Ecom and Armajaro maintain they did not fail to pay farmers for certified cocoa beans as Ecom’s trading license is suspended and a media hotchpotch of leaked documents and official positions ensues.
Last month, Côte d'Ivoire coffee and cocoa regulator, Le Conseil du Cafe-Cacao (CCC), suspended Armajaro Trading’s owner Ecom Agroindustrial Corporation from its daily crop auctions and froze exports by its Zamacom unit, after it received complaints that Armajaro had not paid up for certification premiums.
The events were allegedly triggered by a letter sent to the CCC, with copies said to be sent to the Agriculture Ministry, the IFC and the World Bank. Its authors, a group of six farmer cooperatives, reportedly asked the regulator to help them recover premiums they said they were owed for around 1,509 metric tons of Rainforest Alliance-certified cocoa, sold to Armajaro Trading during the 2012-13 season.
The PR company which represents both Ecom and Armajaro has denied this payment failure, but confirmed that Ecom had had its license suspended in Côte d'Ivoire.
Premium finger pointing
Brian Buckley, a PR spokesman for the two firms, declined to comment further on the accusations but said: “The suspension is not linked to any activities by Zamacon. Ecom denies that it has failed to make certification premium payments. We are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.”
Ecom confirmed plans to acquire Armajaro Trading from Armajaro Holdings towards the end of last year through its Switzerland-based company, Pully. The acquisition, reportedly for the price of a Mars bar , must first be approved by the European Commission.
In a separate leaked letter to the CCC regulator seen by Bloomberg, Armajaro Trading reportedly said: “We are extremely concerned by the fact that the decisions of your office may jeopardize the takeover of our company and purely and simply lead to its liquidation.”
The Brunswick Group said that it understood Ecom’s intentions to buy Armajaro Trading had not changed.
A case of mistaken identity?
In the leaked letter, Armajaro Trading said the accusations had arisen from a government misunderstanding around ownership.
In another twist, Ismael Kone, director general of Armajaro Negoce, which supplies Armajaro Trading but is an independent company, told Bloomberg his firm had received funds to pay producers premiums but was yet to receive instruction from Armajaro Trading or Ecom as to how to proceed.
The Brunswick group did not respond to requests for comment, but its position on Wednesday remained that it had not failed to make any payments. The CCC refused to take our call.
According to Ecom it handled around 250,000 tons of cocoa in 2011, and reported a turnover of over $4bn across its cocoa, coffee and cotton divisions.