/ 4 October 1996

Little intelligence at Longreach

Peta Thornycroft

LONGREACH (Pty) Ltd failed in all its endeavours. It couldn’t sell its intelligence reports, it had only one customer for its security services, and it cost South African taxpayers dearly during its six years in business.

Mike Irwin, a Briton recruited into Longreach by Craig Williamson, said he can’t recall performing a single useful task during his two years with the company.

“But we had some laughs … some good lunches … quite a few trips to London … one to Florida to talk to Cuban exiles. But we never got any useful intelligence. We entertained right-wing Americans, hung around bars with Rhodesians who all said they had been Selous Scouts and we had to deal with acres of useless telex reports from the International Freedom Foundation [another security force front].”

Irwin added that his co-shareholder in Longreach, Ant White, was similarly unsuccessful in his intelligence-gathering exploits in Africa: “He was always sending us telexes for prices on cement, batteries from Uganda, Burundi, but he never got any orders, the letters of credit never arrived.”

Longreach was Williamson’s idea. After he left the security police in December 1985 he says he was employed by military intelligence (MI) and decided to set up a security consultancy as a front.

Through Giovanni Mario Ricci, later to be his boss, he secured one customer, the jittery government of the Seychelles. His brief: to protect Seychelles and its socialist leader from another South African invasion. And, of course, Longreach executives happily fed Albert Ren,’s paranoia about South African mercenaries and under-employed Rhodesian hit men.

Williamson recruited Mike Irwin, who had served the British marines in Northern Ireland and the Falklands war, and White. According to Irwin – and the Mail & Guardian checked his passport stamps – he and Williamson went to Jersey and registered the company.

The M&G this week confirmed the company had been registered in Jersey in April 1986, three months after Palme’s death.

A couple of months later, Williamson “sold” his 40% share in Longreach to former security policeman Louis van Niekerk, who left a year or so later and now runs a restaurant in Cape Town.

Williamson meanwhile, still employed by MI, went to work for Ricci’s company GMR. Ricci, a generous donor to PW Botha’s National Party, knew Williamson was using the company and its funds as a cover for some covert projects. Williamson says he stopped working for MI at the end of 1987 when he unsuccessfully stood for Parliament on a Nat ticket.

“When I was appointed to the President’s Council, I gave intelligence reports to politicians instead of generals. As a civilian I could give information to Mozambique and Angola about the generals’ lies about the wars in both countries.

“Why do you think I have been able to come and go in Mozambique and Angola all these years?”

Williamson has admitted to involvement in the assassination of several African National Congress members, including Jeanette Schoon and her daughter Katryn.

“I didn’t kill Palme, or give any orders for him to be killed and I don’t know who did kill him. I will help the Swedish government in any way I can. It’s in my interest for this to be solved,” he said.