environment

Who is the fossil mining company?

The overseas directors and shareholders of the company planning to mine a site rich in fossils have chequered pasts which include allegations of corporate and political misbehaviour and huge casino debts

A Malaysian company previously embroiled in scandal and a company registered in the Isle of Man tax haven are shareholders behind a bid to purchase 432 hectares of land in Middlemarch for an open-pit mining project.

The project has drawn condemnation from the scientific community as it’s likely to destroy 120,000 years’ worth of 23 million-year-old fossils. Plaman Resources aims to turn the fossil-containing diatomite into food additives for pigs, chickens and turkeys. It has registered the product’s name as Black Pearl. If it goes ahead it's expected to create 100 jobs over its projected 27-year lifespan

The fossils at Foulden Maar paint a picture of life in New Zealand 23 million years ago and there is no other site similar in the southern hemisphere. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has described the destruction as “distressing” and suggested the site should be protected.

A petition has been launched in an attempt to stop the mining project. Key to the venture’s viability is securing permission from the Overseas Investment Office  (OIO) to purchase a neighbouring property. This property would allow the company to expand the operation. 

The OIO decision process - which includes an assessment of good character - is currently underway.

The first OIO decision which gave approval for the smaller farm area was made in September 2014. Since then several incidents involving the Malaysian company and its staff have occured.

A 112-page confidential report written by Goldman Sachs, which has lent Plaman almost $30 million, was leaked to the Otago Daily Times.

The report includes detail of government lobbying in favour of the mine, saying former Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove has been engaged as a lobbyist to “secure approval” for the mine.

"Clayton has outstanding relationships with the ruling Labour Government and is doing everything possible to ensure a decision is made by the relevant ministers as soon as possible."

It also talks of detaching the Malaysian-owned company as a shareholder to remove links to the controversial palm oil industry.

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran told Newsroom she believes this is a condition in the OIO application.

“The OIO application, as I understand it - should it be granted - immediately extinguishes the Malaysian connection."

Newsroom has attempted to verify this with Land Information New Zealand and is awaiting a response.

Plaman Resources was formed in 2013. Malaysian-based Iris Corporation Berhad owns 50.95 percent of the shares and Isle of Man-based Burleigh Nominees Ltd 49.05 percent.

The Malaysian company

Iris Corporation Berhad is a Malaysian technology and agriculture company. Formerly, its largest shareholder was FELDA, the world’s largest palm oil plantation owner. Both companies have been caught up in scandals ranging from human rights abuses, to an allegation of corruption. FELDA now has a less than 5 percent stake in Iris.

In 2017 the deputy managing director of Iris Corporation, Hamdan Mohd Hassan, was arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for alleged abuse of power and corrupt practices. These were related to an e-passport project in the Republic of Guinea.

The allegation related to a kickback scheme. A local partner was to receive US$5 per passport, it was alleged he requested this partner pay him US$1 per passport in order to secure the contract.

The case against him was closed and he was cleared of charges. He retired from the company shortly after his arrest.

The former executive director of Iris Corporation, who until last week was also listed as a director of Plaman Resources, is also a controversial figure.

In addition to his role at Iris Corporation, Rozabil Abdul Rahman was the regional vice chief of the United Malays National Organisation political party. In 2018, he and a party candidate faced court action for failing to pay for thousands of rice cookers. The cookers were stamped with the party logo and were to be given to constituents.

The claimant said the group ordered 60,000 rice cookers. It paid for only 2000 of the 10,000 created. The case was settled out of court.

There are also reports from December 2014 that players at a football club of which he was president were not paid for five months.

Players from Perlis Premier League team reported needing to sell personal possessions to survive. One player returned to work in family rice paddy fields. Another, who had taken a job as a car salesperson to make ends meet, handed out business cards to reporters at a press conference in the hope one of them would purchase a car from him.

It’s reported Rozabil has left Iris Corporation. New Zealand records show he was removed as a director of Plaman Resources April 30.

He is replaced as a Plaman Resources director by Paul Poh Yang Hong, who comes with his own personal history.

In January, Poh lost a lawsuit against a Macau casino over a substantial debt. He took a $7.7 million line of credit from the casino but did not repay it. The judge ordered Poh to repay $6.4 million plus interest to the casino.

In a court hearing Poh said he did not realise he had signed a credit agreement with the casino and owed the casino money.

Iris Corporation group CEO Shaiful Zahrin Bin Subhan is also listed as a director of Plaman Resources.

The Australian and Isle of Man connection

Burleigh Nominees Limited is based in the Isle of Man, a tax haven. It is owned by the family trusts of Australian investment bankers Peter Plakidis and Geordie Manolas. Both Plakidis and Manolas are listed as directors of Plaman Resources. 

Plaman Global’s website describes CEO Plakidis as having nearly two decades of experience in agriculture, mining and investment banking. While references to his time at Deutsche Bank are easy to find, no references to past work in agriculture or mining, other than the Plaman Resources venture were found by Newsroom.

Manolas, the chief financial officer, come from property development background. He has also worked at Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs has lent Plaman Resources almost $30 million.

The Otago Daily Times, which received the leaked confidential report written by Goldman Sachs, reported there is a proposal to list Plaman on the stock exchange in 2020 to “fully fund” the mine.

The OIO process

The application to purchase the land was made in February 2018.

Land Information New Zealand told Newsroom the application is more complex than average applications but said it could not comment further until a decision is made.

It said the investment will be assessed against what’s known as the investor test, which looks at business experience, acumen and good character. Also assessed is what the benefit to New Zealand will be, and as the area is larger than five hectares, it will also need to be assessed under rural land directive criteria to ensure the benefits are sustainable and identifiable.

The decision would need to be approved by Minister for Land Information Eugenie Sage and Associate Minister of Finance David Clark. If either of the ministers conclude that an assessment criterion is not met, the application will be declined.

The process is open for public submissions until the decision is made.

Since Newsroom began reporting on Foulden Maar it has attempted to contact Plaman Resources and Clayton Cosgrove for comment.

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