Mountbatten Limited, a company incorporated in a commonly regarded tax haven jurisdiction of British Virgin Islands, is home and dry in buying Wilderness Holdings’ safari camp known as Xigera Camp in the tourism paradise of Okavango Delta, WeekendPost has established.
This publication understands that, Wilderness Holdings through its subsidiary Okavango Wilderness Safaris has offered to sell its offspring company, Great Explorations (Pty) Ltd, to Mountbattenâ€• a deal which will see the tax haven based foreign corporation owning the Xigeria Camp which is based on Botswana soil. Technically, Xigera Lodge will move from the Botswana tax regime to a regarded tax haven, simply meaning the country will lose on tax revenues of a lodge build on its paradise’s soils to an offshore company in an apparent tax avoidance endeavor.
The country where Mountbatten is registered, the British Virgin Islands, is regarded by many investigators and tax experts as a hub for tax avoidance. The Caribbean Islands is regarded as a tax haven due to the absence of most major forms of taxation in the territory. This has led to the British Virgin Islands being included on most recognized lists of tax havens. The 2016 Panama Papers revealed that over 50 percent of shell companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands.
According to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a tax haven is a jurisdiction that seeks to make itself attractive to businesses and business owners seeking more favourable tax treatments than those available in their country of origin or residence. A tax haven can also mean a country that offers foreign individuals and businesses little or no tax liability in a politically and economically static environment. Tax avoidance, despite it robbing countries of tax revenue, is not illegal, tax evasion is the one regarded as a crime.
One of the directors of Mountbatten is Michael Tollman who was director of Wilderness Safari Investment and Finance Pty Ltd thirteen years ago and has been Wilderness Holdings Limited deputy chairman since 2010, according to investigations by WeekendPost. Wilderness Safari Investment and Finance Pty Ltd is a subsidiary of a selling company, Wilderness Holdings Limited.
This means Tollman, being a board member of Wilderness may have been involved in the decision making of his own company, Mountbatten, buying Great Explorations. Wilderness is the grandparent company of Great Explorations which owns Xigera Camp. The CEO of Wilderness, Keith Vincent, is currently director of Great Explorations.
Mountbatten, the company on the verge of buying 100 % shares offered in Great Explorations, is a giant hospitality corporation which owns hotels and lodges in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Guernsey and the United States of America. Tollman is also a director of Mountbatten’s holding company The Travel Corporation. He is a member of the wealthy Tollman family which owns a huge worldwide property and hospitality empire. His cousin Brett is the CEO of The Travel Corporation.
Brett’s father Stanley was once a director of top English Premier League team Chelsea. The former Chelsea director’s reputation took a nosedive in 2008 after he pleaded guilty to one count of tax fraud and agreed to pay more than $105 million to the U.S. government in back taxes and various fraud penalties.
Speaking on behalf of Mountbatten because Tollman was abroad and requested her to respond to our questions, Bonnie Jennings told this publication that it remains an anticipation that Mountbatten Limited will acquire the shares in Great xplorations. However Jennings did not comment on Mountbatten being registered in the British Virgin Islands or whether she understands the nature of a business being taken from a certain tax regime to an offshore investment or a tax haven.
Responding via email from South Africa, Jennings said there can never be a case of tax avoidance against Botswana by Great Exploration or Xigera Lodge. She said: “Great Explorations (Pty) Ltd will continue to be based in Botswana and will operate in exactly the same manner as it has before and shall continue to pay tax in accordance with the laws of Botswana, as it has done to date,” said Jennings.
Wilderness Commercial Director and Chief Sustainability Officer Derek De La Harpe confirmed that they have sold Xigera camp to Mountbatten. He also confirmed that Mountbatten director sits on the board of Wilderness. He however did not want to comment on the issue of Mountbatten being incorporated in a regarded tax haven but forwarded our inquiry to the Caribbean islands based entity.
Competition Authority investigating the merger
The Mountbatten acquisition of Great Explorations has also caught the eye of local antitrust body, Competition Authority (CA). Recently the CA received a merger notification for the proposed acquisition of 100% of the issued share capital in Great Explorations owned by Okavango Wilderness Safaris by Mountbatten Limited.
As a result, the Authority further seeks any person or a third party not an interested party to voluntarily submit information about the proposed merger according to section 57(3), of the Competition Act. Also, any stakeholder for or against the acquisition may send views to the Authority within 10 days from the notice, according to the Authority.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.