By Tahiry Rabenasolo (pseudonym)
Many readers of this article will remember the controversy prompted by a ‘blue economy’ investment agreement for an estimated 2.7 billion USD, which was signed at a side-event to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, on 5th September in Beijing, China. The agreement was made between l’Agence Malagasy de Développement économique et de Promotion d’entreprise (Madagasy agency for economic development and business promotion) and the consortium of Chinese investors Taihe Century Investment Developments Co. Ltd (太和世纪（北京）投资发展有限公司 in traditional Chinese characters).
The agreement was signed by Hugues RATSIFERANA, Director General (from AMDP) and Miao JIRONG, Executive Director (from Taihe).
How did these two entities find themselves together in Beijing to sign this agreement? AMDP representatives have publicly stated on multiple occasions, including in press releases and at a meeting with civil society organisations, that although other companies had been approached to conduct the project, only Taihe had been keen to invest while at the same time agreeing to respect the “values” of AMDP, which purportedly include promoting local development. According to AMDP, the Taihe consortium include a family of entrepreneurs which has been working in naval construction for generations.
Who is behind Taihe?
Reminiscent of Ferrum Mining's partnership with Kraoma S.A., the partnership with Taihe started opaquely and without a tender or a bidding process. AMDP responded to criticism by saying that revealing the details of the deal is not mandatory as the two parties are private entities and only them were involved in the deal. Even though its name makes it sound like a public entity, AMDP is in fact registered in Madagascar as a private association.
However, this assertion from AMDP that their organisation is not related to the Malagasy state is brought into question by the implication of the former President of Madagascar in the organisational structure of AMDP as well as by the sheer size of the agreement. Indeed, the projects defined within the agreement require substantial involvement by the state authorities, if only for issuing fishing permits.
An investigation undertaken in partnership with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) via its platform “Investigative Dashboard” allowed us to collect evidence which casts serious doubt on the information relayed by AMDP and on the trust they placed in Taihe.
Firstly, until January 2018 Taihe had its headquarters in the Haidan district in Beijing (No.-028, 8th Floor, No. 9 North Fourth Ring Road, Haidian District, Beijing) before moving to the Chaoyang district (908, 9th Floor, Building 2, No. 10, Wangjing Street, Chaoyang District, Beijing). The administrative authorities of these two Districts reported, however, that Taihe could not be reached at those addresses, leading to the company being listed on the register of business anomalies in 2015 and 2018. This is in the context of article 9 of Interim Measures for the Management of Business Exceptions, a Chinese state public register whose function is to index companies which fail to meet their obligations to disclose mandatory information and to cooperate with the state authorities. We tried to contact Taihe by telephone, without success. Their number is shared with two other companies who, at least at first glance, do not appear to have anything in common with Taihe other than this telephone number, as well as with a third business in which Taihe is the majority shareholder.
- Beijing Xiangruiyuan Race Pigeon Breeding Co., Ltd. (北京翔瑞园赛鸽养殖有限公司) – a pigeon breeder and seller company;
- Beijing Anhao Venture Technology Development Co., Ltd. (北京安好创业科技发展有限公司) – an information technology company;
- Zhongji Beidou (Beijing) Information Technology Co., Ltd. - the company in which Taihe is the majority shareholder
At the time when the agreement was signed, Mr Miao (also written Miu or Yan) JIRONG (more frequently written JINRONG) (缪晋荣 in simplified Chinese) was the Manager, Executive Director, 99% majority shareholder, and legal representative of Taihe. Mr Li GANG (李钢) was the supervisor of the company, and minority shareholder. Ten days after signing the agreement, Mr JIRONG was replaced by Mr Chen CHUN (陈春) as Manager, Executive Director and legal representative of the company, for reasons unknown to us. Taihe therefore only has two shareholders and is not a consortium of seven businesses, as AMDP repeatedly stated.
Years of experience in the ‘blue economy’?
Taihe is an investment company. However, not one business Taihe had invested in prior to signing the agreement with AMDP had registered activities linked to naval construction or the ‘blue economy’ more broadly. That is equally the case for other businesses in which Mr JIRONG and Mr GANG have had a position.
On the date that the agreement with AMDP was signed, 5th September 2018, Taihe only had shares in two companies:
- Zhongji Beidou (Beijing) Information Technology Co., Ltd. (also known as CHINA UNIVERSAL COMPASS CO. LTD) (中际北斗（北京）信息技术股份有限公司) – an information technology business;
- Xinda (Beijing) Securities Investment Co., Ltd. (信达（北京）证券投资有限公司) - a financial services company
Mr JIRONG had shares under his own name in three companies which are inactive today, as well as in a fourth which is still active:
- Taihe Times (Beijing) Investment Co., Ltd. (太和时代（北京）投资有限公司), another investment company, no longer active;
- Beijing Hengtai Weiye Real Estate Development Co., Ltd. (北京恒泰伟业房地产开发有限公司), specialising in real estate, no longer active;
- Anxin Wanlong Chemical Factory (安新县万隆化工厂), a chemical plant, no longer active;
- Shijiazhuang Yinfa Engineering Real Estate Co., Ltd (石家庄市银发工程置业有限公司), the only active company, offering funeral services.
Mr GANG have had a range of responsibilities in the aforementioned companies. The only link identified between Taihe and its share companies and the ‘blue economy’ sector is via Mr Guo ZHENZHONG (郭振忠), with whom Mr JIRONG managed the company Beijing Hengtai Weiye Real Estate Development Co., Ltd (北京恒泰伟业房地产开发有限公司) between 2000 and 2010. Mr ZHENZHONG holds shares in a naval construction company, Fu'an Huanian Ship Development Co., Ltd. (福安市环澳船舶发展有限公司), and is a member of the Board of Directors of Debon Logistics Co., Ltd. (德邦物流股份有限公司), a company active in maritime transportation.
However, had Fu’an been brought in to offer naval construction services to Taihe in the context of its agreement with AMDP, that would have been worrying since Fu’an was involved in a money laundering scheme which was uncovered in 2018.
Fujian Julong Fishery
Just a few weeks after the signing of the agreement, on the 25th September 2018, Fujian Julong Fishery Co., Ltd. (福建聚龙渔业有限公司), a company specialising in the fishing sector, was registered in China, with Taihe as its majority shareholder (80%). The remainder of the shares are registered under the name of Mr Chen DEMING (陈德明), who also holds the role of supervisor in Fujian, while Mr Cai YIJIAN (蔡箫剑) is its Executive Director and Manager.
All the evidence points to the fact that Fujian was created to implement the agreement signed with AMDP. The profile of this company is very different from the consortium with years of experience in the blue economy that AMDP publicly portrayed. On the contrary, no individual involved with Taihe, neither closely nor remotely, appears to be qualified to fulfil the obligations of such an ambitious agreement.
Mr JIRONG, the main representative of the agreement from Taihe’s side, the only name mentioned in official statements, projects the image of a well-established businessman. However, the capital registered by Taihe at the time he signed the agreement with AMDP was only a little less than 1.5 million USD. The investment anticipated for the first phase of the project with AMDP is therefore 500 times the registered capital of the company. We also found that twelve days after signing the agreement, the same day that Mr JIRONG was replaced in his role by Mr CHUN, the capital registered by Taihe was multiplied by 15, to reach a little less than 25 million USD. It is worth noting, however, that the capital actually available on the company’s business accounts has not changed accordingly. Furthermore, in its last two annual reports, Taihe has not declared any profits or revenue - another alarming signal.
Even more worrying, Mr JIRONG was listed on a register of untrustworthy people by the people’s court of Jiaocheng in Ningde (China) in January 2018. He personally has debt amounting to more than 1.2 million USD.
Photo of Yan JINRONG published by the Chinese media site SOHU at the time he was listed on the register of untrustworthy people.
Have the Directors of AMDP not evaluate the credibility of their partner before going ahead with such an ambitious deal? Or, quite the opposite, were they aware of the identity of Taihe and its main shareholder, neither of which being trustworthy partners? The Directors did not reply to our requests sent by email. The opening of an inquiry by the relevant authorities, first and foremost the BIANCO, would certainly allow for a better understanding of the real motivations behind the agreement between AMDP and Taihe, and help determine what role corruption may have played in this matter.
A revealing comparison
In drawing conclusions, it is interesting to reflect briefly on another fishing agreement signed in 2011 in similarly opaque circumstances between the Mauritanian President, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, and the Chinese company Poly Hon Done Pelagic Fisheries Co. Ltd. (宏东渔业股份有限公司), sometimes called Poly Hong Dong Pelagic Fisheries Co. Ltd. or Fuzhou Hong Dong Pelagic Fisheries Co. Ltd. The agreement was accused of causing significant environmental damage and of emptying the Mauritian waters of its marine resources.
Fishing exports from Mauritanian waters have significantly increased since this agreement (from 292 million USD in 2010 to 810 million USD in 2017). It is generally believed that it is more profitable for foreign companies to convert what they remove from waters into fishmeal, which is used in aquafarming, than to sell it in local markets in Mauritania. The export of fishmeal has gone from 35,000 tons in 2010 to almost 120,000 tons in 2017, of which almost 50,000 tons (about 42%) has been exported to China.
If such an agreement was put in practice in Madagascar, the country risks following down the same path. Even though the whole agreement between AMDP and Taihe has never been disclosed, based on the number of boats anticipated, it is estimated that the annual volume of fishing for this agreement alone would be around 43,000 tons of fishing products, of which only 15% would be intended for local markets. . By comparison, the fishing agreement between the European Union and Madagascar signed in 2007 and renewed in 2014 provided for a three times smaller volume of fishing. Is this development of the ‘blue economy’, or is it giving up Malagasy marine resources to the Chinese market?
The author extends thanks to Jelter Meers from the ‘Investigative Dashboard’, an initiative of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, for his invaluable help in this investigation.
This English translation has been possible thanks to the PerMondo project: Free translation of website and documents for non-profit organisations. A project managed by Mondo Agit.