On 3rd October 2021, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released a bulk of 12 million leaked documents – The Pandora Papers. Analysing some of the documents, journalists from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) revealed how Chinese Tech giant Huawei had through corrupt practices set up an influential responsive network benefitting its business. Faced with repeated allegations of bribery , Huawei vehemently invokes the absence of explicit evidence all while never failing to underline the fallacious modus of western propaganda. Findings from an investigation by Capital on the dealings between Huawei and operatives of Mauritius Telecom (MT) might well call for a change in narrative of the Shenzhen based company. –
RAJEN VALAYDEN ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the prelude of its Anti- Bribery Compliance (ABC) policy, Huawei recognises “that corruption severely damages fair market competition and is a threat to the development of our society, economy, and enterprises. Huawei upholds the principles of conducting business ethically and with integrity, and complies with all applicable anti-bribery laws and regulations in countries and regions where it operates. Huawei applies a “zero-tolerance” approach towards corruption.”
Yet the Pandora Papers revealed how former Telekom Srbija executive Igor Jecl had received over USD 1.4 million in contracts, dividends, loans, consulting fees, and an apartment from an offshore company that was paid by Huawei for consultancy. The payments were linked to contracts with Huawei, for services that included introducing Huawei to government officials and arranging meetings for the Chinese company. Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) reported that Igor Jecl was asked to assist Huawei in obtaining approvals, licenses, and ensure the customer (Telekom Srbija) to make payments to Huawei in a timely and prompt manner, with the bigger picture being, the overhaul of Serbia’s telecommunications infrastructure. The Huawei business model is simple and effective. Initially it stoops to bag the core network and nurtures good relationship with stakeholders, then upgrade contracts and other products will follow at a much higher price. A modus operandi which remains essentially unchanged despite adjustments made according to varying realities of each country.
FTTH Project – The warming up
In September 2013 – Mauritius Telecom (MT) announced the commercial launch of its fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) high speed internet network in selected areas. Successful tests had been carried out since early 2013 in city areas and coverage had been completed across the densely populated areas of the country by December 2014. The management of the project until 2015 had been fully ensured by MT, with Huawei as the equipment supplier and implementation contractors being Sagemcom, ZTE , CCS and others. As per the normal course of action MT would have covered the island by 2018. Then came the pompous announcement of ACCELERATED FFTH project which even found its way in the 2016 government budget speech. A bid was floated to seek TWO contractors who would enable the rapid deployment of the FFTH. Following the exercise, Huawei and Sagemcom were found to have offered the most suitable bids. However, the contract was allocated only to Huawei. While the former CEO of MT takes much pride in this achievement, there are a few concerns which have till date remained unattended. The facts are: 1) By 2015 over half of the country had been fully covered and partial migration achieved, 2) Huawei is only a supplier of equipment and would have to outsource all works 3) Until then the project had been professionally managed by Mauritius Telecom 4) All accessories and devices required by contractors had been until then sourced by Mauritius Telecom. These were of the finest grade and were sourced through the Top Sourcing mechanism of Orange, whereby MT had absolute control.
Now the questions which arise: 1) Would any sound minded entrepreneur outsource management of a project while having required resources inhouse ? 2) Should the rapid deployment have been a real priority, would it not make sense to increase the workload of contractors or increase the number of contractors as to reach the objectives set, rather than giving away the contract to Huawei? 3) Hasn’t Huawei outsourced the task to contractors previously working for MT ? 4) Were the materials provided by Huawei (optical fibre) of the same standard as the ones initially procured by MT ? 5) Who owned the companies supplying materials to Huawei ? 6) What were the credentials of the companies benefitting contracts from Huawei ? Is it not ironical that MT allocates contract to Huawei then invites its own staff to proceed onto early retirement and these employees finally find themselves working for sub contractors of MT ?
The FTTH outsourcing to Huawei seems to have been a test case for bigger prosects. To mask their obscure motives, operatives in MT had found the perfect alibi and lured public opinion onto believing nothing could go wrong with one of the world’s biggest brand. The contract value of the FTTH project is estimated at approximately MUR 5,2 billion.
MARS – A treasure worth MUR 900 m
The MARS project consists of connecting Rodrigues island to mainland Mauritius through a 677 kilometre cable laying 3 000 metres deep into the sea. In a statement to the media during the launching ceremony (L’express 18th November 2018) former CEO of MT revealed, how it was during one of his visits in 2015 that he came up with the amazing idea connecting Rodrigues through a marine cable. A narrative which once again the media gulped gullibly. A verification of their own archives would have enabled them to get the facts right. The idea of connecting Rodrigues Island goes back to 2010. In August 2014, AXIOS SAS, consultant retained by then government for the feasibility study, submitted its report and estimated the project cost to vary between MUR 600 m and MUR 1 bn. A retired Principal Telecom Engineer affirms that back in November 2014, view its expertise in the field, Alcatel was all set to bag the contract. With the appointment of the new CEO following change in government, the project only resurfaced in 2016. According to a senior minister having participated in the cabinet meeting of 1st April 2016, members were informed that the project would cost approximately MUR 700 m. Again the usual chorus. MARS project was deemed as an utmost PRIORITY, Huawei was awarded the contract and tax payers ended up paying MUR 1,6 bn. Obviously neither the contract nor the accounts are available for scrutiny.
Safe City – Cops caught cold
In March 2021, answering to a parliamentary question, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth stated that The Safe City project, is being implemented for the purpose of safeguarding national security as well as public security. The project, he stated, will enable the Mauritius Police Force to effectively discharge its duties under the Police Act and such other duties as may be conferred upon it under any other enactment.
Pravind Jugnauth underlined that the project comprises the following deliverables: (a) Supply, installation, testing and commissioning of 4000 Intelligent Video Surveillance cameras over 2000 sites; (b) Supply, installation, testing and commissioning of 300 Intelligent Traffic Surveillance cameras over 75 sites; (c) Supply, installation, testing and commissioning of 45 Enterprise/Enhanced Long Term Evolution sites, including 4,500 Multimedia Radio Trunking and 500 Vehicular mounted terminals; and (d) Centralised Command and Control Centres.
There is an estimated 70 Huawei’s Safe City projects spread across 52 countries. Most of them either drawing concerns over imported Chinese authoritarianism or marred with controversies. Xiao Qiang, Director and Research Scientist at the University of California, Berkeley believes the Safe City represents the global expansion of the Chinese system of digital authoritarianism. Which implies to control, monitor and coerce societies using this type of safe and smart city technology. Over the medium and long term, Huawei’s foothold will certainly reap significant financial rewards.
As in every other country, the Huawei Safe City Project in Mauritius was pushed by intermediaries from MT who lobbied intensely at the highest level of the government. Interestingly in all countries, NGOs’ , Independent media and opposition parties have questioned the relevance of the project given the dominant economic priorities. The standard reply to these critics has been the grossly exaggerated benefits attributed to the Safe City. The determining factor in many cases has been the financing by Chinese Agencies which is bundled along the smoggy Safe City Project.
In August 2012, following investigation, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared Islamabad Safe City contract with Huawei, null and void. The three-member bench of Supreme Court comprising of Nasir-ul-Mulk, Asif Saeed Khosa and Azmat Saeed gave a landmark ruling which resounds as a tight slap to both government officials and Huawei. The queries raised by the learned judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan do put to shame our institutions, media, NGOs and opposition parties who have together displayed obvious symptoms of impotency.
Drawing lessons from the Islamabad adventure, Huawei made serious amends to its approach and the securing of the Safe City Project in Mauritius shows how ingenious they can be. All agreements pertaining the Safe City Project were reached with Mauritius Telecom and not government institutions nor even the Mauritius Police Force (MPF). A mechanism which would enable to evade public scrutiny. As for MT good governance only summed up to a few lines in its annual report and swept any possible query under the carpet of secrecy. The financing by Exim Bank of China disbursed in instalments, amounts to USD 86,7 m, whereas MT chipped in USD 13,3 m mainly for the purchase of devices.
While one would expect the 4500 Huawei LTE broadband trunking handset and 500 Huawei’s vehicle-mounted station for broadband trunking to have been acquired directly from Huawei, the fact is USD 13,3 m ( MUR 532 000 000) have been paid into an account of a third party namely, Anglomobility based in Jumeirah Lakes Tower, Dubai, United Arab Emirates DMCC. The company boasts of being a leading supplier in the industry offering high quality products. Investigation by Capital reveals that Anglomobility has charged Mauritius Telecom USD 2600 per trunking handset which is 110% above the selling price of Huawei. Moreover both Huawei and Anglomobility have knowingly provided our police force with EP820 handsets and EV750 stations which are both obsolete. As in the case of Islamabad and Lahore, hundreds of CCTV cameras are faulty. Yet despite all the flaws, incomplete commissioning and absence of a full Provisional Acceptance Certificate (PAC)from the client ( Mauritius Police Force), staff of MT have been pressurised to issue a PAC of their own as to release full payment to Huawei. As revealed by OCCRP in the case of Telekom Srbija, Huawei always insisted on early payment. The question that arises in the case of Mauritius Telecom, who is the Igor Jecl.
In the well-knit web of companies dealing with the Safe City Project we find Mobimea Ltd ( incorporated on 5th January 2010 ) with unique shareholder, Mobimea Holdings ( incorporated on 21 November 2016) itself owned by Anglomobility. Among those omnipresent in the most lucrative dealings of Mauritius Telecom, we also find DNS Consult ( incorporated on 16th September 2016). DNS Consult has also been dealing with Mauritius Police Force for the development of a Parking Management System. The common denominator amongst all these companies is one name. The person who the former CEO of MT claims to be a brilliant entrepreneur and to whom he is extremely close – Danesh Ellayah. While the Safe City Project dates back to 2017 and implementation was well underway, the disturbing fact is Danesh Ellayah was the Deputy Managing Director of Huawei ( Mauritius) , until 4th September 2019. It would therefore be hard not to find intent and collusion.
The Safe City Project was meant to fight crime and yet it has been till now the very instrument used commit so many of them, with the Mauritius Police Force caught like sitting ducks at a fancy fair. As for the tax payers, every CCTV camera down street would remind them of the additional MUR 19 bn debt they would have to pay over the next 20 years.
Single RAN – Insolence, impunity, immunity
Single Radio Access Network (SRAN) consists of multipurpose hardware and common software for 2G, 3G and 4G technologies. Supporting a multitude of hardware sharing options, SRAN involves installing a single base station unit that provides the functionality of a new LTE base station and also replaces legacy 2G and 3G base stations at every radio site. The bid for SRAN was floated in 2017 and according to reliable sources, as per the evaluation guidelines set out in the bidding documents, the offer from Nokia was ranked first. But the management of MT decided to introduce a new evaluation criterion which resulted in ranking Huawei ahead of Nokia.
The contract clearly specified that upon installation of the Single RAN, Huawei should decommission all existing Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) comprising of antennas, Microwave, Waveguide cables, Rectifier, Radio Base Station, Duplexers, Data Distribution Frame rack, Transceiver Unit (TRU), Trunking and TX cabinet. The cost of merely this operation across thousands of sites amounts to MUR 35m. The PAC for the project has been issued and Huawei paid in full despite not fulfilling all mandatory scope of work.
Upon the need to renew the existing Astellia RAN optimisation tool, management of MT went against the recommendations of inhouse engineers who insisted the new version of Astellia was the best on the market, supported multi-technology and multi-vendor networks. Instead of heeding to the advice, MT acquired the Huawei CEM. An addiction which comes at a cost.
The multi-million-dollar bluff
On 19th July 2021, Mauritius Telecom released a communique informing its customers of a technical snag impacting on the internet service delivery. On 20th July 2021 Girish Guddoy, then Chief Technical Officer (CTO) revealed on Teleplus ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NM8AYAUIAqo ) that the issue faced on the 19th was a malicious attempt by cybercriminals commonly known as a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. The CTO affirmed that “engineers” and “experts” of MT had been relentlessly attending to the unprecedented attack. A narrative nobody within the media could possibly have any reason to doubt, yet as usual failed to follow up. The investigation by Capital reveals that NEVER such an attack did occur. The story of a DDoS attack was cooked up in the office of then Chief Executive Officer to cover up the blunder by one of its technical cadres. The so called “engineers” and “experts” moved in by the CTO were all technical staff of Huawei who accessed the MT facility at Orleans ( Line Barracks) and despite a day’s long trial, they were unable to identify the root cause of the issue. Later in the evening of 19th July 2021, it was a junior cadre of MT who, identified and solved the problem, that too through a remote access. What followed defies any known logic! Making the most of the story, Huawei spontaneously proposed to conduct a Network Audit free of cost. A proposal to which the CTO and CEO agreed and granted technical staff of Huawei full access to complete architecture of MT network and equipment. An exercise following which Huawei came up with recommendations to: i) upgrade all existing Huawei equipment and ii) replace all other foreign equipment with Huawei alternatives. The project costing millions of USD had been approved by then CTO and CEO.
The back seat pilot
Sources within MT reveal that Danesh Ellayah has in fact been the shadow CEO or even the backseat pilot of Mauritius Telecom over the last 5 years. They claim he has influenced most strategic decisions, right from choice of technology, recruitment of staff, to award of contracts. Some cadres even claim he was so talented that he could get MT to buy empty boxes, making them believe it was the latest technology. Though it may sound weird, truth is not far away. In January 2022, MT launched a new range of services following its partnership with Showmax, which called for replacement of all setup boxes by a new smart box. MT opted for Skyworth smart boxes instead of more reliable options. The company which supplied the thousands of smart boxes out of which most are faulty, is none other than Anglomobility . Guess who’s service has been retained to work on the new cloud service to be offered by MT later this month!
Digital Sovereignty – Compromised
With the pace at which the world is shifting from REAL to VIRTUAL, it would be reasonable to believe any responsible government would consider its digital sovereignty as an utmost priority. Digital sovereignty implies consideration of how data and digital assets are treated. While Social Media platforms and search engines extract data for profit, technology developers are prone to have wider ambitions ranging from political and economic control through a smooth takeover of a nation’s digital sovereignty.
The debate over the 5G legislation in France contributes significantly to the understanding of concerns states should express over threats posed to network integrity, national security and digital sovereignty. On 5th February 2021, the Constitutional Council of France validated the “5G” legislation challenged in 2019 by the French telecom operators, thereby maintaining that the said law is aimed at safeguarding the fundamental interests of the Nation. Elaborating on its reasoning, the Constitutional Council affirms there is risk to the permanence, integrity, security, or availability of the network or to the confidentiality and communication-related information. These concerns arise from the level of safety of devices, the conditions under which their deployment and their operation are planned by the operator, and the lack of control on or interference in the operator, its providers, or its sub-contractors and the pertinence to protect the mobile radio networks against any risk of being spied on, hacked, or sabotaged. It is surely not a coincidence that the law has been dubbed by French legislators and media as the “anti-Huawei” law.
The recent commotion sparked by former CEO of MT on the alleged intention of India to fix a sniffing device at the landing station of Baie Jacotet does indicate the importance, people do attach to the sensitive issue of data. It would be interesting to know how the population would react, should they be made aware that the integrity of their national telecommunications network is compromised. It is hard to find any other national telecoms carrier in the world wherein an equipment supplier runs the show and the company shamelessly takes pride in such incestuous relationship. One of the repeated allegations purported against Huawei relates to the enrolling of senior cadres of Telcom companies to lobby in their favour. In the case of Mauritius Telecom, they seem to have gone a step further by infiltrating their own cadres in strategic positions within MT. Reliable sources within the Network department recall having observed back in 2018, unknown names which featured in various slots on a draft organigram. By March 2019, the named persons, all hailing from Huawei had been recruited without any selection exercise and posted in key positions. This issue was raised at a meeting between a concerned trade union and the former CEO. Let alone the physical presence of Huawei staff in every corner of the company accessing any data, they now have plotted their personnel all the way from departments initiating projects right to the bid evaluation committee.
Who needs backdoors ?
Traditionally, by design hardware such as, switching equipment, base stations, antennas and cellphone carriers which form the networks that enable mobile communication and computing do enable lawful tapping by authorities. So let’s not be surprised about possibilities of network sniffing. Technological evolution has turned network appliances into high speed processing boxes (SDNs – Software Defined Networks) which can be configured to perform various network tasks. As any other connected device, performance of the SDNs require regular configuration and updates. Which implies, if its online and accessed on a remote basis, then there can be absolutely no security certification nor guarantee from exposure. MT Technical staff have on numerous observed the system’s failure at a particular time to respond to commands. This according to them, could only imply the system is busy. Thereby the question “ Busy doing what ?”. Another concern pertains to Huawei technical staff who connect freely to MT networks using their devices and carry out unsupervised operations. While the general rhetoric thrown at Huawei elsewhere pertains to illegal access through backdoor entries, technical staff of MT affirm that with the front gates of MT wide open Huawei doesn’t require any such shortcuts.
The Huawei trap
As reported by Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) Igor Jecl was asked to assist Huawei in obtaining approvals and licenses, with the bigger picture being, the overhaul of Serbia’s telecommunications infrastructure. Over the last 18 years, Huawei has managed a complete overhaul of Mauritius Telecom infrastructure. Having captured the market, Huawei has since 2015 with the willingness of the management of MT set its standards, imposed its diktat through third parties and accessed to private data, so vital for the improvement of its technology. Moreover Mauritius Telecom is now in a hostage situation locked in by high replacement costs. The recent 5G project of EMTEL stands as evidence of the extreme overpricing practiced by Huawei. The initial proposal of the Shenzhen based company stood at USD 100 million following which EMTEL sought a proposal of its former partner Ericsson. The first offer from Ericsson was valued at USD 50 million then brought down to USD 38 million. Out of nowhere Huawei revised its offer from USD 100 million to ….. USD 35 million. Meanwhile, Mauritius Telecom is paying billions in terms of service fees, ad ons, licences, upgrades and hardware.
Back in 1985, then Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth believed that it would be inappropriate to allow international communications in the hands of a foreign company (Cable & Wireless) as it would pose a threat to our security and sovereignty. It was the same belief which got former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam to withstand nearly his whole cabinet in 2000 and refuse to enter into a strategic partnership with France Telecom. It is obvious, today our network integrity is compromised by design of ill intended decision makers. Mauritius Telecom which once proudly stood as the flagship of our country has been ripped, scuttled and our countrymen betrayed. The billion dollar question – Will those responsible ever be taken to task ? As long as the postman keeps delivering the little red envelopes (Hong Bao), corruption will flow fearlessly like an endless river.