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NEWS | Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Corinthia Group says it has no investment in brutal Sudan

Matthew Vella

Khartoum booms as Darfur burns.
But in the dusty streets of the Sudanese capital, investment pours in the country led by General Omar al-Bashir, the man whose Islamist dictatorship is the author of the century’s greatest genocide that has killed tens of thousands of people in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
One of Khartoum’s most exciting projects, right on the banks of the Nile, is the grand Burj el-Fatih.
The fantastic hotel carries with it the Maltese stamp: the construction arm of the Corinthia Group is heading the project.
But Khartoum is not just the home of one of Africa’s most lucrative markets for investment. It is also the seat of administration of the Bashir government and the sponsor of a brutal “arabisation” policy – the savage campaign to oust Darfurians and seize land for Arab pastoralists.
The 21st century genocide in Sudan, declared by UN as “the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world today”, has been an unrelenting campaign of air bombing and the funding of Arab militias known as the Janjaweed who mercilessly slaughter, rape, kidnap and force black Darfurians into slavery.
Bashir’s oil-fuelled construction boom has attracted lucrative interests. Petroleum, mining and arms firms have funded a government – which raises no taxation – in return for Sudan’s oil.
Several companies are preparing for a pullout. Rolls Royce, Siemens, Switzerland’s ABB and Canada’s CHC Helicopter are in the queue for divestment, as pressure mounts on companies investing in Sudan to steer clear, following international uproar over the crisis in Darfur and US sanctions against Khartoum.
“Companies engaged in tourism in Sudan would never be subject to divestment,” Scott Wisor, from the Sudan Divestment Task Force – which forms part of the Genocide Intervention Network – told MaltaToday.
“That being said, I certainly think that a company investing in hotels in Khartoum should be engaged regarding their operations. The construction of high-end hotels lends legitimacy to the government of Sudan as they continue to seek foreign investment and diplomatic support. By engaging in such business the company subtly condones the atrocities in Darfur.”
The Maltese-owned hotel chain Corinthia has however declared it had no investment in Khartoum. The company is building the five-star Burj el-Fatih on the banks of the Nile, in its final stages of construction, ready to target governmental delegations due to its proximity to a major conference venue, the Friendship Hall.
“Corinthia has not invested in Sudan, but a subsidiary company had, seven years ago in 2000, entered into an agreement to provide consulting services for the design and building of a hotel in Khartoum which is now nearing completion,” Corinthia Group secretary Alfred Fabri said.
The Libyan-financed Burj el-Fatih, shaped like a boat’s sail, is in fact being built by the Corinthia’s projects division QPML. The hotel’s investor is Corinthia’s parent company, the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Co (LAFICO), which owns 47 per cent of the Maltese hotel chain. Together with the government of Malta, LAFICO, which is the Libyan government’s investment arm, is the joint shareholder in the Libyan Arab Maltese Holding Co, which owns various interests in Maltese hotels and other companies.
However, Corinthia has not answered as to whether its services were indeed giving legitimacy to the Sudanese capital. In the fine line between business and human rights, it is usually the bottom line that counts.
That being said, the Burj el-Fatih is a “gift” by Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi. Like Libya, Sudan is a booming market ready to be exploited by various multinationals and Middle East companies. Even Darfur isn’t so much the area where an ethnic cleansing campaign is happening, but another unexploited market waiting to be tapped.
Sudan is the largest country in Africa by geographic area, and the sixth largest by population, with around 40 million inhabitants. Until peace settles in the war-torn country, multinationals will be seeking to make a killing from the investment opportunities waiting to blossom.

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NEWS | Wednesday, 12 September 2007

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