Atomic Anne, her husband and the dubious $2.5 billion African uranium deal

Details emerging from investigations into Areva’s purchase of African uranium miner UraMin are beginning to resemble a spy novel.

A new report into the 2007 acquisition suggest the $2.5 billion deal was concluded under “very dubious” circumstances:

Areva executives may have facilitated the fraud and bought the mines sight unseen while former boss Anne Lauvergeon, nicknamed “Atomic Anne” by the French media, claims she and her husband, suspected of benefitting from the deal, have been spied on.

Reuters quotes Marc Eichinger, a consultant who said he was commissioned by the French nuclear giant to produce a confidential report on the deal:

Eichinger, who did not return calls by Reuters, said the fraud could have been facilitated by some executives at Areva, without citing names.

He said Areva made the acquisition on the basis of information provided by a company paid by UraMin, instead of sending its own experts to evaluate the potential of UraMin’s mines.

At the time, Areva said it expected UraMin’s deposits in South Africa, Namibia and the Central African Republic to produce around 7,000 tonnes annually from 2012.

Le Parisienne reported earlier this month, Lauvergeon, who left the group in June after ten years at the helm, filed a complaint with France’s fraud investigation agency (BRDP) that alleges Alp Services, a forensic accounting and PI firm, hacked into their computers and stole confidential information regarding the UraMin transaction. At issue was wether her husband Olivier Fric benefits from the deal.

Le Parisienne this week also reported Lauvergeon has hired a lawyer to get the EUR 1.5 million severance package she says is owed to her but which is being held back as a result of the investigations.

Areva has been struggling financially since the March Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster led to a drop in uranium prices. At the end of 2011 Areva announced write-downs of EUR1.5 billion in relation to the African mining operations and specifically the massive Trekkopje project in Namibia, and more than EUR800 million in charges against its nuclear operations. It is also said it will start a programme to reduce costs in the organization by EUR 1 billion over the next three years.

This week the company, which employs 48,000 people worldwide, in a terse statement denied rumours of a takeover of Dutch, British and German nuclear firm Urenco although it left the door open to future negotiations:

Following recent press rumours, AREVA (Paris:AREVA) denies any intention to acquire a stake in Urenco for the time being.

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