Swapo’s HQ contractor linked to tax fraud, bribery, corruption

Jiaxue Liao

A senior employee at a Chinese construction company that constructed Swapo’s new headquarters was arrested this week for allegedly buying a fake tax clearance certificate, adding more controversy to a company accused of bribing procurement officials in Namibia.

Jiaxue Liao, a finance manager of Unik Construction and Engineering, was arrested on Tuesday after he allegedly bought the tax clearance certificate outside the office of the Namibia Revenue Agency (Namra) in the Windhoek central business district for N$600.

The latest developments come a month after the African Development Bank Group said it has found that Unik Construction and Engineering – the company constructing Swapo’s head office in Windhoek estimated at over N$1 billion – was accused of bribery and was “engaged in a corrupt practice in the context of tenders”.

The Namibian court case was mostly related to Jiaxue, who appeared in a Windhoek court.

He allegedly bought a tax certificate from an intermediary who was working with Namra officials, who are allegedly running a syndicate selling tax certification documents to people and companies who are not in good standing with the revenue agency.

Yesterday, Jiaxue appeared before magistrate Dawid Mukuyu, and was charged with fraud and forgery.

Mukuyu remanded him in police custody until 5 December to allow him to formally apply for bail.

State prosecutor Rowan van Wyk requested that Jiaxue remain in police custody to allow the police to conduct sensitive investigations and to pursue more suspects.

Van Wyk said Jiaxue was also a flight risk and that the state is looking at adding additional charges of tax evasion and money laundering to his charge sheet.

Jiaxue was represented by lawyer Reya Karuaihe.

Unik Construction and Engineering has over the years become a prominent player in the country’s major government construction tenders.

The company also scored the lucrative tender to construct Swapo’s N$1-billion headquarters project opposite the Katutura Intermediate Hospital in Windhoek.

Jiaxue’s trouble with the law started early this month when Unik Construction Engineering Namibia applied for work permits for four of its employees with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security.

It was then discovered that something was suspicious about the tax clearance certificate the company submitted.

The company and the employees involved are required to submit tax clearance certificates in the work permit application or renewal process.

The ministry, with the police, then investigated the suspicious tax clearance certificate.

A verification process with Namra allegedly uncovered that the company was not issued with a tax clearance certificate, and that the certificate submitted to the home affairs ministry was not on Namra’s systems.

It was also revealed in the investigations that Namra did not issue Unik Construction Engineering a tax clearance certificate, because the company is currently being audited by the revenue authority.

The construction firm has been awarded several construction projects in the country over the years.

In 2016, Unik landed an award from the Roads Authority for the construction of the highway between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.

The contract was later extended to include an additional 12km and four bridges.

The award was valued at N$967 million.

In 2019, it won a N$1-billion tender for the rehabilitation of the Kranzberg and Walvis Bay-Swakopmund railway lines.

The firm’s rail rehabilitation project later became enmeshed in an unfair labour scandal after striking workers accused it of subcontracting and importing South African workers at the expense of locals.

The rehabilitation project was a joint venture between Qingjian Group and Unik Construction Engineering.

The firm also landed the tender to build the new Swapo headquarters in Windhoek.

Unik won the contract after it had been initially awarded to a joint venture between New Era Investment (Pty) Ltd and Guinas Investment. In 2021, the firm won a tender to construct a 6,8km road in the Ohangwena region for N$24 million.

The firm recently submitted a joint venture bid with West Trading CC for the construction of the Ohangwena Regional Council’s offices at Eenhana.

The bid amount was N$259 million.

BRIBING SCANDAL

The company has been implicated in various scandals in various countries, including Botswana and Eswatini.

The African Development Bank Group, which funds Namibian projects, issued a public statement last month, announcing that it placed Unik Construction Engineering under conditional non-debarment for a period of 12 months as sanctions for corrupt practices in Botswana.

The bank said: “An investigation conducted by the Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption of the African Development Bank Group established that Unik Construction Engineering (Pty) Limited engaged in a corrupt practice in the context of tenders for the construction of a raw water pumping main, water treatment plant and treated rising main and construction of treated gravity mains, storage reservoirs and distribution network, components of the Manzini region water supply and sanitation project at Eswatini.”

It further said: “A representative of the company made a corrupt offer to an official involved in the procurement process.”

Efforts to get comment from Unik Construction were not successful.

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