Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest told to remove business interests from the Western Sahara in wake of French kiss

Sean Smith
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest has been urged to stay clear of a disputed African territory amid the fallout from his romantic encounter in a Paris park.
Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest has been urged to stay clear of a disputed African territory amid the fallout from his romantic encounter in a Paris park. Credit: Unknown/Daily Mail

Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest has been urged to stay clear of a disputed African territory amid the fallout from his romantic encounter in a Paris park.

With his business dealings in Morocco in the spotlight after a public kiss with a woman thought to be the country’s energy minister Leila Benali, Mr Forrest has been told to consider the interests of the Western Sahara people before profiting from its rich mineral deposits.

A former Spanish colony, the Western Sahara is viewed as a “non-self-governing region” by the United Nations.

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However, Morocco claims the region as its own and has been fighting an independence movement led by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front for decades.

A newly signed partner of Mr Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group, Morocco’s State-owned OCP, has been supplying global markets with phosphate mined from the Western Sahara since the 1980s.

Polisario’s Australian representative, Kamal Fadel, appealed to the Australian magnate’s “environmental commitments and philanthropic values” in urging him to “stay clear of the illegally occupied territory of Western Sahara and not get involved in the plunder of its resources”.

Despite Fortescue emphasising that none of its proposed projects in Morocco are in the disputed region, Polisario fears that the miner’s involvement in the country “will financially support Morocco’s occupation and undermine UN decolonisation efforts”.

“We are aware of Mr Forrest’s efforts to leave the world a better place, his commitment to the environment and pledge to give away large part of his fortune to charity,” he said.

“There we urge him to consider the plight of the people of Western Sahara who have been suffering from occupation and exile for over 50 years and not further extend their suffering.”

While gossip in Perth suggests Forrest and Ms Benali have been seeing each other, the face of the woman captured in the intimate moment can’t be seen.
While gossip in Perth suggests Forrest and Ms Benali have been seeing each other, the face of the woman captured in the intimate moment can’t be seen. Credit: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

Fortescue’s joint venture with OCP over development of a multi billion-dollar green energy and ammonia hub in Morocco would be potentially complicated by any romantic involvement between Mr Forrest and Ms Benali, as she is also on the board of the Moroccan company.

Confirmation of a relationship could subsequently pull both on to tricky ground.

However, the identity of the woman being embraced by Mr Forrest in the City of Love two weeks ago can’t be established with certainty.

Mr Forrest, valued in this week’s AFR Rich List at nearly $17 billion, was unmistakable in the iPhone snap published in the Daily Mail last weekend, sporting chinos turned out by upmarket bush outfitter RM Williams - owned in partnership with estranged wife Nicola - and Cuban-heeled RM boots.

While gossip in Perth suggests he and Ms Benali have been seeing each other, the face of the woman captured in the intimate moment can’t be seen.

The Daily Mail quoted “an observer” as saying Mr Forrest was seen with his arm around his companion’s shoulders as they walked along Rue de Francs-Bourgeois through the historic Marais district on the Right Bank of the River Seine.

At one point, Fortescue’s founder and executive chairman offered her his jacket against the cool spring evening temperature, the newspaper said.

The couple later stopped and kissed in the city’s oldest square, the Place de Vosges.

The Daily Mail did not name the woman. That was left to The Australian newspaper, which suggested a few days later it was Ms Benali.

There is no suggestion of impropriety. Both are single, Mr Forrest and wife Nicola last year confirming they had separated after 31 years of marriage but remained “aligned” on their extensive joint business and philanthropic interests.

The Fortescue camp has declined to comment on the photograph, citing Mr Forrest’s right to privacy. Interestingly, however, neither has it jumped to Ms Benali’s defence by declaring it was not her in the photo.

Mr Forrest.
Mr Forrest. Credit: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Ms Benali’s response has been curious. While some local reporting suggests she has denied a relationship with Mr Forrest, there’s a degree of ambiguity.

She did not address the matter publicly when questioned this week, but a statement later from her Department of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development said she denied a connection to the photograph.

“She prioritises the current critical issues related to energy transition, sustainable development, and the nation’s wellbeing over such baseless claims,” reads the statement.

It also suggested the “French kiss” was yet another attempt to hurt Ms Benali’s reputation, claiming it was part of a conspiracy by unnamed interest groups.

“It is a form of revenge and targeting by interest groups on the grounds of (their) failure to achieve certain gains and objectives.”

There have also been suggestions Ms Benali is considering defamation actions.

Ms Benali, 46, took up her ministerial role in Morocco nearly three years ago off the back of an impressive CV covering engineering and energy policy, finance, economics and politics over more than 20 years.

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