HPX Steers Clear of US$37M Hullabaloo Between Tweah, Konneh

HPX is licensed to mine iron ore in Guinea, close to the border with Liberia in Nimba County. But to do so, the HPX needs a concession agreement to use the railroad from Yekepa to Buchanan.

— Says the Company remains committed to the development of a world class infrastructure corridor, owned by the government

High Power Exploration (HPX) is steering clear of the heated exchange between Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel D. Tweah and former Finance Minister (now Gbarpolu County Senator) Amara Konneh, regarding the legitimacy of a US$37 million payment to the Government of Liberia (GOL) through the national budget since 2019. 

HPX, who through its subsidiaries Ivanhoe Liberia and SMFG, entered into a Framework Agreement with the Government of Liberia on 20 December 2019, emphasized the importance of transparency, accountability, and adherence to international standards in financial transactions. The company added that the framework agreement was amended on March 30, 2022. 

According to HPX, the purpose of the Framework Agreement was to set forth the framework for the negotiation of an agreement to secure sufficient rail and port infrastructure in the Yekepa-Buchanan rail and port corridor in order to be able to evacuate iron ore from HPX’s Guinean Nimba Iron Ore Project.

“The Framework Agreement as amended was announced publicly and received strong support from the Government of Liberia,” the company noted. 

Since 2019 HPX has continued to negotiate with the Government of Liberia on terms and payments that would be payable to the Government of Liberia once the final agreement is signed. 

Because the Framework Agreement merely committed the parties to engage in good faith negotiations of a concession agreement on terms that would then provide access to government owned rail and port infrastructure, and not an agreement for the actual use of those assets, it did not require ratification under Liberian law.

HPX Group agreed, as a gesture of goodwill, to make refundable advance payments to the Government of Liberia at its official request for some of the anticipated fees and taxes that would be due and payable to Liberia if and when a binding concession agreement came into force. 

If none did, these advance payments would be refundable to the HPX Group. 

“These advance payments, which were paid into the Government of Liberia Revenue Account at the Central Bank of Liberia through the United States Government Federal Reserve Bank of New York, consisted of US$7 million in December 2019 and US$30 million in March 2022. 

HPX further said that the advance payments are refundable if certain milestones relating to the negotiation and implementation of the concession agreement are not met. As it stands today, several of these milestones have been missed and the HPX Group has reserved its rights to seek refund of the upfront payments. 

According to HPX, the group has not done so because of ongoing discussions with the Liberian Government that the HPX Group believes will ultimately result in an agreement beneficial to both Liberia and the HPX Group.

The company further indicated that the group has always been entirely transparent about the fact that the advance payments were made to the Government of Liberia and publicly disclosed them. 

“HPX remains committed to the development of a world class infrastructure corridor, owned by the Government of Liberia, and operated under the principles of non-discriminatory, multi-user access with each participant to meet responsible access charges, under the oversight of an independent operator not linked to mining operators,” the company said.

HPX also reiterated that they remain committed to supporting the Government of Liberia to achieve this vision and welcomes full transparency of all transactions and dealing between the Liberian Government and mining companies and other concessionaires. 

“As a US Company, HPX and its directors and management remain committed to and strongly embrace the highest standards of ethical behavior that are in line with community and government expectations not only in Liberia, but internationally and are subject to and committed to fully comply with the laws of Liberia, the United States of America and other jurisdictions governing all such transactions,” the company said.

The heated social media exchange between Tweah and Konneh called into question the Weah administration’s handling of the US$37 million payment made by High Power Exploration (HPX) to the Government of Liberia (GOL) since 2019.

Konneh said the payment received by the executive was not only shrouded in secrecy and done without legislative agreement, but that Tweah violated provisions of the Amended and Restated Public Procurement and Concession (PPCC) Act and Public Finance Management (PFM) Act.

Section 88.1 of the Amended and Restated Procurement and Concession Act (PPCC) of 2010 clearly states that “…no concession shall be implemented unless the proposed project has been issued with a certificate for concession.”

Also, Section 5.2(e) of the Amended and Restated Public Finance Management Act (PFM) of 2019 states that resources that become public money upon receipt include proceeds received by the state from the sale or leasing of any property owned by the state.

But Tweah has since vehemently denied any corruption allegations and decried the visa restrictions imposed on him and his family by the U.S. Department of State, considering himself “a victim of circumstances caught between two powerful billionaires.” During a recent press conference, the sanctioned Finance Minister cited the ongoing dispute between ArcelorMittal and HPX over the use of the railroad as a possible reason for the visa restrictions against him and his family.

“I have never influenced ‘legislative processes’, whatever that implies,” Tweah said. “I was also informed that persons close to HPX were considering sanctions against me because the company had paid US$37 million to the Government of Liberia through the national budget since 2019 and was yet to have an agreement with the Government. Legitimate monies received by the Government of Liberia for the development of Liberia through the national budget are never a bribe. That an agreement has been difficult to reach because of the complexity surrounding a pre-existing agreement is no reason to threaten government officials with sanctions.”

HPX has declined to comment on the debate between the two officials. 

The Company however reiterated its commitment about its plans announced in August 2023 “to commence operation in 2025, depending on reaching an agreement with the Government of Liberia over rail and port access arrangements, for which it has pre-paid the Government US$37 million in fees in a sign of good faith.”

ArcelorMittal, owned by Indian billionaire Laskhmi Mittal, is reportedly reluctant to grant multi-user rights of the railroad to HPX, an American company owned by institutional investors. The negotiation of rail access for the transportation of iron ore from Guinea’s Simandou to the Port of Buchanan has been the subject of intense discussions between the involved parties.

HPX is licensed to mine iron ore in Guinea, close to the border with Liberia in Nimba County. But to do so, the HPX needs a concession agreement to use the railroad from Yekepa to Buchanan, which is currently under the control of ArcelorMittal (AML) based on its existing mineral development agreement with the Government of Liberia (GOL). 

In an August 2023 press release, HPX Chief Executive Officer Bronwyn Barnes noted that “the proposed Liberia – Guinea Corridor is the shortest and most direct export and import route from the iron-rich Nimba district to the seaborne international market, which provides superior logistics and significantly lower carbon emissions than the alternative transport routes.”