SA's weapons laws easy to dodge

South Africa has tough arms control laws, but there are enforcement gaps big enough to drive an armoured vehicle through.

That is just what Ivor Ichikowitz and his partners did, according to a forensic investigation handed to former defence secretary January Masilela in 2005, but it was never acted on.

The report, by First Consulting, alleges serial violations of the National Conventional Arms Control Act by two companies: the Virlean Initiative and Mechanology, which included Ichikowitz among their directors.

The report identifies a third company, Paramount—the principal vehicle for Ichikowitz’s defence interests—as needing further investigation.

The Virlean Initiative, Ichikowitz told the Mail & Guardian, was “a subcontractor in which we had an investment”. He insisted he had never been operationally involved in Mechanology.

The report recommends the revoking of the companies’ permits to design, manufacture and market armoured vehicles and tank parts; that their sales to African and Middle Eastern clients be cancelled; and that disciplinary charges be laid against the directorate of arms control staff who issued the permits. It also urges search and seizure raids on the companies’ offices.

Ichikowitz told the M&G that he was aware of the report, but had never seen it.

“I know certain Armscor executives were suspended and thereafter reinstated, and as far as I am aware are still in Armscor’s employ.
Therefore, the investigation could not have proved the allegations ... no action to date has been taken against anyone,” he said.

No search-and-seizure operations were carried out at his premises, he said, and no permits granted to Paramount cancelled.

The report’s most striking allegation is that Mechanology staff cannibalised parts from Ratel armoured vehicles belonging to the Defence Department.

“[This] enables [Mechanology] to make mobile and ‘refurbish’ the redundant vehicles that they have purchased for purposes of resale and/or export,” the report reads.

An affidavit by Johan Grobler, an officer at the defence department’s mobilisation centre in Bloemfontein, says inspection revealed that “an alternator was missing from one of the Ratels — on another an air pipe and a water pipe had disappeared”.

He ensured that they were returned and later moved Mechanology staff away from the hangar where the department’s Ratels were stored.

There were complaints of the stripping of parts at other bases, and of Mechanology staff and their Ghanaian clients “illegally infiltrating” a base for training.

An affidavit by senior staff officer for combat vehicle systems Pierre Oosthuizen, who complained, says a Mechanology manager visited his home with an offer of cash and a weekend away, which he rejected.

Many of the refurbished Ratels were destined for Jordan. The sale sparked controversy when it emerged that a Ratel sent to Amman for demonstration purposes was shipped with its radios and top-secret encryption algorithms intact.

The Jordan contract was valued at R400-million in correspondence between Mechanology and the Directorate of Conventional Arms Control.

Paramount is now working with Jordan’s state arms company on an armoured vehicle project, Ichikowitz said.

The report details major procedural irregularities that should have rendered the Virlean and Mechanology permits invalid and possibly triggered a criminal investigation.

It alleges misleading information was supplied about the companies’ plans and permits were illegally amended. The result, it says, was that Virlean was “unlawfully” trading in arms. Similar claims are levelled against Mechanology.

Ichikowitz dismissed these concerns, saying: “If any of these issues would have been of a serious nature, the National Conventional Arms Control Committee would have dealt with them.”

Nic Dawes

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