Arqomanzi, which had previously bid for the Lily and Barbrook gold mines, in Mpumalanga, intends to lay charges of fraud against Vantage Goldfields and its new owners Macquarie Metals and Africa Pacific Capital.
Vantage’s South African subsidiaries have been under business rescue, and the two mines standing idle for more than five years since the collapse at the Lily mine in February 2016, which resulted in three employees being trapped underground. The container in which the three employees were working at the time of the collapse has yet to be recovered.
Arqomanzi CEO Neil Herrick says this latest development follows the recent revelation in an affidavit by the business rescue practitioners (BRPs) of “evidence that Vantage gave the BRPs a letter, purportedly from HSBC Bank in Hong Kong, providing proof of a funding facility for Africa Pacific Capital, owned by Alan Doyle and Stephen Turner, to underpin the settlement of creditors by Vantage and for it to reopen the two mines”.
“Arqomanzi was suspicious of the authenticity of the letter and wrote to HSBC in Hong Kong to request verification,” says Herrick.
Arqomanzi subsequently received written notification from HSBC that it had neither issued nor sent the letter, which Herrick says, “means that the letter is fake and a fraud”.
“The fake letter means that Vantage does not have, and has never had, the funding in place to pay all creditors as it has said, nor does it have and has never had, funding available to recover the missing persons, or to reopen the mines.”
Arqomanzi is proceeding to lay criminal charges in South Africa, Australia and Hong Kong against Vantage Goldfields SA, its sole shareholder – Vantage Goldfields – and its controlling shareholder, Macquarie Metals, with the latter two both registered in Australia.
Macquarie Metals’ sole shareholder, Africa Pacific Capital, and these companies’ directors and officers are also under fire.
Arqomanzi also intends to report the companies and their directors to the relevant regulatory authorities.
In terms of the proceedings with regard to the Lily and Barbrook mines, Arqomanzi says the BRPs, following receipt of Arqomanzi’s letter from HSBC, stated that they were “unaware that the letter was fake”.
Arqomanzi awaits feedback from the BRPs in respect of their intended course of action after this latest development. Arqomanzi has encouraged the BRPs to engage directly with HSBC in both South Africa and Hong Kong to satisfy themselves that the letter was not issued by the bank.
However, in response, Vantage Goldfields Australia (VGA) said Arqomanzi’s claims were unsubstantiated.
“It seems Arqomanzi thinks that a large bank is going to disclose its private client’s correspondence to an unknown third party.
“The letter, purportedly from one Anthony Wong on behalf of HSBC, does not make any reference to the actual institution or branch of HSBC that the communication emanates from, or the authority under which the purported author makes the stated claims,” VGA stated.
It questioned why a banking institution would “assist an ordinary inquirer when standard procedure would be to make investigations of their own”.
Arqomanzi, however, said it was the BRPs who "made the fake document public" when it was annexed to an affidavit.
Months ago, Arqomanzi furnished the BRPs with proof of funding and plans to reopen the two mines. The miner also undertook to the respective families to recover their missing family members.
Arqomanzi became Vantage’s single biggest creditor by acquiring Vantage’s outstanding debt from Standard Bank of South Africa.
However, from the outset, Arqomanzi states that it “has been blocked in its attempts to action its plans for the two mines by unlawful actions by Vantage and protracted litigation and counter-litigation by Vantage in the South African courts”.
In respect of the letter from HSBC, Arqomanzi says Vantage “fraudulently sought to leverage the prestige and credibility of one of the world’s largest banks by fabricating a letter and then giving it to the BRPs to persuade them to implement Vantage’s proposal”.
This proposal was subsequently, on May 31, found by the High Court to have been unlawful.
Had the letter not been provided to the BRPs, says Herrick, the BRPs would have, in January 2021, as they had agreed to, published proposed amendments to the business rescue plans previously adopted by the creditors, incorporating Arqomanzi’s proposals and called meetings of the creditors to consider and vote on the proposed amended plans.
“Had that happened, the creditors would already have been paid, significant progress would already have been made in recovering the missing employees and steps would have been taken to reopen the mines,” Herrick says.
VGA on October 13 disputed Arqomanzi’s statements and claims and said that Arqomanzi’s claim to be “the largest independent creditor remains in dispute”, noting that Arqomanzi had, instead, approached the court to make a ruling on this point – with the judgment still pending.
Further, the judgment to interdict the BRPs from implementing their plans, has since been appealed in the Supreme Court.