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Sam Sole, Stefaans Brümmer28 Jun 2008 00:00
The collapse of the German investigation into the sale of four corvette warships to South Africa has left unanswered questions about the role of Tony Georgiadis, the controversial middleman whose company was paid more than $22-million in commission on the deal.
German investigators said they could find no evidence supporting allegations that the money paid by lead contractor ThyssenKrupp to Georgiadis’s Liberian-registered company, Mallar Inc, found its way to South African officials or politicians.
The investigation was hampered by failures in obtaining information from South Africa - and from Switzerland, where Mallar’s bank accounts were held.
However, the Mail & Guardian has established that a company with close family connections to Georgiadis did pay “consulting fees” to Jürgen Koopmann, a former Thyssen executive who played a leading role in the South African deal.
In a confidential plea agreement, Koopmann was convicted and given a suspended sentence for failing to declare the fees, which he received between 2001 and 2003.
Koopmann had retired by that stage, but was still being paid a retainer by Thyssen and was obliged to declare any other income in terms of his contract.
The South African deal was signed in 1999 and Georgiadis was paid about $22-million by Thyssen in instalments between 2000 and 2001.
The payments to Koopmann were made by a company at the behest of Georgiadis’s former father-in-law, George Lanaras.
Lanaras’s daughter Elita married Tony Georgiadis in 1971, but divorced him in 1998 to marry former South African president FW de Klerk.
Now 87, Lanaras still serves on the boards of the National Bank of Greece and the South African Bank of Athens, according to company filings. Contacted in Athens, Lanaras said he knew “nothing” about Thyssen or Koopmann.
Another former Thyssen executive, Christoph Hoenings, received a suspended sentence for concealing the Koopmann payments.
Hoenings and Koopmann led the campaign to secure the South African corvette deal.
The payments were initially investigated as suspected kick-backs from Georgiadis to Koopmann, but German investigators said they could find no evidence to support charges of corruption, and Georgiadis was formally cleared.
According to Georgiadis’s German lawyer, Daniel Krause, the funds to Koopmann came from a company in which Georgiadis had no authority to make payments.
Krause confirmed, however, that Georgiadis was involved because of his “strong relationship” with his former father-in-law—Lanaras—and because Georgiadis knew of Koopmann’s expertise from his dealings with Thyssen.
Asked whether it was not at least ethically problematic for Georgiadis to be involved in payments to Koopmann given Koopann’s role, while at Thyssen, in the $22-million commission payments to Georgiadis, Krause said: “The agreement between Koopmann’s company and Lanaras was entered after Koopmann had left Thyssen ...
“Koopmann had deep insight into the shipping industry, which was useful to Lanaras and Georgiadis ... This was not a relationship where he [Koopmann] was paid for nothing.”
Both Lanaras and Georgiadis have shipping interests. Lanaras at one time served as a director of Georgiadis’s company Alandis, which played a major role in transporting oil to South Africa during the sanctions-busting era.
Koopmann refused to comment. Hoenings told the M&G he was bound by a confidentiality agreement signed with Thyssen.
A ThyssenKrupp spokesperson said in writing: “As previously stated, ThyssenKrupp consistently supported the investigations of the Düsseldorf public prosecutor’s office. The company also carried out its own investigations into the matter, which found no evidence of relevant criminal behaviour by employees or former employees.
“The closure of the investigation by the Düsseldorf public prosecutor’s office confirmed this view.
“The sanctions against two former employees were in a fraud case not related to any bribery case which was neither directly nor indirectly related to the investigations by the Düsseldorf public prosecutor’s office concerning South Africa —”
A new book on Georgiadis’s ex-wife, Elita, by former journalist Martie Meiring has revealed that Georgiadis has been doing business in South Africa since the late Seventies.
Elita and Tony Georgiadis befriended De Klerk and his wife Marike after they were introduced in 1989 by the South African ambassador in London, Dawie de Villiers.
But by 1994, Georgiadis suspected his wife of having feelings for De Klerk and confronted the outgoing president about it.
De Klerk agreed to sever contact with Elita, but Georgiadis had in the meantime begun transferring his circle of contacts to the new Mandela government.
Meiring writes: “They [the Georgiadises] also got to know many black role-players in South Africa. Among these were Thabo Mbeki and his wife, Zanele ... Elita also became good friends with Mpume Maduna, wife of the future minister of justice, and also with union leader Cyril Ramaphosa.”
Mbeki has previously deflected questions about his relationship with Georgiadis.
However, from litigation between the National Prosecuting Authority and ANC president Jacob Zuma, it has emerged that it was Georgiadis who brokered a meeting between Penuell Maduna and executives of Thint, the French defence company that formed part of the German corvette consortium.
The meeting was intended to reach agreement on the authenticity of the notorious “encrypted fax”, which allegedly set out the terms of a bribe agreement between Thint and Zuma—which still forms a key plank of the state’s case against him.
A senior ANC executive committee member told the M&G this week that the party’s national working committee has asked the task team to summon everyone implicated in the arms deal for questioning.
He said the information provided by the task team showed that Zuma had no active role in the arms deal corruption, but that at least two very senior members of government had been targeted for further investigation.
An ANC member close to the party’s investigation team said: “The investigation has implicated a lot of people at the top who benefited from primary and secondary contracts.”
According to ANC sources the task team is focusing strongly on Mbeki’s alleged role in the arms-deal saga..
Documents accepted as evidence during the trial of convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik suggest Mbeki had at least three secret meetings with Thint.
It is speculated that the ANC’s new leadership wants to use the task team’s report to show that Zuma has been singled out for political reasons.
Read more from Sam Sole
Stefaans is an old hand at investigations. A politics and journalism graduate, he cut his reporting teeth at the Cape Argus in the tumultuous early 1990s; then joined the Mail & Guardian as democracy dawned in April 1994.
For the next 16 years (a late-1990s diversion into television and freelancing apart), the M&G was his journalistic home and launch pad for award-winning investigations focusing on the nexus between politics and money.
Stefaans has co-authored exposés including Oilgate, the Selebi affair, Chancellor House and significant breaks in the arms deal scandal.
Stefaans and Sam Sole co-founded amaBhungane in 2010. He divides his time between the demands of media bureaucracy (which he detests), coaching members of the amaBhungane team, and his first love, digging for dung.
Read more from Stefaans Brümmer
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