River Ranch mine: A poisoned chalice

At the beginning those who have been associated with it enjoyed the benefits of the gems from the Kimberlite pipe that apparently runs across the region and yields good quality stones, but in the end the story of River Ranch, formerly Auridium and Bubye Minerals as it went through different hands, has come to be associated with controversy, including fierce ownership wrangles, allegations of smuggling which at one point sucked in the United Nations and World Bank, and mysterious murders.

At the height of the protracted legal battle for the control of the mine between River Ranch owners Rani Investment, a Dubai-based firm headed by Saudi Arabian tycoon Adel Abdul Rahman al Aujan, and the late General Solomon Mujuru’s Khupukile Resources on one hand and Bubye Minerals owned by Michael and Adele Farquhar on the other, there were protracted court battles which ended up in the Supreme Court with the latter losing the nasty fight.

When the Farquhars, who had been arrested and detained in the process, lost the fight, they were  escorted from the mine  at gunpoint. 

But that was before tragedy struck in February 2010 when Adele’s brother, Richard Amyot and his wife Tecla were shot dead, bringing to a head the battle for the control of the mine.

Police investigations concluded that Amyot shot his wife four times before turning the gun on himself. However, their families dismissed the findings after conducting their own investigations. An independent forensic expert they hired concluded that they were murdered. The Farquhars believe that the deaths were linked to the ownership battle over River Ranch mine.

According to their forensic results, Tecla was shot four times  from close range at the back of her head while she was lying on the floor, while Richard was found slumped in a door frame as though running from the room. He, too, was shot in the head, but from medium range. No gunpowder residue was found on either his hands or at the bullets’ entry point.

Now those familiar with the River Ranch story are trying to draw parallels between the death of Richard Amyot and his wife Tecla and General Mujuru’s demise. It would appear they suffered the same fate, although the circumstances might be slightly different. While Richard and Tecla were openly shot, it is not clear whether Mujuru, who died in a blaze last August at his Beatrice farmhouse, 60km south of Harare, was also shot before being burnt to ashes.

Although some security guards told a recent inquest into Mujuru’s death that they heard gunshots on the fateful night, mystery remains over the real motive behind his murder, just like in the case of Richard and Tecla.

The truth about these deaths will probably never be known, although they appear to be linked to the story of River Ranch. What is only certain is that they died, although in the case of Mujuru some still question whether the body buried at Heroes Acre was his in the first place. This is largely because the results of the forensic tests were not thorough and remain contested.

To add to this mystery, Mujuru died the night before he was supposed to travel to the mine to present an indigenisation implementation plan, which Rani Investment, with 80% shareholding, was resisting. It has since emerged that Mujuru had a nasty fight with Aujan in Vitoria Falls in May last year over the issue.

Mujuru wanted to take over the controlling equity under the rubric of indigenisation, leaving Aujan with a 39% shareholding but the Saudi billionaire resisted, sparking a fierce battle which would not end  even  after the general’s death. As we report in our lead story, the battle for the mine is still raging.
The controversial mine was discovered by De Beers in 1974 during an exploration exercise in the then Rhodesia. It was acquired by Auridiam in 1991 with production starting in 1992, but  was closed in 1998 due to viability problems.

The Farquhar family, through Bubye Minerals, took control of the then insolvent mine in September 1998 and managed to turn it around after bringing in investment partners, including Aujan.

However, misfortune was to strike in 2000 when the mine experienced several problems, including  hurricane-induced flooding, which impacted negatively on production.

First to feel the pinch in the aftermath of the cyclone was the Farquhar family, forcing it to give Aujan a 30% stake in the company in 2002. This came after their borrowings from Aujan had risen to US$1,5 million and they had failed to repay.

As a result, relations between the Farquhar family and Aujan soured in 2004 when they defaulted in repaying the loans.

The Saudi billionaire then injected a further US$2,5 million arguing that the only way he could recover his investment was for the mine to be resuscitated so that diamonds could be extracted. He then called in his previous loans, which Bubye Minerals failed to repay resulting in him moving in.
Aujan reconstituted the company as River Ranch Ltd and brought in Khupukile Resources, owned by Mujuru, which acquired a 20% stake, thereby sparking a protracted and bitter legal battle with the Farquhars.

A few days after the reconstitution, the Farquhars were driven off the mine by police at gunpoint, but they fought hard to reclaim the mine, to no avail. They managed to get several legal judgments upholding their rights to the mine but these were subsequently ignored.

At one time River Ranch was prevented from selling diamonds because of an injunction won by the Farquhars’ legal team.

In 2006, Bubye Minerals lost control of River Ranch Mine after the High Court threw out its application to compel the Minister of Mines and Mining Development to reverse his decision to cancel a special grant to the mine.

The  rest is now history, except that the mysterious deaths  — including that of Mujuru — haunting River Ranch may never go away.

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