Thursday, February 05, 2009

Zimbabwe: Alleged British arms dealer one of Mugabe's money men

The former captain of the Rhodesian rugby side and an alleged "sanction-buster" for Ian Smith's white minority government in what is now Zimbabwe, as well as a South African-born businessman wanted in his home country for fraud, are some of the latest additions to the European Union's (EU) sanctions targeting Zimbabwe's ruling elite.

John Bredenkamp - appointed rugby captain in 1965, the same year Smith announced Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain - and 18 of his companies were blacklisted by the EU on 27 January 2009 for his "strong ties to the Government of Zimbabwe ... [and providing], including through his companies, financial and other support to the [Zimbabwe] regime."

The sanctions against Bredenkamp, 68, and Muller Conrad (Billy) Rautenbach, 50, said by the EU to have "strong ties to the Government of Zimbabwe, including through support to senior regime officials during Zimbabwe's intervention in DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo]" - mark the beginning of a strategy to isolate those seen as propping up President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government.

The EU has frozen assets, and imposed travel bans on 203 people, from Mugabe to Caesar Zvayi, a journalist working for the government-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, and has also blacklisted 28 companies based in Zimbabwe, mainland Britain and the tax havens of the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands.

John Clancy, spokesperson for the European Commission for development and humanitarian aid, told IRIN: "The measures [sanctions] do not impact on the general population of Zimbabwe. They are targeted measures against individuals of the Zimbabwe government and its associates."

Mugabe blames the sanctions for his country's economic meltdown. Annual inflation is measured in the sextillions of percent by independent economists, unemployment is running at 94 percent according to the UN, while more than half the country's citizens require emergency food aid, and a cholera pandemic that shows few signs of abating has killed more than 3,000 people in six months.

Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party have been joined by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional body, and the African Union, in calling for the EU to drop sanctions after a power-sharing government was agreed.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe's main opposition party, led by Morgan Tsvangirai - who is expected to assume the prime minister's office on 11 February - told IRIN: "The sanctions are an issue to be resolved between ZANU-PF and the European Union."

Clancy said the EU supported the "positive move" of the inclusive government, "but it is a little early in the process to say the situation is wholly resolved."

Any decision to lift sanctions would be taken by the ministers of the EU's 27 member countries. EU member state missions in the capital, Harare, recommend those eligible for targeted sanctions.

'I was a Rhodesian; I am now a Zimbabwean'

Bredenkamp was ranked among Britain's richest people in 2002, with an estimated fortune of US$1 billion. According to the website of one of his blacklisted companies, Breco, he is living in Zimbabwe, having left Britain in 2000.

He "was imprisoned by the Zimbabwe Government in 2006 for alleged passport violations [though he was subsequently acquitted in court] and has recently had his passport withheld by that Government," the website said.

The EU said Bredenkamp had three passports: one from the Netherlands (expired), one from Zimbabwe and one from Surinam, a former Dutch colony.

Bredenkamp reportedly fell foul of Mugabe in his attempts as king-maker in 2004. He allegedly tried to convince Mugabe to retire and make way for the former security minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a strategy that underestimated the intensity of the succession race and resulted in a fierce ZANU-PF backlash.

His companies were investigated for tax and exchange control violations and he reportedly fled Zimbabwe in 2006, but on his return he was charged with using a South African passport, in contravention of citizenship laws that do not permit dual nationality. Bredenkamp was born in South Africa.

"I was a Rhodesian; I am now a Zimbabwean. I was a tobacco merchant; I am now an investor in many different sectors," Bredenkamp says on the Breco website.

As a "tobacco merchant", Bredenkamp founded the Casalee Group of companies, which focused primarily on leaf tobacco, in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1976; it also engaged in general trading, with branches in a multitude of countries and tobacco-processing factories in the Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Brazil.

By 1993 it had become the world's fifth largest leaf tobacco merchant and was bought for $100 million by the world's largest leaf tobacco company, Universal Leaf Tobacco. Brian Murphy, a former Casalee executive in Zimbabwe, said of Bredenkamp in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1996: "he's always been an arms dealer."

Bredenkamp has consistently denied the arms dealer moniker, although a British investigative television programme, broadcast in 1994, claimed that one of his companies sold anti-aircraft guns to Iraq and land mines to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Mike Pelham, former financial officer of Casalee Zurich, told the television interviewer: "The objective was to arrange an introduction between a supplier and a purchaser. Casalee would do that. The arms would then be transferred from the manufacturer directly to the purchaser and on the deal having been finalized, then a commission would be paid from the manufacturer to the agent, in this case, Casalee."

In the 1970s, Bredenkamp reportedly broke sanctions imposed by the UN against the white minority government during the liberation war by supplying spare parts for the Hawker Hunter ground-attack aircraft of the Rhodesian air force. These aircraft also saw service during Zimbabwe's intervention in the DRC in the late 1990s.

"We tend to stay out of politics and get on with our everyday business, but we have to work with governments of the day, just like multinationals the world over - it is naive to suggest that other courses are open to us. It is only by having good working relations with the Zimbabwean government, built up over the last 22 years, that I have been able to engage in constructive criticism," Bredenkamp says on the Breco website.

Bredenkamp's name has also been linked to a billion-dollar arms deal in neighbouring South Africa, involving the British arms company BAE, which local commentators say has poisoned the political groundwater of the fledgling democracy.

Muller Conrad Rautenbach, otherwise known as Billy

Billy Rautenbach, another individual identified by the EU as financially supporting Mugabe's "regime", fled South Africa in 1999, facing numerous charges of theft, bribery and fraud, and now reportedly lives on a farm near Mazowe, about 70km from the capital, Harare.

His company, Ridgepoint Overseas Developments, registered in the British Virgin Islands, has also been blacklisted by the EU. The South African-born former rally driver, who holds Zimbabwean citizenship, has enjoyed the patronage of Mugabe since the 1990s.

Rautenbach was appointed by DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila as the chief executive of the state-owned mining company, La Générale des Carrières et des Mines (Gecamines) in 1998. Mobuto Sese Seko, president of the then Zaire, had been deposed the previous year.

Rautenbach's position at Gecamines was reportedly secured in direct negotiations between Kabila and Mnangagwa, as payback for Zimbabwe's military backing.

George Forrest, son of Belgian businessman Malta Forrest, replaced Rautenbach as Gecamines chief in 2000 after an apparent spat in which Kabila accused Rautenbach of allegedly siphoning off cobalt and copper profits to Ridgepoint. Kabila senior was assassinated and replaced as president by his son, Joseph, in 2001.

Rautenbach maintained his interests in the mining sector during the second Congo war (1998-2002), at a time when Zimbabwean troops were fighting in support of Kabila.

In 2002 the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, described Rautenbach as a man "whose personal and professional integrity is doubtful."

The report found a network of "Congolese and Zimbabwean political, military and commercial interests [that] seeks to maintain its grip on the main mineral resources — diamonds, cobalt, copper, germanium — of the [DRC] Government-controlled area.

The DRC connection

"This network has transferred ownership of at least US$5 billion of assets from the state mining sector to private companies under its control in the past three years, with no compensation or benefit for the State treasury of the Democratic Republic of the Congo," the report said. "Its representatives in the Kinshasa Government and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces have fuelled instability."

Among the Zimbabwean military-political elite involved in plundering DRC resources the report named Rautenbach, Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe Defence Force Commander Gen Vitalis Zvinavashe, as well as his family members, Air Marshal Perence Shiri, Brig-Gen Sibusiso Moyo, former security minister Sidney Sekeramayi, and chief executive of Oryx Natural Resources, Thamer Bin Said Ahmed Al-Shanfari, an Omani national. All appear on the EU sanctions list.

Not on the EU sanctions list, but identified in the UN report as those assisting the Zimbabwe political and military elite to extract minerals were DRC ministers and businessmen.

The complex web of resource mining concessions in DRC saw Rautenbach again fall out of favour with the DRC authorities in 2007, when he was arrested and deported from Lubumbashi, in the mineral-rich southern province of Katanga.

"Mr Rautenbach has amassed a large number of mineral and other assets in the DRC during the civil war and subsequently. The government of the DRC is making strenuous efforts to clean up the mining sector," the DRC authorities reportedly said in a statement.

Rautenbach issued a statement shortly after the incident saying reports of his arrest as a "major shareholder of Central African Mining and Exploration Company (CAMEC)" were totally unfounded.

The chairman of CAMEC, which has a present market capitalization of about $72 million, is Zambian-born Phil Edmonds, who played international cricket for England during the 1970s; its managing director is Andrew Groves, who was born in Zimbabwe.

There is no suggestion that CAMEC has any corrupt links with Mugabe and his associates, but it does have platinum concessions in Zimbabwe - as does the South Africa-based mining company, Anglo Platinum - and it also has mining interests in the DRC, South Africa, Mozambique and Mali.

Ben Brewerton, of the public relations company, Financial Dynamics, which acts for CAMEC, told IRIN that Rautenbach had a six percent shareholding, worth about $4.3 million at the current share price, and held no executive positions with the company. He said the EU sanctions had had no impact on Rautenbach's CAMEC shareholding - "It's business as usual."

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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