On 1st of July 2022, the narrative by outgoing CEO of Mauritius Telecom on the “moonch wala” ( Moustache guy) leading the team of experts having accessed the landing station at Baie du Jacotet caused an unprecedented commotion amongst islanders wary of violation of their privacy. Whilst the mainstream media rushed to acclaim Sherry Singh as a saviour of the republic, “The Hong Bao Connection” published by Capital on 5th September 2022, revealed a string of wrongdoings within Mauritius Telecom over the last 7 years. Further investigation has enabled to unearth another deal involving a “moonch wala” who Sherry Singh carefully avoids talking about. Here is a story which could inspire the likes of bollywood director Parmeet Sethi should he wish to produce “Badmaa$h Company 2” or even Rajkumar Hirani in a definite blockbuster “ Munna Bhai CEO”. Rajen Valayden -email@example.com
Since 2015, looting the company had become the favourite sport of certain operatives within Mauritius Telecom. Flouting all known rules of good governance, curbing of procedures and unprecedented levels of favouritism had become the sacrosanct standards. If the abuse of emergency procurement during Covid pandemic to favour cronies and conspiracy along with Huawei cadres to plunder the company constituted some of the highlights, the IOX cable project by its ingenuity surely is, the cherry on the cake.
The IOX Cable was presented as a new open access alternative path for connecting Africa, Asia and onwards to the western world. With the SAFE cable nearing its end of life, the IOX Cable was deemed by management of Mauritius Telecom as an opportunity and Mr Arunachalam Kundasamy a messiah. Here is a name which will be remembered by the government, banks and telecommunications experts around the world.
Here is a timeline listing out some of the key information to be retained on IOX and its founder Mr Kandasamy Arunachalam.
- 27 March 2014 – Mr Arunchalam Kandasamy ( alias Arun), Indian national employed as Head of Operations at SEACOM Ltd was granted Permanent Residence Permit ( OIPR1401444).
- 18th May 2015 – While still being an employee of SEACOM, Mr Kandasamy incorporated INDOI Ltd, company claimed to be operating in the ICT sector.
- 21st September 2016 – INDOI Ltd set up 3 subsidiaries, namely : IOX Transformation Services Ltd ( C141758) offering Data Centre Services, IOX Cable Ltd (C141759) Marine Cable Operator and Indian Ocean Xchange Ltd ( C141760) offering Applications Operations Management Services. The directors of all the above listed companies are Mr Arunachalam Kandasamy and his wife Mrs Arunachalam Selvanayagi.
- 27 March 2017 – INDOI Ltd registers Indian Ocean Exchange India PVT Ltd
- 1st June 2017 – IOX Cable Ltd reached an agreement with Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) for Survey of route and supply of a cable. The contract is valued at USD 60,104,135.
- 28th June 2017 – INDOI Ltd registers Indian Ocean Xchange SA PTY Ltd
- 21st September 2017 – IOX Cable signs a Fibre and Capacity Purchase Agreement with Mauritius Telecom. Contract worth USD 30 000 000 with an immediate down payment of USD 10,500 000 ( approx. MUR 400 000 000)
- 30 October 2017 – SBM provides Bank Guarantee USD 19 500 000 clearly specifying that the guarantee is deemed to be payment made to IOX and shall relieve MT of such obligation to IOX.
- 29th January 2018 – SBM amends the Bank Guarantee
- 8th February 2018 – IOX obtains Bank Guarantee of amount USD 18 000 000 from Barclays Bank as to bridge the gap between the receipt of proceeds from MT and payment obligations to Alcatel Submarine Networks
- 9th April 2018 – IOX project is officially launched in Mauritius by Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Collendavelloo and Minister of ICT Yogida Sawmynaden
- 25th April 2018 – INDOI Ltd registers IOX Transformation Services India PVT Ltd
- 24th May 2018 – IOX project launched in Rodrigues by Minister Mentor Sir Anerood Jugnauth and Chief Island Commissioner Serge Clair
- 25th October 2018 – IOX starts to default on payment of salary
- 27th November 2020 – Cabinet grants authorisation to Mauritius Telecom Ltd for the use of Landing Station at Baie Jacotet for the implementation of a third submarine cable( 4 fibre pair cable, with a capacity of 18 Terabit per second (Tbps) per fibre pair) linking Mauritius to South Africa and, by extension, to the whole world.
- 30th November 2020 – SEACOM Ltd files petition for compulsory winding up of i) IOX Cable Ltd and ii) IOX Transformation Services Ltd
- 23rd December2020 – Bhavish Ramdhony appointed Receiver & Manager of IOX Cable ltd with the mission to recover MUR 500 000 and USD 18 000 000
The unerring red flags
At first sight one might tend to believe its just another story of a “ Business Gone Bad” . But a chary observation of the sequence of events would lead us to uncover a well-planned heist. Hard to be otherwise given the unerring red flags all along the way.
A contrario to SAFE cable which was set up by a consortium of various operators ( Angola Telecom, AT&T, BT, Camtel, China Telecom, Chunghwa Telecom, Cote d’Ivoire Telecom, Ghana Telecommunications Company, KPN, KT, Maroc Telecom, Mauritius Telecom, NATCOM (Nigeria), Neotel, OPT, Orange, PCCW, Proximus, SingTel, Sonatel, Sprint, Tata Communications, Telecom Italia Sparkle, Telecom Namibia, Telekom Malaysia, Telkom South Africa, Telstra, Telxius, Verizon and Vodafone ) IOX comprised only of Arunachalam Kundasamy who despite his years of experience within the sector did not avail of the required credentials for such an endeavour. Moreover the investigation by Capital reveals that the credibility of IOX was solely built around its partnership with Mauritius Telecom.
As early as 27th April 2017, well prior to signing of contract with Alcatel, Julian Rawle, renowned expert in the undersea fibre optic cable industry, reputed for his accuracy and insights, published in one of his analysis “ IOX is an entrepreneurial private cable being driven by a former SEACOM employee and focused on improving connectivity for Mauritius and Rodrigues. However, the cable is also planned to have branch into Toliary, Madagascar with the southern end of the trunk connecting to a branching unit on the existing SEACOM cable. IOX Cable Ltd. claims to have partnerships in place with Mauritius Telecom and SEACOM and is planning to be in service by the middle of 2019. However, the challenges of funding and of interconnecting with an existing live system may prove to be too much “.
29th September 2017, weeks before the agreement between IOX and Mauritius Telecom, Julian Rawle published another analysis stating that “India is notorious for its exorbitant interconnection rates and yet, this is where Kandasamy has chosen to terminate. In this respect, IOX is a me-too system which adds nothing except redundancy and minimal incremental demand from Mauritius and Rodrigues when compared with SEACOM. … Kandasamy has talked previously about relying on vendor finance and the Indo – Mauritius Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement for funding, with SEACOM and Mauritius Telecom as anchor tenants but this is going to be a tough sell to investors”
MARS – A pandora box on its own
Over the years, there have been several attempts to connect mainland Mauritius to Rodrigues Island through a submarine cable. However inability to substantiate a business case failed to secure the funds required. In 2013 promoting connection to internet as a fundamental right, the government gave the nod for the project to move ahead. . 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. In 2018, the 677 kilometre MARS cable connecting Rodrigues island to mainland Mauritius would go on to cost the government a whooping MUR 1,6 bn. The lucky winner as in most MT projects would be Huawei which partnered with PCCW and E-Marine. According to an insider, the offer from IOX was incomplete given it failed to provide the necessary bonds. Which the latter finds extremely strange since it was precisely IOX which had been portrayed as favourite to secure the contract, “unless IOX been used merely as a decoy to rig the bidding exercise”
What should be retained from this part of the story is the sudden interest to connect with Rodrigues despite the repeated claims of the investment reaping barren returns. Not only the MARS project was given a tag of absolute EMERGENCY, but back in April 2018, Mauritius Telecom found itself involved in 2 projects to connect Rodrigues. IOX was launched on 9th April 2018 by Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Collendavelloo and Minister of ICT Yogida Sawmynaden who boasted about the definite outcomes of the project, whereas MARS was officially kickstarted on 4th May 2018. On 24th May 2018 another launching ceremony was carried out. This time in Rodrigues and by non other than Minister Mentor Sir Anerood Jugnauth and Chief Island Commissioner Serge Clair.
The “Kandasamy Modus “
The way Arunachelam Kandasamy craftily leveraged on the repute of Mauritius Telecom to defraud banks and operators of the industry is absolutely amazing. The mechanism applied to transfer and launder the money is even more ingenious. In years to come, the modus of Arunachalam Kandasamy will be imparted to students of Criminology and Forensics.
INDOI along with all the IOX subsidiaries had recruited reputed professionals of the industry hailing from different countries. The façade along with association with flagships such as Alcatel made the task very simple for Arunachalam Kandasamy who by his manoeuvres clearly had no whatsoever intention to deploy the IOX cable.
Following the advance payment by Mauritius Telecom of UDS 10 000 000, Kandasamy Arunachalam transferred from Indian Ocean Exchange Ltd account at the State Bank of India ( Port Louis) – Acc No – 154003103204 and IOX Cable Ltd account at Afrasia Bank Acc No 039449000000017 a sum of INR 310 000 000 to account number 253410364328000000293 of one Mr P Subramanian at Lakshmi Vilas Bank ltd, Kattuputhur Branch, in the district of Tiruchirapalli , Tamil Nadu, India. According to document signed before notary M Arumugam on 21 March 2018, the transfer represents the payment for a plot of land acquired by Kanadasamy Arunachalam. The total payment effected for the purchase of a land of less than 2.4 acres amounted to INR 361,950,000
On 11 September 2018, Mr P Subramanian in a signed document cancels the sale of the land and agrees to refund in instalments the full amount paid to Kandasamy Arunachelam through his company Indian Ocean Exchange India Pvt Ltd. Digging into the transactions between P Subramanian and Kandasamy, we note a clear sequence indicating a tripping from INDOI Ltd ( Mauritius ) through P Subramanian which ultimately goes back to Indian Ocean Exchange India Pvt Ltd.
While all the entities of INDOI are either defunct or in process of deregistration, banks, suppliers have been crippled and employees left to fend for themselves during the pandemic. Satisfied by the narrative fed to them by the operatives of Mauritius Telecom, the main stream media dares not dig further into the story and instead blame the lack of investors for one of the most outrageous heist our country has experienced. While our sources maintain there has been millions of dollars distributed in form of kickbacks, the doubts on whether Kandasamy Arunachelam is brilliant enough to have pulled such a stunt on his own, still persists ? Could he have fooled a whole country without any accomplices or was it an inside job since the very outset ?
It is obvious without the endorsement by Mauritius Telecom, Kandasamy Arunachalam would have never succeeded. Which is surprising for company of its stature having among its staff some of the most seasoned professionals of the region. A source within the Network Department reveals that there was a voice which blew the whistle, but was quickly hushed by the top management. It was the voice of Yagianath Rosunee who has now been appointed Chief Technical Officer (CTO).
Browsing through the annual reports of Mauritius Telecom we observe that under chapter Network, at page 7 of MT Annual Report 2017 , the company states “Moreover, Mauritius Telecom signed an agreement in September 2017 to be the anchor tenant of the IOX Submarine Cable System – the third Mauritian submarine cable, which will connect Mauritius, Reunion Island and Rodrigues to South Africa and India”. The identical text appears on page 11 of MT Annual Report 2018, under chapter Cable Systems & International Capacity. The project simply vanishes from the annual report of Mauritius Telecom 2019 onwards.
Not only Mauritius Telecom signed an agreement to invest USD 30 000 000 in a project where it would only be an anchor tenant, its CEO, intensely lobbied for funds from other operators and institutions. Manvendra Singh personally carried out the presentations and tried to lure government institutions such the Central Electricity Board to plug in USD 30 000 000, despite the fact, experts within the industry believed IOX to be “ the redundant part of a ring that perhaps SEACOM contemplated when they were designing to route around 2005”.
The manoeuvres by then CEO of Mauritius Telecom and the former CTO, Rai Basgeet are utterly confusing. Was that plain stupidity, incompetency at its best or was it complicity ? Anyone with a shrimp brain would have sensed the rot. Let alone the presence within IOX project of one Mr J Patron, a close friend of the former CEO, who even turned supplier of MT at some point, there is an undeniable evidence unearthed in the course of this investigation which leads us to cast aside the possibility of madness.
Back in May 2017, IOX Cable had run out of funds and bizarrely on 2nd June 2017, the CTO of Mauritius Telecom places an order with IOX Cable ltd for 10 Gbps IP Link to Marseille Netcentre via SEACOM Submarine Cable for a total cost of USD 915 000. Our observations here are i) Kandasamy Arunachalam was no longer an employee of SEACOM , ii) should the requirement been real, Mauritius Telecom could have ordered directly to SEACOM iii) at that given time SEACOM was unable to provide the service iv) the service was never delivered v) the payment was never claimed nor returned vi) Instead of IOX cable ltd, payment by Mauritius Telecom was made to INDOI bank account at Afrasia bank ( acc no – 001500024190). Now the billion rupee question. Why would anyone in September 2017, sign a USD 30 000 000 contract with immediate disbursement of USD 10 000 000 to a company with shady credentials, when the same company has proved its absolute unreliability in June 2017 ?
In the midst of the confinement of 2020, Girish Guddoy was appointed CTO in replacement of Rai Basgeet who seemingly was entrusted the mission of international development of Mauritius Telecom until his contract ran out. As the banks are counting their losses, Mauritius Telecom licking its wounds, employees of IOX cursing their absconding boss, others are cozily planning the next heist.