Uruguayan businessperson Gaston Savoi, who is facing corruption charges in South Africa, owns a company that supplies government hospitals in Namibia. The company is run by a politically connected entrepreneur who is close to the Namibian prime minister.
And Savoi’s Ugandan operation is headed by Eureka Karuhanga, also a member of a well-known, politically connected family.
Savoi allegedly worked with ANC heavyweight John Block in the Northern Cape, where the two men are facing corruption charges, and with former provincial ministers Peggy Nkonyeni and Mike Mabuyakhulu in KwaZulu-Natal.
Corruption, money-laundering and racketeering charges against Nkonyeni and Mabuyakhulu were controversially dropped in August 2012, but remain in force against Savoi and others.
Savoi says he is innocent of all the charges, which his South African lawyer, Michael Gradidge, described this week as “sensationalist”.
Savoi’s South African operation, Intaka Tech, has a 74% stake in Intaka Technology Namibia. In 2011 the latter won a R55-million contract to supply 32 Namibian government hospitals with life-saving oxygen and other medical gases.
His representative in Namibia is the flamboyant businessperson and philanthropist Knowledge Katti, a friend of Hage Geingob, the current prime minister and the probable next president of Namibia.
Knowledge Katti (The Namibian)
Katti is also the business partner of the Namibian home affairs minister, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, in an oil and gas company, Kunene Energy.
His corporate functions are attended by Namibia’s top politicians, including Geingob and former president Sam Nujoma.
Katti meets Savoi
A media conference last year – to announce the discovery of oil that had no commercial value – was held at State House in Windhoek and fronted by Katti accompanied by the majority of Cabinet ministers, including Geingob.
Asked whether it was Savoi’s modus operandi to make use of politically plugged-in individuals, Gradidge said: “We don’t hand-pick politically connected people. We choose our business partners with regard to a number of important factors, including financial factors, ability, skills, drive and business fit.”
Gradidge said that Savoi had met Katti “through common friends and business associates. He was impressed by his drive, ambition and business acumen and identified him as a business partner in Namibia”.
Katti could not be reached on the phone this week. AmaBhungane emailed questions to him on Tuesday, but had not received a reply by the time of printing.
Intaka Technology Namibia won a five-year contract renewal in 2011 after supplying medical gases to the Namibian health department since 2007.
The renewal was challenged in court by rival bidders Air Liquide South Africa and Oshimoko Medical Air and Oxygen Supplies, which argued that Intaka had been allowed to present its case to the health ministry whereas they had been denied such an opportunity, despite official promises.
The court application was rejected with costs.
Like Savoi’s support for the ANC in South Africa, Katti is a keen benefactor of Namibia’s ruling party, Swapo. Two years ago he donated R500 000 to Swapo at a gala dinner to raise funds for the party’s 2012 congress. Last month, he pledged the same amount to a presidential charity.
He is one of the elite Namibians who have profited handsomely from government oil prospecting licences.
In 2010, Namibia’s Insight magazine, an investigative journal, alleged that he had paid R2-million into the accounts of senior officials at Namibian oil parastatal Namcor and the energy ministry in exchange for oil exploration licences. He rejected the allegations.
In South Africa, he owns Three Diamonds Trading 123 and is the director of Giyani Gold, a company he and his business partner Duane Parnham bought into after selling their Toronto-listed company, UNX Energy, to a Brazilian state-owned firm for 730-million Canadian dollars (about R7.3-billion).
A 2010 presentation by UNX Energy showed that it had exploration licences covering 51 000km2 off the Namibian coastline.
The deal was done despite government complaints about Namibians who sell on their oil exploration licences for millions.
Responding to criticism of his association with well-connected individuals, including Katti, Geingob has been quoted by the Namibian media as saying that they do not control him.
Savoi’s Ugandan operation, Intaka Tech Uganda, is headed by Eureka Karuhanga, the millionaire daughter of Elly Karuhanga, a former Ugandan MP and confidant of President Yoweri Museveni.
Elly Karuhanga formerly represented the Nyabushozi constituency, which includes Museveni’s rural home town of Rwakitura. Museveni attended Eureka’s wedding in 2008.
Elly Karuhanga served as chairperson of Tullow Oil until December last year. The Irish oil firm has been at the centre of Uganda’s oil exploration since 2004.
The controversy-plagued Intaka business
Meanwhile, Intaka Technology Namibia has been mentioned in two major investigations into Namibia’s public health system.
A World Health Organisation (WHO) investigation in 2010 found that suppliers – which included Intaka – “failed to consistently deliver these medical gas products [to state hospitals] at the specified and agreed upon quality and standard, and the ministry of health and social services has also failed to demand that quality”.
A presidential commission of inquiry last year into Namibia’s public health system reported that health workers at the Swakopmund Hospital “expressed concern about the oxygen supply, which they said was not reliable”, and said that Intaka lacked the technical staff or an office in the region to safeguard the supply.
This had led to the cancellation and transfer of theatre cases.
Responding this week, Gradidge said very few of the shortcomings identified by the WHO related to Intaka.
He said the United Nations organisation had also found that there had been no adverse health outcomes resulting from the clinical use of the oxygen-enriched air in state hospitals.
Articles in the Namibian press about the oxygen supply in hospitals were “sensationalist and defamatory”, Gradidge said, as the journalists had failed to take account of the poor condition of the gas piping infrastructure and rolling power blackouts that were plaguing the country at the time.
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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.