This is a na­tional se­cu­rity risk

State Se­cu­rity Agency says il­le­gal mil­i­tary train­ing is tak­ing place at pilot train­ing site

CityPress - - News - SIPHO MASONDO sipho.masondo@city­press.co.za

Top-se­cret re­ports from the State Se­cu­rity Agency (SSA) and a firm of pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors hired by the Lim­popo trans­port depart­ment have raised the alarm on a group of for­eign­ers who, hav­ing re­ceived mil­i­tary pilot train­ing in Polok­wane, could now pose a “se­ri­ous na­tional se­cu­rity risk”. Doc­u­ments ob­tained by City Press re­veal that SSA of­fi­cials and oth­ers from the coun­try’s mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence are also con­cerned that the train­ing, which takes place at Polok­wane In­ter­na­tional Air­port, “could in­ad­ver­tently be pro­vided to peo­ple with ma­li­cious in­tent”.

A group of 25 for­eign­ers were trained be­tween 2013 and 2014 by Aero­sud Aero­space Sys­tems, a com­pany ac­quired by the Paramount Group in 2014.

The Paramount Group, owned by Jo­han­nes­burg en­tre­pre­neur Ivor Ichikowitz, is one of the world’s largest pri­vate mil­i­tary com­pa­nies, which has been pro­vid­ing for­eign gov­ern­ments with a range of se­cu­rity so­lu­tions. It pro­duces ar­moured ve­hi­cles as well as mil­i­tary air­craft. Nico de Klerk, the spokesper­son for Paramount, slammed the al­le­ga­tions as “false and ma­li­cious”, in­sist­ing that the train­ing was go­ing ahead with the per­mis­sion of South Africa’s Na­tional Con­ven­tional Arms Con­trol Com­mit­tee, and that the com­pany had se­cured all rel­e­vant per­mits.

Two years ago, pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors from MPA In­ves­ti­ga­tion Team were com­mis­sioned by the for­mer Lim­popo MEC for trans­port and safety, Ma­pula Mok­aba Phuk­wana, to probe cor­rup­tion at a num­ber of sites, in­clud­ing Polok­wane In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

In 2015, they dis­cov­ered the train­ing fa­cil­ity and re­ported it to the SSA.

But doc­u­ments ob­tained by City Press re­veal that the SSA have been in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mat­ter since April 2013.

A progress re­port from the in­ves­ti­ga­tors, dated Oc­to­ber 2015 and ad­dressed to Mok­aba-Phuk­wana, reads: “In­ves­ti­ga­tions con­ducted at Aero­sud’s premises re­vealed a se­ri­ous na­tional se­cu­rity risk that has been re­ported to the na­tional in­tel­li­gence of­fice.

“The find­ings can­not be dis­closed in this re­port as the mat­ter is cur­rently in the hands of the SA Na­tional De­fence Force and na­tional in­tel­li­gence.

“For now, it is safe to say that il­le­gal mil­i­tary train­ing and the man­u­fac­tur­ing of en­gi­neer­ing equip­ment were con­ducted at the premises. For­eign­ers from the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of the Congo (DRC) who claimed to be from Gabon were found un­der­go­ing mil­i­tary train­ing at the premises, rented by Aero­sud.”

A sub­se­quent re­port by the SSA re­vealed that Aero­sud – which is pri­mar­ily a man­u­fac­tur­ing and en­gi­neer­ing com­pany – had re­cently started train­ing pi­lots from the rest of Africa, af­ter buy­ing de­com­mis­sioned mil­i­tary air­craft from the SA Air Force to sell on to African states.

Aero­sud, the re­port found, se­cured con­tracts with Gabon and the DRC to train their mil­i­tary pi­lots.

How­ever, an en­try writ­ten in 2013 – when the SSA in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan – re­vealed that an in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst, who had vis­ited the train­ing school, found 16 trainees us­ing pass­ports from the DRC. He also found three Nige­ri­ans and in­di­vid­ual trainees with pass­ports from In­done­sia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Ger­many and Tan­za­nia.

The an­a­lyst found that the Tan­za­nian trainee and one of the Nige­ri­ans had iden­ti­cal pass­port num­bers.

“One of the trainees, trav­el­ling with a Ger­man pass­port, has his date of birth listed as 2005-03-08, which makes him seven years old,” he said.

In­for­ma­tion ob­tained from the depart­ment of home af­fairs re­vealed that it had no re­cent records of the move­ments of three of the trainees. The three were last recorded in South Africa’s ports of en­try in 2001, 2004 and 2007, re­spec­tively, the re­port re­vealed.

The re­port also found that, while Aero­sud told the SSA that the trainees were here to “study”, in­for­ma­tion ob­tained from home af­fairs showed that most of the trainees re­ported they were in the coun­try as tourists.

The SSA re­port warned: “It needs to be as­cer­tained be­yond doubt if all the trainees were in­deed sent by their gov­ern­ments. Given the his­tory of po­lit­i­cal and other vi­o­lence in both the DRC and Nige­ria, the train­ing could be in­ad­ver­tently pro­vided to in­di­vid­u­als with ma­li­cious in­tent.”

An email sent last Oc­to­ber by mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial Nom­fundo Njike­lana to the air­port’s then chief ex­ec­u­tive, Thu­lani Zulu, re­veals the ex­tent of the se­cu­rity con­cern.

“Kindly be aware that this mat­ter is sen­si­tive and a great se­cu­rity con­cern. There­fore, the high­est con­fi­den­tial­ity must be main­tained by all par­ties in­volved,” she wrote.

“It will at this stage not be pos­si­ble to di­vulge all the op­er­a­tional specifics, due to the sen­si­tive na­ture of the mat­ter.

“How­ever, com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween your­self and my­self should be kept open at all times.”

In re­sponse to ques­tions from City Press, De Klerk said: “Your al­le­ga­tion that we are con­duct­ing il­le­gal mil­i­tary train­ing is to­tally false and ma­li­cious. We are very con­cerned about your other al­le­ga­tions in your ques­tions as again, these are all based on false in­for­ma­tion.

“The Paramount Group is a de­fence and aero­space com­pany and, as such, all our busi­ness and op­er­a­tions are reg­u­lated by South Africa’s Na­tional Con­ven­tional Arms Con­trol Com­mit­tee.”

The com­pany, he added, was run­ning the pilot train­ing acad­emy in strict ad­her­ence with reg­u­la­tions and pro­ce­dures of the arms con­trol com­mit­tee.

“All the rel­e­vant per­mits and li­cences to op­er­ate a pilot train­ing acad­emy have been se­cured. This in­cludes the per­mits and li­cences to op­er­ate the air­craft used for the pilot train­ing and the train­ing of for­eign pi­lots.”

The SSA and the SA Na­tional De­fence Force did not re­spond to ques­tions sent to them on Thurs­day.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

UN­DER SCRU­TINY The mil­i­tary pilot train­ing school at Polok­wane In­ter­na­tional Air­port

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