By Tileni Mongudhi | 2 September 2021
RUSSIAN national Valentin Khalin has for years allegedly been selling himself as a businessman with strong connections to Namibian politicians.
Khalin has been living in Namibia since 2007 and allegedly has the reputation of being an ‘imposter’, who brags about his proximity to power.
A government investigation conducted with the assistance of the Namibian embassy in Moscow in 2013 allegedly concluded that Khalin was indeed an imposter.
In 2018, Khalin was granted permanent residency in Namibia, despite recommendations by other authorities that his application be rejected.
The Namibian has since August last year attempted to get clarity on Khalin’s Namibian residency from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security – to no avail.
His case involves ongoing concerns that foreign individuals with connections to power obtain citizenship easily and in some cases under questionable circumstances.
Khalin is a mysterious figure.
In Namibia, he is known as ‘General Khalin’ because of his alleged ties to the former Russian national spy agency known as the KGB.
Some Namibian authorities were once so interested in him that his file allegedly received the attention of key government offices, such as State House, and the ministries of international relations, home affairs and mines and energy.
In 2012 to 2013, his file also landed on the desks of the former director general of the Namibia Central Intelligence Service, Lucas Hangula, and police inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga.
Khalin’s list of former business partners includes politically connected individuals, such as Paragon Investment owner Desmond Amunyela, George Namundjebo and Nangolo Malima.
The Namibian has seen a letter dated December 2012 addressed to former minister of mines and energy Isak Katali, alleging that Khalin cheated would-be investors, mainly Russians, by falsely claiming that money would be paid to senior government politicians and officials.
The letter was signed by four senior employees of the multinational Sintez Group’s oil and gas subsidiaries: Andrey Kryatov, Sergey Paraketsov, Elena Repina and Ivan Gavrylov.
Paul Kharnas, Khalin’s former business partner, also signed the letter.
Questions sent to the Sintez Group went unanswered.
The four told Katali in the letter that Khalin’s modus operandi was to propose assisting investors by lobbying the government for projects, including mining and exploration concessions.
In exchange, he would ask for payments of between US$10 000 and US$2 million, they said.
The ‘partners’ claimed they later learned that Khalin would take the money for himself.
The Russian is also accused of pocketing funds from his business partners, supposedly intended for developing business ventures in Namibia.
“He gave foreign investors the impression that the Namibian government is totally corrupt, which we trust is not true,” the letter stated.
Katali in October last year said he remembers the letter, but that his memory was unclear about any action taken by his ministry.
Law-enforcement sources told The Namibian they are aware of Khalin being accused of soliciting payments from potential Russian investors in Namibia intended for senior politicians at least twice.
No charges have emanated from these accusations.
Among Khalin’s known associates in Namibia is businessman George Namundjebo, the son of the late Eliakim Namundjembo, who had strong ties to Swapo.
The Namundjebos are close to former presidents Hifikepunye Pohamba and Sam Nujoma.
George Namundjebo confirmed partnering with Khalin in a failed mining venture.
“I have lost contact with him and we have not talked for about six years,” he says.
Businessman Nangolo Malima also used to be Khalin’s business partner.
Malima is the son of former NCIS director general Fillemon Malima.
Nangolo, who has a construction background and is fluent in Russian, says his business partnership with Khalin was limited to construction and logistics, and that he cut ties with the Russian in 2018.
He says he knew nothing about the 2013 investigation into Khalin.
“I am not aware of or privy to any investigations into Khalin.”
Another prominent name connected to Khalin is businessman Desmond Amunyela.
He says he met the Russian around 2010.
Khalin introduced him to potential business partners whom he did business with in Sierra Leone, Angola and Zimbabwe, he says.
Amunyela says he had a 10% share in one of Khalin’s mining ventures, but has since withdrawn his investment because the project yielded no results.
At least three sources familiar with Khalin’s activities in Namibia says he claimed to be a decorated war hero who was among the Soviet officers assigned to help Swapo’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (Plan), in Angola during the liberation struggle.
Khalin allegedly claims he is a retired general of Russian military intelligence, known as the General Intelligence Department, and that he is the president of the Russia-Namibia Friendship Association.
He has also led some people to believe he is a former member of the then KGB.
Sources say the 2013 investigation into Khalin found that he was never a general in the Russian military and that he had never seen military action or assisted in Namibia’s liberation struggle.
A source familiar with the investigation says Khalin served in the Russian army between 1981 and 1990, but only in the Soviet Union, and was never in active combat.
The source says he was medically boarded from the army in 1990.
The Russian embassy has allegedly vouched for Khalin as a legitimate and trustworthy Russian businessman in Namibia.
The Russian embassy in Namibia did not respond to questions about Khalin.
Namibia has a long history of embracing questionable foreigners who wash up on its shores and ingratiate themselves with the country’s political and business elite.
In exchange for residence rights, politically connected Namibians often receive generous donations and gifts, lucrative business opportunities or attractive soft loans, which commercial financial institutions would not grant them.
Most prominent among such long-term visitors were the Israeli-American tech millionaire Jacob (Kobi) Alexander and convicted Cosa Nostra mafioso Vito Roberto Palazzolo (aka Robert von Palace Kolbatschenko).
A fugitive from justice, Alexander staved off extradition to the United States for 10 years before agreeing in 2016 to return to the US and hand himself over to the authorities.
He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was allowed to serve his jail term in Israel.
He has now been released.
Desmond Amunyela and his business partner, Lazarus Jacobs, made headlines in 2014 after it was revealed in an affidavit by Jacobs that their company, Paragon Investments, had benefited from soft loans in excess of N$7-million advanced by Alexander.
Palazzolo was arrested while on holiday in Thailand in 2012.
At the time, he was living in Namibia.
He had been a fugitive from Italian justice since 1986.
In 2013, a year after his arrest, he was sentenced to a nine-year jail term in Italy.
He was released in March 2019.
– Mathias Haufiku contributed to this story last year. He is now the news editor at Namibian Sun.
* This article was produced by The Namibian’s Investigative Unit and the Advancement of Journalism Centre. Send story tips via your secure email to [email protected]