An Investissement Québec executive lost big in a plan to transfer gold from Tanzania to Dubai, an emirate widely known for its smuggled gold refineries. Part of his pay is seized to reimburse a creditor established in a tax haven who financed this failed “investment”, which has all the appearance of fraud.
Every two weeks, the Crown corporation must remit $1,095 to a front company in the British Virgin Islands, AMBC Ventures Inc. The payments are used to repay the debt of one of the directors of private placements at Investissement Québec, Daniel Awanda, from his pay. His annual salary is $132,870, according to documents filed in Superior Court.
AMBC is owned by three financiers based in Hong Kong, including Mohamed Atmani, its main contact, who works for the investment bank Morgan Stanley.
In 2016, AMBC advanced US$100,000 to a Hong Kong-based company of Daniel Awanda. Annualized interest rate: 313%, more than five times the loan sharking threshold of the Canadian Criminal Code.
Gold ” artisanal »
According to court documents, Awanda was to use AMBC’s money to “fund” a gold transfer to Dubai.
Contacted by email, his partner in the transaction, Leonard Bila Tshimbomba, said the US$100,000 was to be used to pay “taxes and export fees” on 25 kg of gold from Tanzania to Dubai. At the time, such merchandise was worth 1.5 million Canadian dollars.
According to him, however, it should be in the “raw unrefined” state and be exchanged “more or less 20% cheaper”. Where was this cheap metal supposed to come from? “I don’t know how these vendors find their gold, but I believe it’s gold from the artisanal mines,” replies Mr. Bila.
Mr. Awanda sent his lenders blurry photos of documents believed to relate to a previous transaction by his partner. They had to demonstrate that the export would be done “in a completely legal manner”.
Filed in court, these documents (an export permit and a Tanzanian certificate of origin) nowhere mention the mine of origin, the date of extraction or the local traders who traded the precious metal.
According to the criteria of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, this information is however essential to guarantee that the traded good is not dirty gold.
The documents transmitted by Mr. Awanda indicate that the precious metal was to reach the Tony Goetz refineries in Dubai. The boss of this company, Alain Goetz, was sentenced in 2020 in Belgium for money laundering and fraud in connection with this industry. It is targeted by European Union and United States sanctions for its trade in gold from areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo controlled by armed groups.
Tanzania is an immediate neighbor of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Non-governmental organizations have documented the abundant smuggling of the precious metal between these nations and then to Dubai, a global hub for illicit gold.
The documents that Mr. Awanda produced for his transaction do not allow us to conclude that it is clean gold, underlines an expert on these questions.
“We have no information other than the point of export,” says Joanne Lebert, executive director of Impact, an Ottawa organization that campaigns for better management of natural resources in at-risk areas. “We do not know the origin or the actors involved in the chain. »
A trickery ?
Either way, the case turned into a scam, according to a written statement from Mr. Bila that Mr. Awanda filed in court. Once in Tanzania, the funds he had borrowed to finance the gold transfer would be gone.
“My business partners and I were victims of fraud by the supplier with whom we were doing business”, explains his partner Leonard Bila Tshimbomba in a letter filed in court.
Fraud or not, AMBC is asking for its money… and very juicy interest. In 2018, the front company won a judgment in England forcing Mr. Awanda to repay it the equivalent of $770,935, a debt which today could reach more than 1 million by adding other interest for the last four years.
AMBC, represented by Simon Seida of Blakes, then attempted to have its claim recognized in Canada. The Investissement Québec executive, however, took the case to the Court of Appeal and had it reduced to $218,357, citing Canadian laws and rules against loan sharking.
Mr. Awanda is now seeking permission to take the case to the Supreme Court to cancel his debt to the country.
Reached by telephone, his lender Mohamed Atmani asked The Press to call him back at another time for an interview, but he never picked up again. His lawyer refused to answer our questions.
An associate evaporated
Leonard Bila, Awanda’s partner, left Quebec for Kenya after being denied the right to make a consumer proposal, according to documents filed with the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy.
By email, he explains that “unfortunately, the product never arrived in Dubai”. He says he filed a complaint with the police in Kenya and assures that he “did not participate in this scam”. “I am the first victim. »
On the phone, Daniel Awanda refused to discuss his financial problems and his failed attempt to export artisanal gold to Dubai. “I’m not commenting on this matter, thank you,” he said only before hanging up.
Investment Quebec keep confidence
At the time of his failed transaction, Mr. Awanda worked for Standard Chartered Bank, Singapore. According to his LinkedIn profile, he returned to Montreal in 2018 and joined the ranks of Investissement Québec in 2020.
Contacted by The Press, the Crown corporation refused our interview requests on this subject. “In line with our principles of governance, we trust that Mr. Awanda performs his duties with the integrity befitting his responsibilities,” wrote the senior director of public affairs, Isabelle Fontaine, in an email.
The organization says it became aware of its executive’s problems when it received the request to garnish its wages in September.
Mme Fontaine stresses that Daniel Awanda “is not the subject of allegations of contravention of the law or lack of integrity”.
She adds that the executive “is not called upon to work in files involving metals such as gold nor in extraterritorial transactions”. Daniel Awanda works in the Senior Executive Vice-Presidency, Private Equity, reporting to Bicha Ngo.
“They seek people out for profit”
The executive of Investissement Québec, Daniel Awanda, would be far from being the only one to have fallen into the trap of African artisanal gold fraud. This scam has been wreaking havoc for years, assures a Quebec mining industrialist with a long track record on the continent.
Charlatans rely on the naivety and greed of the victims, lured by the possibility of a quick gain, explains Benoît La Salle, chairman of the board of directors of the Canadian Council on Africa and CEO of Aya Or & Argent inc. This Mount-Royal company operates a silver mine in Morocco.
“I’ve seen at least 20 people lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold in the last 25 years,” he says.
The businessman says he was asked again this month to invest in a gold transfer to Dubai.
“I said to the person: why would someone sell you gold at a 20 or 25% discount? Discount transactions are suspicious by definition, he says.
Fraudsters sometimes conclude small transactions that work, before claiming to organize another, larger one. As if by chance, the big operation failed and the bet disappeared, explains Benoît La Salle, also founder of Semafo, which operated gold mines in Burkina Faso. “It’s like computer phishing. They go after people for profit. »
When a certain quantity of the precious metal is actually moved, its origin can only be doubtful, at best, because, typically, no certificate of traceability accompanies it, he says.
Without such documentation, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development considers that nothing demonstrates the legitimacy of the merchandise. It can come from artisanal mines where children work, or even from areas under the control of armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“It has no traceability,” says Benoît La Salle. The only countries to take it are Turkey or Dubai. »
He adds that legitimate transactions are simple to organize. “If it’s complicated, it’s dirty gold. »