The ANC government was told in a secret report how apartheid-era government operatives stole hundreds of billions from the State - and how vast sums could be recovered from those responsible and the European bankers who helped them hide the loot. But mysteriously, the Mbeki cabinet and the Reserve Bank decided to do nothing about it. Why?
After a vitriolic disinformation campaign led by Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus, an amendment to the current Reserve Bank Act, tailor-made to silence the bank’s private shareholders, has hurriedly been tabled in parliament. Those shareholders, you see, have been asking much the same question.
Shareholder reaction to the latest attempt to gag them was fast and furious – and brought to light an explosive intelligence report in which the Mbeki government was secretly given a detailed account of the extraordinary extent of frauds on the state perpetrated by the Afrikaner nationalist elite in the apartheid era – frauds that their ANC successors have until now chosen to cover up for reasons that must still be explained.
Quite apart from its startling contents, the document casts a whole new light on Thabo Mbeki’s and Trevor Manuel’s roles in setting up the 1999 arms deal as a major source of party funding: we now know that they had just been shown how, for more than a decade, their Afrikaner nationalist predecessors had done many similarly corrupt kick-back deals!
Extracts from the secret document were attached to a submission made on 25 May to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance by a Reserve Bank shareholder, management consultant Michael Lang of Germany. Lang, who apparently has ties to European military and intelligence circles, is among the Reserve Bank shareholders who have for some time been demanding a full audit of the Bank’s gold reserves and other assets. In his submission, the German investor protests “in the strongest terms” against the Bill, which he calls a “resounding slap in the face of every democracy ... a deception to put sand in the eyes of the South African nation”.
To his submission Lang attached just five pages from a much longer report submitted to the South African Secret Service (SASS) in 1999 by a London-based firm of private investigators called Ciex. The extract from “Operations on behalf of the South African Government 1997-1999” is, however, enough to show that Ciex was commissioned by SASS to investigate how public funds were stolen or otherwise misappropriated during the apartheid era, with a view to recovering some pretty substantial sums of money, most of it still hidden abroad. The Ciex report contains a strategic plan, “Project Spear” designed to do just that.
The final page of the contract between the South African government and Ciex – amongst the pages submitted to the Select Committee, bears the signature of former spymaster Billy Masethla, chief of SASS at the time. The signatory on behalf of Ciex is Michael Oatley, once an illustrious senior member of Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6. (Oatley’s heroic role in achieving a settlement with the IRA, bringing a semblance of peace to Northern Ireland for the first time in half a century, and his role in the search for Saddam Hussein’s gold are well documented.) He was subsequently a Managing Director of US corporate investigators Kroll, and left Kroll to become a founding member of Ciex – which set up offices in a basement across the road from Buckingham Palace.
The contract was signed on October 6, 1997. In it Ciex were instructed to report to the government through the Secret Service, and their first priority was to be the recovery of the illegal gift of R3bn or so that Absa Bank had secretly been given by the SA Reserve Bank.
Within no time Ciex was able to report: “Potential profitability of the operation is illustrated by the following amounts which Ciex has to date identified and provided Government with the opportunity to recover:
- R3.2bn from Absa
- R3bn to R6bn from Sanlam and Rembrandt
- Up to R5.5bn from Aerospatiale/Daimler-Chrysler
Among other culprits identified were state arms procurer Armscor and a former senior apartheid cabinet minister identified only by the code-name “Gnome”. [See below.]
A great deal of the money had, it transpires, disappeared with the active but secret assistance of the South African Reserve Bank. Page 3 of Mr Lang’s attachment outlines how Ciex was supposed to “develop leverage” with the SARB and Absa to “recover funds” such as “Illegal lifeboats/subventions by SARB”.
|Buckingham Palace, London, opposite the offices of Michael Oatley's Ciex|
These are the same “illegal lifeboats” about which various Reserve Bank shareholders, including another German shareholder, banker Michael Duerr (see noses101,103,115,127&129), have for the past year been asking questions – questions which the Bank has simply refused to answer. “What financial assistance packages, lifeboats etc. are responsible for losses to the SARB? Where have those billions gone?” Duerr demanded to know from the new governor, Gill Marcus in April. (His similar questions to her predecessor, Tito Mboweni got no answers – but appear to have precipitated Mboweni’s early retirement.)
Quite logically Duerr reckoned that billions of lost assets would obviously have diminished the bank’s share value, and that, as a shareholder of the bank, he was entitled to demand an explanation from the bank’s management. In May, Marcus, too, refused to answer the questions, while dismissing the “lifeboat notion” as “scurrilous” and “defamatory”.
Noseweek readers have, of course, long known (see nose14) that the Reserve Bank’s illegal “lifeboats” (massive but secret free handouts to politically well-connected banks) were no mere “notion”. Thanks to Mr Lang, noseweek can now state categorically that Ms Marcus and her predecessor, Mr Mboweni, knew that the illegal gifts which the SARB chose to disguise as “lifeboats” in fact amounted to plain fraud – and that they had cost the general population many billions, while contributing hugely to the personal wealth of just a few members of the Afrikaner elite of the apartheid era. At the time of Project Spear, Gill Marcus was the Deputy Governor of the SARB. She had been given an expert briefing about the purported “lifeboats” and their illegal status. And, most importantly, it had also been explained to her why recovery of the money from Absa - in instalments over four years – posed no risk to the South African banking system. (Absa had, in fact, itself made provision in its annual accounts at the time for such a contingency.)
|Gill Marcus, Tito Mboweni and friend|
The real mystery is: why would first Mboweni, then Marcus, both senior, well-informed members of the ANC’s post apartheid government, feel the need not only to plead ignorance of the matter but declare it ‘non-existent” – and definitely not up for discussion? In effect feel obliged to cover up major misdeeds of the apartheid era?
Had the ANC government – on Thabo Mbeki’s watch – chosen to use Ciex’s evidence of the apartheid elite’s misdeeds as a handy precedent, rather than expose them? Or had they simply used their secret knowledge as a lever to extract a quid pro quo from Absa and its shareholders, in the form of a “comfortable relationship” whereby Absa extended generous credit to the party and its membership elite? A comfortable relationship that has continued since UK banking group, Barclays, took control of Absa. (Barclays also played a leading role in financing the scandalous 1999 arms deals – see below.)
Lang’s five-page extract from the Ciex report submitted to the Standing Committee on Finance is public record; all committee members received them as part of the hearing’s submissions.
The full Ciex report runs to 62 pages, plus some fascinating annexures – and, as luck would have it, noseweek has come into possession of the 57 pages still missing from the parliamentary record. They describe a number of secret schemes that, in the latter apartheid years, accounted for the theft or misappropriation of around R200bn. Yes, TWO HUNDRED BILLION RAND; that is many times what the ANC spent on the 1999 arms deal! More significantly, the secret Ciex report explained how the post-apartheid South African government might set about recovering the stolen money – a large chunk of it within just six months.
For some reason, however, the ANC government decided to ignore various reports it received from Ciex – or at least not to institute any of the actions they suggested to recover funds from the old Afrikaner Nationalist elite and the foreign banks and corporations that had assisted them in their allegedly fraudulent enterprises.
(In the light of the secret memo that the Sunday Times last month unearthed relating to Thabo and Trevor’s plans for ANC fund raising on the back of the arms deals then under negotiation – and at about the time that the deal with Ciex was finally called off – it seems the government may well have been more interested in what Ciex could tell them about how the apartheid elite had managed to channel state funds to advance their own party or personal interests, rather than in recovering the misappropriated billions.)
Ciex’s contract was not renewed in 1999 and Ciex was never allowed to earn its agreed 10% commission on recoveries – because the South African government decided it had no need to recover those billions.
|South African Reserve Bank, Pretoria|
After Gill Marcus’ earlier term at the reserve bank (she was Mboweni’s deputy for two years), she spent a few years as executive chairperson of one of celebrity fraudster Brett Kebble’s goldmining operations. (They were Kebble’s dirtiest years, so she will undoubtedly have learnt a thing or two about the “dark side” of business.) From there she moved to Absa, to become her favourite bank’s very protective chairperson, succeeding Danie Cronje, the man who had personally pulled off some of the biggest schemes to misappropriate public funds. (Cronje moved up to join the Barclays board in London.)
Last year Marcus returned to the Reserve Bank to succeed Mboweni as governor. “There’s no doubt that she is the best-qualified person for the job,” Sanlam CEO Kriel declared ecstatically. (Sanlam had been target number two on Ciex’s proposed recovery list.)
It came as no surprise, therefore, when, in May, Marcus asked the Parliamentary Finance Committee to keep the Reserve Bank’s response to the private shareholders’ submissions – including the half dozen pages extracted from the Ciex report – under wraps. Her request was granted by the committee. A sign of things to come.
In June, after much ado, the committee relented and decided to make the Reserve Bank’s two-word response to just Lang’s submission public. “Not understood”, was the Bank’s evasive comment.
Due to a twist of fate the South African government, the Reserve Bank, Absa and, ultimately, Barclays might soon be put in the position of having to explain their side of the story. The contract with Ciex provided for a commission on recoveries made (10% on the first R100m, 7.5% on the balance) – that being the declared aim of the project.
Now Oatley wants his percentage, even if the Mbeki administration had (and the Reserve Bank still has) their own mysterious reasons for not wanting their 90%.
The aim is apparently still to get Absa or its parent, Barclays to produce the money, in preference to the South African tax-payer having to do so. (Intriguingly, Barclays was the lead bank in compiling the finance package to fund the South African purchase of Gripen fighter planes and Hawk trainers, one of the biggest, most expensive and most suspect components of the 1999 arms deal. The South African government tried desperately to keep that finance contract secret. See nose43.)
According to reliably informed sources Oatley is now part of an international group pursuing massive reparations claims which it may be open to the SA government to pursue against those who benefited illegally during the latter days of apartheid. The claim related to the so-called “Lifeboat” is only one of these.
What puts Ms Marcus and the management of the SARB in a spot, and the SA Government if it does not move quickly to deal with the matter, is that as a result of their maltreatment of the SARB private shareholders they find themselves standing in the path of a very well-established reparations campaign funded by Canadian fisheries and telecommunications gazillionaire John Risley. Risley and a Caribbean business partner bring a joint net worth in excess of $4bn to the litigation table, so the Reserve Bank can forget about producing its usual parade of lawyers whose main defence strategy is to see their opponent into bankruptcy before he can get to court.
If Ms Marcus doesn’t quickly get her act together on this one, so that she and the government can be seen to be serving the interests of ordinary taxpayers, she could find herself starring in an international farce of monumental proportions, dragging the country’s reputation – and that of its bankers – down the drain with her.
Risley appears to be a man of many business talents and one of them is 3rd-party litigation: bankrolling financially worthwhile lawsuits in well-chosen international courts on behalf of others, winning them, taking a share of the profit – and looking for the next suit.
For his sins he also happens to be a mega-benefactor to various, mostly Canadian, charities.
Combined suit value of the Absa crookery, misleadingly described as a “lifeboat”, plus the proceeds of knock-on share dealings and alleged illegal enrichment by Absa directors: £1bn (going on R12bn). According to the Ciex report, most, if not all, Absa directors at the time (including Cronje that Barclay’s proceeded to honour with a position on its main board) are also liable to prosecution.
Papers confirming the existence of the lifeboat, that it was a fraud (and did not accord with the accepted central bank practice generally described as a “lifeboat”), and the on-going responsibility of management in Absa and Barclays have been drafted by two South African Senior Counsel and a Queens Counsel in London. (Barclays continues to benefit from the original theft and is considered vulnerable. Absa is currently chaired by David Brink (Sanlam's "money man", see noses14, 15 & 22) who, like Cronje, was a party to the original theft and fraud.)
Risley and Oatley are businessmen. The length of Risley’s yacht allegedly exceeds 200 feet – but why not get a bigger one? As things are looking now, we could end up paying for it.
More interesting, however, will be the response of the South African Government to the obvious question: why did Thabo Mbeki, Trevor Manuel and Gill Marcus decide not to recover billions of rands, already set aside by Absa for repayment at the time?
Sooner or later we’re going to find the answer. Meanwhile, read the shocking extracts from the Ciex report, read our editorial and then take your guess at what the answer might be.
MORE ABOUT THE ABSA LIFEBOAT
Ciex's summary of events relating to its investigation of the Absa lifeboat:
“In reports delivered to SA Security Services (SASS) on 29 November 1997 and 8 January 1998, Ciex produced a full account of the manner in which public money had been misappropriated. It described the nature of the illegalities, including criminal fraud by senior Absa managers and board members, the illicit profit-making by shareholders, and the roles of participating individuals and interests. Expert legal and financial opinion was included indicating that government might safely and legally seek recovery of sums up to Rl0bn from Absa and its shareholders, and that criminal charges could be brought against the principal individuals concerned for major acts of insider-trading and false accounting.
“All this material was discussed on 13 and 25 January 1998 by the relevant ministers of Justice [Omar], Finance [Manuel], Trade and Industry [Erwin], Labour [Mboweni], Intelligence [Mufamadi?] with the Ciex team that included Sir Kit McMahon (former Deputy Governor, Bank of England), Pierre du Toit (senior partner of Arthur Andersen SA) and Eberhard Bertelsmann SC, a past president of the Pretoria Bar [now a Pretoria High Court judge].
“Provisional agreement was reached that recovery should be pursued. Ciex predicted that Absa and Sanlam would obstruct the process and develop false suggestions of a danger of systemic risk. Which is precisely what they have since done. To establish a publicly recognisable framework for recovery, the matter was passed to Judge Heath for formal investigation. Ciex assisted his enquiry. Meetings were held with the Bank of England (and other international banking institutions).
“Ciex also reported regularly to SASS on the strategy and activities of Absa management in obstructing Heath and developing a number of spurious defences, while at the same time making actual provision (in their balance sheet) to pay R3.2bn over a four year period, should Heath or the government require them to do so.
“In mid-1999 Ciex reported to SASS that Absa director Danie Cronje had told one of the bank’s financial advisers in London: ‘We are getting the South African government pretty much under control in this matter, and might well get away with no more than a warning.’ Ciex also reported to SASS that Reserve Bank deputy governor James Cross, a close associate of both Danie Cronje and Stals, was working actively with Cronje to frustrate any attempt to seek recovery. Cross continued to claim that the subvention of Absa was a ‘normal support operation’, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary – finally and conclusively accepted by Heath – and the specific advice of the Bank of England.
“It became apparent that the Minister of Finance [Manuel], the new Governor of the Reserve bank [Mboweni] and the Head of South African Revenue Services were inclined, or were accepting advice, not to support Heath. Within the Bank deputy governor Gill Marcus, responsible for supervision, was being invited to take a view of the matter based on deliberately mendacious advice from her colleague James Cross, and without having been shown any of the material which described and exposed the fraud and the manner in which recovery could safely be achieved. Ciex arranged to rectify this situation, and to supply Gill Marcus with a more balanced picture, including the advice of distinguished independent experts.
“Heath judged the ‘lifeboat’ to be illegal and due for repayment, but has yielded to pressure not to demand repayment. It is incontrovertible that payment over a period of time would pose no risk to either the bank or the system. Absa had, indeed, earmarked funds for the purpose – but is delighted to be able to keep them. Absa directors and senior managers who have made personal fortunes through fraudulent share deals made possible by the lifeboat are relieved to escape prosecution or censure.”
ON A SWISS ROLE
James Cross is said to have played a critical role in negotiating the terms on which the Swiss came to the rescue of the apartheid government when, at about the time he joined the SA Reserve Bank, the sovereign debt world declined to renew their facilities to the RSA.
Six months or so after standing down as the Reserve Bank deputy governor in 2001, for “serious health reasons”, Cross popped up in a number of gold and diamond companies with very strong links to Switzerland. The following potted biography appears on the website of Namakwa Diamonds, one of the companies of which he is currently a director: “Mr Cross joined the South African Reserve Bank in 1986 and stepped down from his position as senior deputy governor in 2001. He has since chaired the board of directors of the South African Mint Co (Pty) Ltd and the South African Bank Note Company (Pty) Ltd from 2002 to 2006, as well as Highland Gold Mining Limited from 2004 to 2008. James currently chairs the Financial Markets Advisory Board in South Africa, is deputy chair of the Policy Board advising the government on market policy and a member of the board of the Financial Services Board in South Africa. He is chairing the commodities trader Swiss Gold DMCC, based in Dubai, and is a director of MKS Finance Geneva.”
Investigators believe Cross has a lot to explain – and a lot to tell.
HOW APARTHEID-ERA NATS STOLE, AND STOLE... AND STOLE SOME MORE
Extracts from the Ciex report to the South African government on:
* Reserve Bank assets
“At a private meeting with senior Bank of England officials on 2 December 1993 the recently appointed secretary of the South African Reserve Bank said he had discovered that the SARB had considerable assets, built up over the years by Dr Stals, which had not been disclosed to the Minister of Finance. He also said that there were two rooms full of documents at the Reserve Bank to which only Dr Stals had access.” (SASS took no action to secure the documents.)
* Gold audit
“Evidence of discrepancies over the years between gold mined and gold held by the S A Reserve Bank, and between gold sold by mining companies and gold actually sold through the gold pool in Zurich, is available to be examined.
“The Volcker Committee [in the US] has drawn attention to possible similarities between the irregular behaviour of Swiss Banks in relation to Holocaust gold and the potential for irregular handling of South African gold. lnvestigation in this area offers potent opportunities for negotiation with the Swiss over the future of South African gold marketing.”
“On 11 February 1998 Gnome, who is a former South African cabinet minister, subsequently identified from photographs, arrived at Dulles Airport, Washington DC from the Bahamas. He was accompanied by a senior partner of the German law firm of Punder Vollhart Weber Axte, of Frankfurt.
“The two men arrived in a private jet leased from a company owned by Charles Oliver, a businessman with strong South African connections. As they had cleared customs and immigration in the Bahamas there was no record of their arrival in the United States. (The aircraft's fuel bill for the Bahamas stop-over confirms the flight). They were picked up on the tarmac by a local limousine company and were driven to the Mayflower Hotel in Washington where a room had been booked in the name of Anke Sessler of Punder Vollhart.
“Also involved in arrangements for the meeting was Klaus Weber, owner and managing director of Seal Bureau of Investigation of Randpark Ridge, Johannesburg.
“Weber is a German national and was formerly a member of the East German Police VIP Protection and Counter Terrorist Unit. Seal offers executive close protection and aviation security services.
“At the Mayflower, Gnome met US lawyers and financial advisers. He told them that he did not wish to identify himself to them, but that he was South African and had been a minister in the South African government. He said that he was in the US to find help in investing certain funds that he had “secured” in South Africa and which had been exported, mainly via Liechtenstein and Panama, and that he wished to “resurface” them in the US.
“Gnome added that the initial sum involved was $240m, but that there were very considerable additional funds available if suitable measures for investment could be established. He said that no one would at any stage be allowed to know the true origin of the funds, but that he could undertake that they were “not contraband or narcotic-related”. The utmost discretion and confidentiality must be maintained. He would be employing physical protection operatives while in the US as he felt under threat.
“Ciex reported this information to SASS in early 1998. SASS officers first obstructed the enquiry and then, either directly or through indiscretion, alerted the target, Gnome, to the fact that he was being investigated by Ciex. Ciex has not been able to secure any official support in pursuing this enquiry – which could lead to recovery of hundreds of millions of dollars and would be of obvious political significance. Informal discussions with law enforcement agencies in the United States have indicated considerable willingness of the US authorities to pursue the matter if officially tasked.
“Note: There is also prima facie evidence of Gnome's involvement in unauthorised banknote production. Sources independent of the Gnome enquiry have pointed to the existence of this activity which is known to have been used to generate funds for special operations under the previous government.”
At the beginning of 1999 Ciex was encouraged by SASS to support an investigation ordered by the President into Armscor transactions. Ciex has identified:
- The main bank accounts through which commission payments were made by Armscor on arms deals from 1972 onwards.
- Evidence of payments of $20m per month through bank accounts in Luxembourg and elsewhere, controlled by the Armscor unit in the Paris Embassy. Payments continued at this rate from 1985-I995, reaching a sum far in excess of the cost of equipment ordered.
- Potential undisclosed liabilities to Government through use of the Armscor pension fund to support a US$200 million credit for arms deals.
- Witnesses offering evidence of major misappropriation of public money by senior Armscor officials.
“Information available to Ciex suggests opportunities for huge cash recoveries and also potential liabilities of which government is unaware.”
* Trust Bank Frauds 1991-1992
“From 1986 to 1992 Trust Bank was secretly authorised by the Reserve Bank to export $300m per annum to the Cayman Islands to facilitate strategic purchases. The funds were not used for that purpose, but for a disguised [financial] rand 'round-tripping' operation'. The sums available were invested from the Cayman Islands into Escom stock and the annual profits from dealing in this stock, averaging between $50m-$130m per annum, were not repatriated. Recovery could be pursued.”
* Procurement frauds in the US
“Between 1987 and 1993 South African officials and US suppliers collaborated to defraud the government by ordering large items of expensive equipment which were paid for but not delivered. The officials accepted invoices from the supplier for advance payment, failed to note non-delivery, and blocked all subsequent enquiry. The brother and nephew of the then finance minister, [name withheld], were involved in setting up corporate entities in Jersey to hold the proceeds of these operations and in providing billing mechanisms for products and services which were sold to the government, and on which deposits were paid, but which were not delivered.
“(Similar fraudulent schemes were operated by officials and ministers in relation to bond issues and the creation of spurious law suits against SA ministries on behalf of US suppliers).”
* Bond issues
“The Reserve Bank is believed to have issued undisclosed tranches of bond issues to Absa, in dollar denominations.
“These unrecorded transactions represent a potentially heavy liability for government.”
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