Brett Kebble’s diamond link

[] — HOPES OF FULLY unravelling the Byzantine capital and deal flows between Randgold & Exploration and JCI must surely have diminished following the death of Brett Kebble last week. The full extent of the companies’ financial troubles may never be known, and minorities in both companies could end up with few answers. Some secrets, it would appear, are now consigned to the grave.

Ironically, Kebble was hoping to make a clean breast of his business affairs prior to his murder, partly owing to a spiritual conversion in the last weeks of his life (he was baptised into the Reborn Christian church) and under pressure to comply with the efforts of the reconstituted boards of Randgold and JCI.

KPMG was drafted in to replace Charles Orbach & Co to conduct a more thorough audit of the firms. Kebble’s willingness to turn over his knowledge of the companies’ affairs appears to have been the trigger to what increasingly looks like a brutal assassination.

Conspiracy theories are ten-a-penny, both in Johannesburg and overseas – where the death of a certain South African businessman has piqued interest. But one of the more compelling theories is that Kebble threatened to expose Angolan diamond traders who were making use of JCI’s Letseng diamond mine in Lesotho to wash smuggled gems. If true, that’s a controversial contention but unsubstantiated.

But the stream of diamonds flowing from Letseng has surprised those who have access to such information. Diamantaires, of Antwerp, an important Belgian diamond trading station, won’t accept parcels of unpolished diamonds from Letseng, which they deem atypical. Letseng normally produces few – but large – diamonds. The recent run of mine production has been quite different.

One flicker of upside to this sorry affair is that questions regarding the legitimacy of the Randgold and JCI boards have been put to rest. Though creditors will now run the companies, Brett Kebble’s purported influence over Peter Gray, CEO of both firms and an established friend, is a non-issue. That should bring some relief to Neal Froneman, CEO of Aflease Gold & Uranium Resources (Aflease), who has been campaigning to have the boards changed, feeling that Kebble wanted to pull the strings after resigning from the boards.

Plans to have Randgold and JCI pushed into a single empowerment-begetting entity will also recede; in fact, it could be argued that without Brett Kebble, the companies may cease to be active at all, particularly Randgold.

Kebble’s death also means that a number of empowerment fledglings may also perish quicker than first expected. Black businessmen Sello Rasethaba and Andile Nkuhlu rushed to the scene of the crime last week. What they saw would have horrified them, but they were also witnessing the end of their empowerment dreams in their current formats.