The villa, the villains and Rusty

Relationships that were forged in the era of sanctions busting and covert diplomacy have come back to haunt Leo “Rusty” Evans, the former director general of foreign affairs.

Evans, who retired at the end of 1997, features prominently in a high-profile fraud charge involving his close associate, German lobbyist Dieter Holzer, who is on trial in Germany with the country’s former defence secretary, Ludwig-Holger Pfahls.

Both Holzer and Pfahls were intimately involved in the web of kickback scandals that erupted in the 1990s and led to the downfall of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl.

The scandals also crossed the border to France when it emerged that politicians and middlemen in both countries co-operated in skimming kickbacks from major procurement contracts to create political slush funds.

Holzer is accused of helping Pfahls to hide his assets in a bid to evade debts—and Evans is alleged to have played a key role in concealing Pfahls’s ownership of a luxury villa in the south of France.

Evans has protested his innocence and claimed to be “shocked” when told that he was implicated in the German case. He insisted that the transaction was genuine and above board. However, he did not respond to detailed questions that were based on the German indictment of Holzer and Pfahls.

Bribes

Pfahls’s legal troubles flowed from an investigation into bribes he received from defence lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber during his tenure at the German ministry of defence.
He was subsequently convicted on the charges.

When investigators began to close in on Pfahls in 1999, he went on the run, disappearing from public view and, it is rumoured, spending some time incognito in Cape Town.

He also set about hiding his assets and, according to the indictment, his friend Holzer roped in Evans to help keep his prized home in France, the Villa Mas Rayos, out of the authorities’ clutches.

Holzer and Evans developed a trusting relationship during the murky late-apartheid era when a mixture of business, intelligence and diplomatic ties were used to maintain strategic supplies—notably of oil and defence materials—despite formal economic sanctions.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the same group of shadowy middlemen who managed underground funds for the German and French political elite were to be found maintaining the covert pipelines of sensitive business and intelligence to the apartheid state.

In a detailed exposé in 2004, Der Spiegel revealed how, in the late 1980s, Holzer had set up a Lichtenstein company called Frager Anstalt. It appeared to have served as a clearing house for Franco-German commission payments.

Ollivier and Strauss

Among those who took part in setting up Frager were two other men with strong Southern African connections: Jean-Yves Ollivier and Max Strauss, son of the conservative Bavarian leader Franz Joseph Strauss—a long-time ally of apartheid-era South Africa.

Evans has confirmed meeting Holzer in 1988 when Holzer was a special adviser to Strauss senior.

The meeting occurred during a secret visit by Strauss to Unita leader Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan guerilla general who was being propped up by the South African Defence Force and its military intelligence unit, the Directorate of Special Tasks.

The purpose of the meeting was supposedly to convey an overture from the Russians and formed part of the global Soviet retreat that unlocked the Angolan-Namibian-South African peace process.

These events would also introduce Evans to Ollivier, the French “Mr Africa”, who had excellent connections to both the French foreign intelligence service and South African military intelligence, the latter notably through former General Neels van Tonder.

Evans has retained these links. He is understood to remain close to Ollivier, who still goes hunting on Evans’s farm in Swaziland, according to evidence that has emerged in the Pfahls investigation.

Rusty Inc

After his retirement, Evans formed Rusty Evans & Associates, a company that leveraged his many connections in governments on the continent.

Evans and Holzer became close family friends and participated in a number of business ventures together. Evans helped introduce Holzer and his company, Delta International, to Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon, as well as Laurent Kabila, the late president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

So it appears it might have been natural for Holzer to offer, in 1999, the sale of his friend Pfahls’s French villa to his other friend Rusty, who in September 1999 supposedly purchased the villa for 5.7-million French francs—except that, according to German prosecutors, the sale was a sham.

The indictment alleges that Evans, Pfahls and Holzer agreed that Pfahls would retain ownership of the property and therefore had to continue to pay the rates and taxes—despite documents stating that Evans had bought it.

To conceal Pfahls’s continuing interest in the property, Holzer paid the rates, taxes, water, electricity and telephone costs—at least between 2000 and 2004—through his company in Beirut, Delta International.

According to the prosecutors, the façade was maintained until Pfahls was finally tracked down and arrested in September 2005.

After that, Holzer, Pfahls and Evans allegedly decided sell the villa through an intermediary, an attorney, who in reality was acting at the behest of Pfahls.

Half-disclosure

The indictment alleges that Pfahls agreed with the eventual purchaser of the property, a Mr Prokofiev, that the sale price would be €2.7-million, but that a sale price of only €1.5-million would be disclosed.

It further claims that, soon after the sale was concluded, the purchase price was paid into an account named Evans-Tonder at the Hottinger & Cie bank in Geneva. Prosecutors allege that, despite the account name, the account holder was Viorica Sava, Pfahls’s wife, and that he was the account’s beneficiary.

Even more tantalising about the details leaking from the case is evidence that suggests that Holzer, before his arrest in December last year, was in the process of setting up one last big deal involving South Africa.

According to a transcribed fragment of the telephone interceptions carried out by the German investigators, Holzer was engaged in a serious lobbying campaign that appears to have included a meeting with President Jacob Zuma.

Holzer had excellent political and business connections in China and was also close to South African businessman Robert Gumede.

During the conversation he told Pfahls: “Was not it a good game — I must tell you, it was like in the old days. I was sitting next to the president of South Africa. I have to tell you, Holger, it was like a movie —”

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email [email protected]

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

Lionel Faull

Lionel Faull

Lionel is a reporter at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism, Amabhungane.
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