federal Police 3 for bribing of politicians in exchange for the phosphate resources of the Pacific Island nation Nauru. (According to Australian news reports 4 they obtained these for less than the market price, US$ 43 per tonne at a time when the world market price was US$ 400.)

When we tried to contact Getax for comment, we found its website offline. We then phoned Kalyan’s Dubai headquarters to ask for an email address where we could send questions, but three persons we spoke to (and who seemed puzzled at being asked such a
question) said they would “have to look for one’ and that they would get back to us.

Kalyan buys Togo’s phosphates at higher prices than Ashok Gupta’s other company, Getax, did in Nauru. According to the SNPT sales sheets we obtained, Kalyan paid Togo’s state company an average of US$ 107 per tonne in 2015. This is however still below market price, which in that year varied between US$ 115 and US$ 120 per tonne. Remarkably, Australian importers, including Getax, got the phosphates still more cheaply. According to UN international trade statistics (5) they bought the resource from Togo at a bargain price of US$ 100 per tonne in the same year. In comparison, Australian buyers of Moroccan phosphates paid US$ 166 per tonne.

Sadly for Ashok Gupta, his bid -through Getax, together with Getax partner and Indian client Coromandel- last year to exploit the vast phosphates resources not yet mined by the SNPT failed (more about who did get the contract below.) But the Ashok Gupta
family did get a consolation price. A new hotel, the 2 Février Radisson Blu, rising mightily over the capital Lomé, has been funded with in majority a West African Development Bank loan and Togo state funds. Ashok Gupta’s family now runs the hotel of choice for West Africa’s multimillion dollar traders, dealers and politicians, where room rates per night start at around US$ 200 -two months’ salary for most Togolese- up to US$ 1800 for the more upmarket suites. The 2 Février is also the president’s newest prestige venue: he addresses conferences and international partners here.

Sudden deaths
One would think that Togo’s president, if he was serious about the country’s minerals ‘economically liberating’ his people, would want to sell its resources at a better price, if only to create better conditions for the workers in the phosphate mines. According
to complaints that have led to recent strikes, these workers have not had access to medical check-ups in three years. “We have had ‘sudden death’ cases where workers die after only five hours in hospital. Such deaths could have been avoided if we would have known our health status in time,” says one of the sources in the Kpémé mine located forty kilometers west of the capital. Phosphate mining is associated with increased risks of cancer due to inhalation of heavy metals present in mine dust.

The reason for the lack of medical care, as well as for the mineworkers starvation salaries, pegged at US$ 117 per month, has been given by the SNPT as ‘lack of resources.’ The lack of resources doesn’t, however, seem to affect the living conditions of top management, including the Edery’s, other (mainly Israeli) expats and company president Michel Kézie who have the benefit of chauffeur-driven luxury cars, houses in the best suburbs of Lomé, and all-expenses paid trips.

Security from Israel
The reason why father and son Edery and their top layer of Israeli managers run Togo’s state phosphate company in the first place, may lie in their connections with the Israeli phosphates and fertiliser sector. With its ‘greening the desert’ expertise and ideology,
Israel is one of the dominant forces in this sector worldwide and therefore needs a lot of access to phosphates. Which it -in addition to the SNPT reserves-got, in September 2015, when Togo allocated the exploitation of the total phosphates resource -estimated
worth over US$ 28 billion, way too much for SNPT to mine by itself- to Israel’s Elenilto in partnership with China’s Wengfu, reportedly at the behest of Raphael Edery 5.

Elenilto is not known for good resource governance. In a previous deal with Liberia it reneged on its promises to the country, was inactive for years and then sold its mining license to another company for an over US$ 120 million profit without ever having
paid Liberia the agreed fee or taxes 6. Its owner, billionaire Jacob Engel, was mentioned in the Panama Papers as a holder of off-shore bank accounts 7 Ties between Israel and Togo have become tighter in recent years. They were about to culminate in an Africa-Israel summit 8 in October this year, but the summit was delayed indefinitely in September 2017, at the time of protests by thousands of people in the streets of Togo demanding the demise of the autocratic Gnassingbé dynasty. “A good thing too,” commented one protestor. “The summit was to discuss terrorism and security. We were worried that Israel might equip the regime with more means to oppress us, since they probably see us as terrorists.”

The Société Nouvelle des Phosphates du Togo did not reply to a request for comment. The presidency of Togo could not be contacted. Kalyan in Dubai did not come back to us.

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