Politician named as Twiggy’s mystery woman in Paris photo hits back

A Moroccan politician identified as the mystery woman seen kissing Australian mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forest in Paris has reportedly refuted the “baseless” claim.

Mr Forrest, 62, who separated from his wife Nicola last July after more than thirty years, was spotted taking a “very affectionate” stroll with a woman along the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois on the banks of the Seine.

They were photographed stopping for a kiss in the city’s oldest square, Place de Vosges, last Saturday. The Daily Post reported for the first time.

Her identity was later claimed by The Australian It will be Leila Benali, Morocco’s Energy Minister.

Ms Benali also sits on the board of OCP Group, one of Fortescue’s joint venture partners in the North African country, where the Perth-based mining giant is drawing up plans for a multi-billion dollar investment in renewable energy and green ammonia.

In her first public comment since the newspaper published her identity, a Moroccan journalist asked Ms Benali whether she was in a romantic relationship with Ms Forrest and whether they had a business relationship.

“No, no, I will not speak,” she said before being escorted out, in footage posted on a local news website, via The Australian.

However, the website Morocco World News has since quoted a statement from the Moroccan Ministry of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development in which this report is flatly denied.

The statement called the news report “offensive” and said it was spread without “some national sites and media platforms verifying its credibility.”

Ms Benali “denies any connection with either image as a responsible government minister and as a Moroccan woman and mother,” Morocco World News reported.

She also expressed her “gratitude and appreciation to all those who have shown her support and solidarity as she grapples with what she considers to be a fabricated and baseless story.”

The Ministry for Energy Transition and Sustainable Development was asked for a statement.

Fortescue again refused on Wednesday to confirm or deny the reports naming Ms Benali.

A spokeswoman for Mr Forrest declined to comment on the Paris photo over the weekend for privacy reasons.

In April, Fortescue announced a joint venture with OCP Group, one of the world’s largest phosphate mining companies, to supply Morocco, Europe and international markets with green hydrogen, ammonia and fertilizers.

The deal includes the potential development of manufacturing facilities and an R&D centre to advance Morocco’s rapidly growing renewable energy industry, the ASX-listed mining company said in an announcement.

“Our strategic partnership with Fortescue is a testament to our shared commitment to decarbonization, to developing state-of-the-art facilities and to delivering competitive renewable energy, products and technologies,” Mostafa Terrab, Chairman and CEO of OCP Group, said in a statement at the time.

“This is a crucial step towards realising our vision of simultaneously ensuring global food security and combating climate change.”

In the announcement, Mr Forrest said the two companies will “build a world-leading and globally competitive platform to support Morocco’s journey to becoming a hub for green energy production, manufacturing and industry.”

“Together we will be an important starting point and green corridor to Europe and to and from the Atlantic basin,” he said.

“Morocco will play an important role in the global energy transition as it has some of the world’s most promising wind and solar resources, two long coastlines and is in close proximity to Europe and America.”

The OCP Group, which had sales of more than US$9 billion ($13.5 billion) last year, recently launched a green investment strategy focused on increasing fertilizer production from 12 million tons in 2022 to 20 million tons per year and investing in renewable energy.

“The strategy envisages a total investment of approximately US$13 billion ($19.5 billion) over the period 2023-2027, which will enable the group to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2027 and achieve complete carbon neutrality by 2040,” it said.

But his plans are already controversial in Morocco. The Australian reports.

The OCP Group had originally planned to build a green ammonia production center in the small fishing village of Tarfaya in southwest Morocco, just 35 kilometers from the disputed border with Western Sahara.

A separatist movement of the traditional Sahrawi people has launched attacks on Moroccan troops in the region this year.

Morocco has claimed control over Western Sahara since 1975, when it was abandoned as a Spanish colony, triggering a long-running guerrilla war for independence by the Sahrawi Liberation Army, also known as the Polisario Front.

A UN-backed ceasefire was signed in 1991, but fighting between the two groups broke out again in 2020.

Morocco has accused Iran and its Shiite ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, of training and arming the Polisario Front – a claim Iran denies.

It is unclear whether the Fortescue-backed joint venture will follow OCP Group’s original plans.

“The Fortescue team is working with key stakeholders as we advance our ambitious strategy with OCP, developed over more than two years, to develop green energy, hydrogen and ammonia in Morocco,” a spokesperson said.

“We are determined to work with OCP to build a world-leading and competitive platform that will support Morocco on its journey to becoming a powerhouse of green energy generation, manufacturing and industry.”

Andrew and Nicola Forrest, Australia’s richest couple with a net worth of around $35 billion, announced their surprise split last year in a joint statement, saying they had decided to “live separately” after 31 years of marriage. They were believed to have no plans to divorce.

After the separation, Mr. Forrest’s book fortunes suffered a severe blow and he fell from second place to The Australian Financial ReviewWith an estimated net worth of $13.5 billion, he ranks tenth on the list of richest people.

The following month, the mining magnate told reporters that the two remained on good terms.

“Nic and I are good friends, we talk all the time,” he told 9News.

“She’s a fantastic woman. We decided that it would be better for everyone if we didn’t live directly above each other, but still supported each other.”

The couple has three adult children – Grace, Sophia and Sydney.

The Forrests have previously announced that their children will not inherit the majority of their wealth, and that the assets will instead be used for a variety of charitable causes, including supporting indigenous people, education reform and cancer research.

In conversation with ABC Australian History Mrs Forrest said she did not want to “burden” her children with such immense resources.

Mr Forrest echoed his wife’s sentiments and said it was an easy move. “The decision to give away everything except personal items and possessions was an easy one,” he said. “You know, we don’t want to die rich. What’s the point?”

frank.chung@news.com.au

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