By Terry Crawford-Browne, June 23, 2020
Former South Africa President Jacob Zuma and the French government-controlled Thales arms company have been charged with fraud, money laundering and racketeering. After multiple delays, Zuma and Thales are finally scheduled to come to court on Tuesday, 23 June 2020. The charges refer to a French sub-contract to install the combat suites in the German-supplied frigates. Yet Zuma was only a “small fish” in the arms deal scandal, who sold both his soul and country for a reported but pitiful R4 million.
Former French Presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy who authorized the payments to Zuma were concerned that investigation and revelations in South Africa might jeopardize France’s access to the arms trade elsewhere. Sarkozy is scheduled to come to trial in France in October on unrelated charges of corruption. Chirac died last year, but he was so notorious for arms deals with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein that he was nicknamed “Monsieur Irac”. Bribes in the world arms trade are estimated to account for about 45 percent of global corruption.
The “big fish” in the arms deal scandal are the British, German and Swedish governments, who used Mbeki, Modise, Manuel and Erwin to “do the dirty work,” and then walked away from the consequences. The British government holds the controlling “golden share” in BAE, and is thus also responsible for war crimes committed with British-supplied arms in Yemen and other countries. In turn, BAE employed John Bredenkamp, the notorious Rhodesian arms dealer and British MI6 agent, to secure the BAE/Saab fighter aircraft contracts.
The 20 year Barclays Bank loan agreements for those contracts, guaranteed by the British government and signed by Manuel, are a textbook example of “third world debt entrapment” by European banks and governments. Manuel grossly exceeded his borrowing authority in terms of both the erstwhile Exchequer Act and the Public Finance Management Act. He and cabinet ministers were repeatedly warned that the arms deal was a reckless proposition that would lead the government and country into mounting fiscal, economic and financial difficulties. The consequences of the arms deal are evident in South Africa’s presently disastrous economic impoverishment.
In return for South Africa spending US$2.5 billion on the BAE/Saab fighter aircraft that SA Air Force leaders rejected as both too expensive and unsuited to South Africa’s requirements, BAE/Saab were obligated to deliver US8.7 billion (now worth R156.6 billion) in offsets and create 30 667 jobs. As I repeatedly predicted more than 20 years ago, the offsets “benefits” never materialized. Offsets are internationally infamous as a scam perpetrated by the arms industry in collusion with corrupt politicians to fleece the taxpayers of both the supplier and recipient countries. When parliamentarians and even the Auditor General demanded sight of the offset contracts, they were blocked by Department of Trade and Industry officials with spurious excuses (imposed by the British government) that the offset contracts were commercially confidential.
Not surprisingly, most of the planes are still unused and “in mothballs.” South Africa now has no pilots to fly them, no mechanics to maintain them, and even no money to fuel them. The 160 pages of affidavits I submitted to the Constitutional Court in 2010 detail how and why BAE paid bribes of £115 million to secure those contracts. Fana Hlongwane, Bredenkamp and the late Richard Charter were the three main beneficiaries. Charter died in suspicious circumstances in 2004 in a “canoeing accident” on the Orange River, allegedly murdered by one of Bredenkamp’s henchmen who hit him over the head with a paddle and then held him under water until Charter drowned. The bribes were paid mainly via a BAE front company in the British Virgin Islands, Red Diamond Trading Company, hence the title of my previous book, “Eye on the Diamonds”.
Allegations in “Eye on the Gold” include that Janusz Walus, who murdered Chris Hani in 1993, was ultimately employed by Bredenkamp and the British government in an attempt to derail South Africa’s transition to constitutional democracy. No less than Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened in 2006 to block the British Serious Fraud Office investigations into bribes paid by BAE for arms deals with Saudi Arabia, South Africa and six other countries. Blair falsely claimed the investigations threatened British national security. It should also be recalled that Blair was responsible in 2003 together with US President George Bush for the destruction inflicted on Iraq. Of course, neither Blair nor Bush have been held accountable as war criminals.
As a “bagman” for BAE, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia was a frequent visitor to South Africa, and was the only foreigner present at President Nelson Mandela’s wedding to Graca Machel in 1998. Mandela acknowledged that Saudi Arabia was a major donor to the ANC. Bandar was also the well-connected Saudi ambassador in Washington to whom BAE paid bribes of over £1 billion. The FBI intervened, demanding to know why the British were laundering bribes through the American banking system.
BAE was fined US$479 million in 2010 and 2011 for export irregularities that included illegal use of US-made components for the BAE/Saab Gripens supplied to South Africa. At the time, Hillary Clinton was the US Secretary of State. Following a sizeable donation from Saudi Arabia to the Clinton Foundation, the intended disbarment certificate to block BAE from tendering for US government business was rescinded in 2011. That episode also illustrates just how pervasive and institutionalized corruption is at the highest levels of both the British and US governments. By comparison, Zuma is an amateur.
Bredenkamp died on Wednesday in Zimbabwe. Although blacklisted in the US, Bredenkamp was never charged in Britain, South Africa or Zimbabwe for devastation he inflicted on South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and many other countries. Zuma’s trial is also an opportunity now for Mbeki, Manuel, Erwin and Zuma to “come clean” on the arms deal scandal, and to explain to South Africans why 20 years ago they were so willingly complicit in the hands of the organised criminals of the arms trade.
Zuma and his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaikh have suggested that they will “spill-the-beans”. A plea-bargained presidential pardon for Zuma’s full disclosures about the arms deal and the ANC’s betrayal of South Africa’s hard-won struggle against apartheid might even be worth the price. Otherwise, Zuma’s alternative should be the rest of his life in jail.
Terry Crawford-Browne is chapter coordinator for World Beyond War – South Africa and author of “Eye on the Gold”, now available from Takealot, Amazon, Smashword, the Book Lounge in Cape Town and shortly in other South African bookshops.