By Ibrahim Hirse
SOMALIA'S Government has raised concerns with the Australian Stock Exchange over a mysterious deal involving a small Perth company that claims it has secured the exclusive mineral and oil rights over a large slice of the war-torn African country.
In a letter to the ASX, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi offers to co-operate in any investigation into the company's claims.
The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by The Age, said the deal with the regional government in the eastern Somali state of Puntland was invalid because only the country's transitional federal government had the power to negotiate the sale of mineral and oil rights.
The letter was sent on October 6, a day after Range Resources Ltd announced that it had entered into a conditional heads of agreement with an overseas company, Consort Private Ltd, to buy 50.1 per cent of the sole and exclusive rights to all mineral and oil exploration and development in Puntland. "We understand that this event, if not stopped on time, will have an impact on Range Resources Ltd and the market of the Australian Stock Exchange and we ask you as a matter of urgency to inform your market of this event," the letter says.
Shares in Range Resources, which plans to fund the deal through a $3.45 million rights issue, were heavily traded after the announcement, and jumped about 30 per cent to more than 4¢. They closed on Friday at 3.8¢.
Consort Private, which is believed to be registered in the Maldives and operates through a London law firm, signed a contract with the Puntland government on August 30 at the Hilton Hotel in Dubai.
The deal between Puntland and Consort has been the focus of intense public debate in Somalia, where it increased tensions between the regional and federal governments.
Civil war between rival clans have raged in Somalia for more than a decade, with a federal government being elected only last year. On August 28, just two days before the contract was signed, Somalia's prime minister warned foreign companies and investors in a press release to stop trying to make deals for mining rights with regional governments such as Puntland.
"Any violation against this statement will result in negative consequences and the external and/or internal culprits will take the responsibilities on their shoulders," it said.
After announcing the deal between Consort Private and Range Resources on October 5, Range's Melbourne-based executive director Jim Marinis said he knew little about Consort Private and could not explain why it had chosen to approach a small and virtually unknown company such as Range Resources, which has a market capitalisation of just $20 million.
However The Age has learnt that Range Resource's new executive chairman, Michael Povey, travelled to Somalia in April with Terry Donnelly, the Perth businessman who put together the deal between Consort Private and the Puntland government.
Also on the trip, which was arranged through Mr Donnelly's charity Kids In Need Inc, were Perth consultant geologist Malcolm MacLeod and lawyer Anthony Black, who is a director of Consort Private.
Mr Povey, a mining engineer, joined Range Resources on August 26 — four days before the contract between the Puntland government and Consort was signed — and was given 1,125,000 share options in the company.
Mr Marinis said Mr Povey had been appointed as Range Resource's executive chairman because of his knowledge of Somalia and not for any links he might have with those behind the Consort Private deal. "He was not the go-between," Mr Marinis said.
He also said Mr Povey had no financial interest in Consort Private. "Absolutely not," he said. "There's nothing to hide on that one."
Mr Marinis denied there were any problems with the legality of the deal, despite Mr Ali's letter to the ASX.
He said Range Resources had gained separate written assurances from Somalia's transitional federal government that it would not interfere. On October 10 the company wrote to the ASX saying the federal government had provided "written approval with regards to the validity, operation and effect of the Puntland agreement".
Mr Marinis said the government of Puntland was democratically elected and independent and had the power to negotiate and sign the contract with Consort Private. An ASX spokesman confirmed it had received the letter from Mr Ali.
"The company was aware of the claims in it too," he said. "We understand they sought to address those in the announcement of October 10."
There is confusion surrounding the roles Terry Donnelly, Michael Povey, Malcolm MacLeod and Anthony Black played in putting together the deal that saw the exclusive rights over Somali minerals and oil given to Consort Private and then sold to Range Resources.
Under the terms of the agreement, Range Resources will pay Consort Private $US2.5 million ($A3.3 million) and make a further 17 monthly payments of $US200,000. Consort will also be given 85 million Range shares and 85 million Range options.
According to Range Resources, Mr Donnelly worked as a consultant to Consort, but Mr Donnelly denies this, saying he received no financial reward for putting the deal together.
Mr Donnelly says his only interest was in helping the people of Somalia through his WA registered Kids In Need charity. He told The Age his memory of exact dates and events was not good because of a recent illness.
Documents posted on Range Resource's website show Mr Black and Mr Donnelly were present at the signing of the contract between the Puntland government and Consort Private in Dubai. During the signing ceremony Puntland's state president praised the two of them, pointing out that Mr Donnelly "introduced us to Consort".
Mr MacLeod confirmed he had visited Somalia in April as a consultant to examine "certain amounts of data" but denied any direct involvement with Consort Private or Range Resources, and refused to comment on the deal.