For the last 20 years, a global network of loosely connected companies has employed nepotism and malpractice to offer corrupt officials the chance to subject legitimate business to extortion. For the first time, this open-source information is being collected to answer the question: Just who are the Alex Stewart International group...?
Who are ASI?
On the face of it, Alex Stewart International LLC is a bona fide audit firm and part of an international network of companies. In reality, their recent operations in Africa have left a sub-standard and questionable legacy.
In an area of the world beset by political and demographic strife, this is an organisation that has offered a veil of respectability to corrupt regimes and shady individuals operating in some of the world’s poorest countries. Few of those affected have gone to the trouble of aggregating the damaging material that exists; once done however, a picture emerges which provides strong grounds for questioning ASI’s integrity, legitimacy and right to operate.
ASI and its affiliates operate as a complex web of inter-linked corporate entities. Formed between 1975 and 2005, a confused pattern of company registration and dissolution emerges. Many of the companies appear to win lucrative contracts via questionable means, whilst all of them share personnel of irregular provenance. Hiring well-connected figures to manage businesses, they win contracts without competitive tender, even when regulations stipulate otherwise. They have also been criticised for the levels of compensation received and the way in which this remuneration is decided, suggesting irregularities in process through which they were selected in the first instance.
The following paragraphs are designed to give the reader a flavour of the fall-out ASI’s African operations in the last two decades. Further information can be found in the following pages of this site.
ASI and Gabon
What: Total, Shell and others targeted in oil industry review
When: March 2011
Take away: Insisting on confidentiality agreement, Total delay audit by 6 months
- ASI’s local efforts are being led by a close affiliate of the Presidential office and a former government official.
- The atmosphere surrounding ASI’s investigation was reported as being that of a ‘witch hunt’.
- The audit is expected to give rise to a major overhaul of Gambon’s oil sector.
- Oil men fear that Gabon’s favourable economic terms will vanish once the audit is completed.
ASI and Guinea
What: ASI appointed to audit RusAl’s operations
When: October 2009
Take away: ASI submit 4 page public report claiming $800m deficit
- The deal showed only the Mining Ministers signature, bypassing procurement process
- Minister arranged for the audit to be financed with a $3.3million loan from the China International Fund.
- Audit delivered after 3 months after an uncertain number of recorded visits to RusAl’s operation.
- The minister later purchased an apartment in NYC for £1.5m in cash.
ASI and the DRC
What: ASI develop regional assaying monopoly
Take away: A shady arrangement ends acrimoniously
- ASI drew controversy when it was granted a de-facto monopoly in certifying ore exports from the DRC.
- In 2005, the government terminated ASI’s contract and launched an open tender so that other firms might submit proposals for the same work.
- Suggestions after the tender indicated that the government may have been considerably overcharged.
SWIPCO and Kenya
What: SWIPCO audit Kenyan government procurement
Take away: Contract implemented irregularly by a single minister leads to High Court ban
- In 1997 SWIPCO gain a contract to audit Kenya’s imports, two years later the Kenyan High Court banned SWIPCO’s oversight, thought this was later overturned.
- A year later, Kenyan MP’s questioned the legality of the contract and the agreed remuneration, claiming that SWIPCO earned more than even the Kenyan Tax Authority.
Alex Stewart Assayers (Government Business) and Tanzania
What: ASA-GB audit Tanzanian gold sector
Take away: ASA-GB paid 1.9% of all audited gold; two Tanzanian ministers later jailed as a result, other cases continue
- Contracted despite not winning the tender process.
- In 2008, Tanzania’s former energy minister (Daniel Yona) was imprisoned, suspected of having renewed the gold sampling contract unfairly.
- The case led to a written exchange of considerable interest between ASI and the journal African Mining Intelligence in which alleged malpractice was not denied.
SWIPCO, ICS and Uganda
What: SWIPCO acting as a government procurement provider
When: 1998 - c.2002
Take away: Advice later considered ‘irregular and ambiguous’
- In 1998, the Ugandan Inspector General of the government deemed the 1996 contract with SWIPCO illegal, as it was ‘wrought with irregularities and ambiguities’.
- The Ugandan courts blocked several payments which SWIPCO had expected for its services – in 2003 for $8m and in 2004 for $20m – claiming that they were in fact overpayments made without the authority of the relevant government bodies.
ASI and Zimbabwe
What: ASI appointed to audit platinum mining operations.
Take away: Zimplats accused of avoiding US$265m in taxes, later denied. ASI sues government for ‘unpaid fees’
- A computation by tax experts engaged by Zimplats ‘concluded that the firm owed just over $23.4million, not $265m’.
- A long running dispute between Zimplats and the Zimbabwean government ensued, threatening Zimplats’ financial position as Zimbabwe’s largest platinum producer.
- ASI has since taken the Zimbabwe Central Bank to court, claiming $35million, plus interest, for work they claim to have completed but for which they were not paid.