Phil Edmonds: a man who “charms the birds off trees”

Phil Edmonds, ex-England cricketer turned mining tycoon, is in a spot of bother.

There was an unwelcome surprise for ex-England cricketer turned mining tycoon, Phil Edmonds, last week, says The Guardian. As world leaders converged in London for the start of the government's international anti-corruption summit, the campaign group Global Witness singled out the former spin bowler and his business partner, Andrew Groves, for scrutiny accusing them of operating a "corrupt business empire in Africa".

A report by the group, based on a cache of leaked documents, alleges that companies founded and run by Edmonds and Groves notably Sable Mining Africa and African Medical Investments paid "bribes" to officials in Liberia, and raised millions from shareholders to buy a property owned by an offshore trust that benefited extended family members. Both men "strongly deny any wrongdoing".

The allegations relating to Sable date back to 2010 when Edmonds chaired the London-listed miner (he stepped down in 2014) and Groves was chief executive, says The Times. The pair sought to secure the rights to mine Liberia's "coveted" Wologizi mountains. Global Witness alleges that "bribes and highly questionable payments" of around $250,000 were paid during a four-month period. Ultimately, Sable failed to secure the rights. But its Liberian connections "stood it in good stead several years later" when it secured the rights to transport ore mined in neighbouring Guinea through Liberia, prompting Sable's shares to rise "fourfold".

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The episode is just the latest controversy to hit Edmonds, 65, who after a distinguished cricketing career, became a gung-ho businessman. As the Evening Standard noted in 2005, this resulted in him acquiring "almost as many companies as Test match caps". Born in Zambia, to a British father and Belgian mother, Edmonds moved to Kent as a child. By the time he arrived at Cambridge he was an established cricketing star and went on to captain the university team before starting his professional career playing for Middlesex. His sporting career was "characterised by frequent brushes with cricket's officialdom". His wife, Frances, later wrote that he had a reputation "for being awkward and arrogant, mainly because he is awkward and arrogant".

Edmonds and Groves first made headlines in 2005 when shares in their oil explorer, White Nile, were suspended, having soared from 10p to 138p in "four days of frenetic trading" on hopes of access to a lucrative oil field in war-torn Sudan. The partnership extended deeper into Africa. But by 2008 the empire had "crumbled" in the face of economic forces then "ravaging" oil and mining, says the Financial Times. The pair reinvented their White Nile flagship as an agricultural company, Agriterra, which now has established beef, cocoa, maize and palm oil operations. Doubtless Edmonds will hope to brush off this latest setback, but Global Witness could prove a doughty opponent. Edmonds was once described as a man who could charm "the birds off trees" he may need all those skills in the weeks ahead.