Publication: Noseweek Issued: Date: 2001-04-01 Reporter: Editorial

Yusuf Surtee for Shirts - with Arms



Noseweek Issue #32

Date 2001-04-01
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Our organogram talks

Ever since President Mbeki waved our organogram around on national TV as his justification for getting Judge Heath off the arms investigation, we’ve been thinking: that organogram must reveal more than meets the eye, to have elicited such a violent response.

So we’ve been having a closer look at it. And it’s started to tell a whole new story.

At first we thought the TV drama was just another ludicrous bit of incompetence on the part of the president’s staff or the National Intelligence Service.

But whoever handed it to the president certainly succeeded in pushing him over the edge. Mbeki was, apparently, persuaded that our organogram was a document that Judge Heath was secretly harbouring; a sort of ‘hit list’ or hidden agenda which listed the president and his predecessor, Nelson Mandela, as the judge’s prime suspects. Within hours, Heath was history.

Whoever it was, had been similarly successfully with Mr Mandela, who was even more enraged. Mandela, who has for years shielded Heath from his critics, regarded the inclusion of his name on the judge’s supposed hit list as an act of profound treachery. No more shield.

Now who might be so desperate to get the Heath unit off the armaments investigation – apart from a corrupt government – and why? As many, including the president, have pointed out, Judge Heath is not the only competent investigator in town. Ah, but what did make Heath unique was the unique power he wielded: he had the power to declare any contract he thought had been improperly concluded by the state declared nul and void. Now that was bad news for a lot of people with massive financial stakes in the arms programme.

Back to the organogram. But what, you ask, was the name of poor Yussuf Surtee, Madiba’s silken shirt supplier, doing up there alongside those of Mbeki and Mandela. Surely he’s got nothing to do with arms! So we, too, thought at the time. He was simply included as a man with potential influence in top cricles because of his close friendship with the president and with the Saudi Royal family. But we’ve had another look.

In 1997 (then still) President Mandela visited Saudi Arabia to sign a ‘preliminary’ agreement for the supply of crude oil to SA. The following year, (then still deputy) president Mbeki made a follow-up visit to Arabia, to conclude an R8.5b arms-for-oil deal with the Saudi government. All was quite straightforward: we get the oil, they get some of our famous G6 canons and everyone, barring Israel, is happy.

That is until the Mail & Guardian informed us that the Saudi deal was somehow conditional on CellC getting South Africa’s third cell phone licence. A quick check revealed that, yes indeed, there is a substantial Saudi stake in CellC. Which, of course, might explain why the cabinet went into such a flat spin when the independent committee responsible for awarding cell phone licences, got too independent and it looked as if it might not give the licence to CellC. Within no time at all, the committee lost its independence, and all was once more on track for CellC – until the Pretoria High ourt intervened and, at least temporarily, screwed up the government’s plans yet again.

Then SA arms (and G6) supplier Denel confirmed that it had paid R100-million into the Swiss bank account of its agent in Saudi Arabia, called Zan Trading, for payment to various unnamed agents as advance commissions on ‘an arms deal that had still not been finalised’. (Obviously those ‘agents’ had good connections at Denel and the Reserve Bank, to have got these payments authorised before the deal was concluded.)

The auditor general is, apparently, still trying to find out whether any of these millions found their way into South African hands off shore.

So, imagine our delight when a mysterious but well-informed friend recently reported to us how pleased a banker at Merrill Lynch in Geneva was with his client, Mr Surtee’s spectacular success in the arms business.

Then we found another clue. In a press report on the collapse of World Online’s shares (on the same day they were listed) on the Amsterdam stock exchange.

WOL’s chief executive is Dutch celebrity businesswoman, Nina Brink. (‘When I was last speaking to my dear, dear friend, Nelson Mandela …’ is one of her favourite phrases.) The collapse was particularly tragic for those of Ms Brink’s society friends who she had favoured with generous pre-launch share allocations.

Included amongst those who had hoped to make a fast buck, but instead lost out, were singer Tina Turner, the ex Duchess of York. Sarah Ferguson and … wait for it … our own Yussuf Surtee!

The list released by WOL shows Surtee as having paid 2.2m guilders (over R6-million for his WOL shares! That’s a lot of off-shore spare cash for someone in the South African rag trade – but maybe not so much for someone in the arms trade. Might I t have come from that account at Merryll Lynch in Geneva?

We have reason to believe that it didn’t come from his South African bank account – and that the Reserve Bank knows nothing about it.

Adding sauce to the hypothesis: among the other celebrities on the WOL list were Shezi Naqvi and Sheikh Abdillah Saleh Kamel, described in the WOL press release as ‘Surtee’s Saudi friends who invested with him’.

Naqvi and Sheikh Abdillah are well-known in arms circles.

What might the shared interests of Surtee and the Saudis include? That arms-for-oil deal concluded by Mr Mandela and President Mbeki, perhaps?

There is some parallel evidence to support that idea. For example, in July last year, Reuters reported that a ‘large Arab consortium’ was to invest $100 million in projects in Syria, such as mobile telephone networks [hello Cell C!], internet companies and hotels.

The Arab consortium included Saudi Oger [also a partner in the local Cell C bid], Dallah Albarakah, a financial group owned by Saudi billionaire Saleh Kamel (Mr Surtee’s co-investor in WOL, remember), and the First Saudi Investment Co, owned by Wafic Said.

All of them ring bells in South Africa.

Saudi Oger own 60% of CellC and provided the financial backing for the 40% ‘black empowerment’ stake in the aspirant SA cellphone provider.

The Saudi conglomerate, Dallah Albarakah has, according to its own PR handout, ‘by the grace of the Almighty Allah, and due to the generous support by the government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahad, achieved a formidable reputation at both national and international levels.’

Albarakah’s best-known investment in South aFrica is in the local Albarakah Bank. (Local shareholders include A M Moola Ltd, the Durban-based clothing group owned by the father-in-law of Shabir Shaik. Shabir is a director of companies involved in South Africa’s R43-billion arms procurement programme, and is the brother of the Department of Defence’s controversial chief of Weapons Procurement, Chippy Shaik.)

More recently Dallah Albarakah have been rumoured also to be providing financing for CellC.

A local Albarakah subsidiary, Samaha Trading, also has a stake in a local TV production house, Endemol. And Samaha is headed by Mr Surtee’s friend and fellow World Online investor, Shezi Naqvi! (Naqvi is also said to have provided finance for some of President Thabo Mbeki’s younger brother, Moeletsi’s business ventures.)

For parallels, perhaps the most interesting member of the Syrian consortium was Wafiq Said of the First Saudi Investment Company.

He recently endowed the Wafiq Said School of Business at Oxford with a £20m donation. A very handsome sum – but then he did also manage to pocket a £120m commission on the Al Yamamah arms deal between British Aerospace and Saudi Arabia! (Other beneficiaries of that deal included Mark Thatcher and the UK Conservative Party.)

Earlier this year, when the cabinet finally confirmed the award of the third cell-phone licence to CellC, Pres Mbeki was not in town for the announcement. He was in Saudi Arabia. One rumour has it that the mood there was not as festive as here, and that the G6 deal may be off. Perhaps someone’s thought of the implications of putting an artillery piece capable of delivering a nuclear warhead in the hands of one of Israel’s neighbours?

And, if the deal is off, will, or can, those unnamed agents repay the commissions they were paid in advance?

With acknowledgement to Noseweek.

Just like Schabir Shaik for Zuma and Mac Maharaj and Fana Hlongwane for Joe Modise et al, a "businessman's" bank accounts were used to launder funds from Arms Deal and Credit Card Drivers Licence deal principals such as Thomson-CSF and British Aerospace into government officials hands.

There's more.