Asian billionaire's failed bid for Tuli

HARARE - Tuli Coal (Private) Limited (Tuli) remains in limbo after the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) frustrated Singaporean billionaire Sukamto Sia’s $40 million bid for the Beitbridge-based mining asset.

The Asian investor, who had been introduced to the Zimbabwean market by known business broker and personal friend Wicknell Chivayo, has been waiting in the wings since late last year.

Although Bank officials were not readily available for comment this week, it had been widely thought that the Key Group Holdings (Key) chairman would win the mandate to buy Tuli.

“He had offered quite a descent sum or figure for an asset of Tuli’s calibre, but you just don’t know how these RBZ guys operate,” said a source familiar with the developments.

With governor Gideon Gono disclosing this week that the Central Bank was struggling to pay retrenchment packages due to liquidity challenges, it had been anticipated that the disposal of this 70 percent-owned coal mine – along seven other companies – would free up cash for the exercise.

Of the eight non-core subsidiaries, however, only the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Tractive Power Holdings Limited (TPH) has been transferred to another publicly traded entity Zimplow Limited under the $140 million fundraising exercise or plan.

As things stand, the sale of several other companies, including fellow listed Cairns, Homelink (Private) Limited and bio-diesel operator Transload (Private) Limited is still pending or unknown, although the RBZ had been hoping to use some of the proceeds to not only settle debts, but recapitalise too.

The companies’ disposal came after Gono’s May 2011 announcement that the RBZ was exiting these investments to focus on its core mandate.

According to insiders, Chivayo has also brought in a group of Russian investors for a $6 million buy-out of Cairns.

The investors, it is said, have the backing of one of Asia’s biggest banks – HongKong Shangai Banking Corporation.

Sukamto and Key’s offer for Tuli, meanwhile, came as minorities – led by Katamba Trust (Katamba) – had also expressed an interest to follow their rights in buying out the RBZ.

On its part, Katamba has been running quite a number of initiatives to revive the coal operation.

The multiple bids in the southern Zimbabwe mine also come amid reports that one of Adel Aujan’s ex-senior executives in the country once eyed the on-sale asset.

At the time, the Saudi billionaire’s executives at Aujan Southern Africa Developments declined to comment on the issue, with Tuli founding investor and management-contract holder Brilliant Mkhwananzi also expressing ignorance over the transactions.

With vast coal deposits, Tuli is a hugely promising mine for thermal electricity investors, analysts say. - Business Writer

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