Zim, Iran ties questioned as SA launches ‘sanctions busting’ probe

Zimbabwe’s ties with Iran, and reports that ZANU PF is seeking assistance from that country, are being questioned as South Africa launches a probe into alleged Iranian ‘sanctions busting’ deals there.

Emmerson Mnangagwa
Emmerson Mnangagwa

The ZANU PF regime has been accused of seeking support from rogue states like Iran, ahead of elections that the party insists will be held this year. ZANU PF’s Defence Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa, earlier this month travelled to Iran for a four day visit in which he signed a cooperation agreement with his Iranian counterpart. Details of the exact nature of the ‘bilateral’ deal have not been disclosed but Iran’s Defence Minister gave a hint when he said: “We are ready to reinvigorate Zimbabwe’s defence power.”

Zimbabwe has also since been implicated in a ‘sanctions busting’ scandal in South Africa, with Zimbabwe believed to be the possible conduit for illegal transfers of military equipment to Iran. Dubbed the ‘Irangate’ scandal, the story centres around an investigation by South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper, which this month reported that South African front companies had been used to ship US helicopters and spare parts to Iran. Because some of these parts could be used for military purposes, they violated international sanctions.

Last Thursday, South Africa’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) told Parliament that it had started investigations against the companies and individuals mentioned in the Sunday Times report. Included in the list of individuals is the partner of South Africa’s deputy President Kgalema Mothlanthe, Gugu Mthsali. The Sunday Times has alleged that associates of Mtshali’s and former De Beers executive Raisaka Masebelanga met delegates from a group called Aviation 360 to discuss "buying" government support for the Iran deal.

The newspaper reported that Aviation 360 had set up a network of front companies to supply Iran with, among other things, a Bell 212 helicopter, which was exported to Iran in 2009 through Gemini Moon 477, a South African front company. A Canadian company, Eagle Copters, would allegedly buy helicopters from a company in the US. Eagle Copters would then sell them to Gemini Moon 477.

Once the helicopters were in South Africa, they would be deregistered and then reregistered with Iran as the end-user. They would then be shipped abroad on a Russian cargo aircraft, possibly through Zimbabwe.

The Sunday Times has also reported that Aviation 360 was involved in setting up deals involving three Airbus A300 aircraft, which were exported to Iran in 2009 through Tigris International, another South African front company. A deal worth R2 million involving Bell 212 helicopter parts was also allegedly set up, but this was reportedly aborted in the wake of the Sunday Times report.

South Africa’s Shadow Minister for Defence and Military Veterans, David Maynier from the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), told SW Radio Africa on Tuesday that the allegations are very serious. He explained this it is not the first time South Africa has been implicated in similar Iranian ‘sanctions busting’ reports, including claims in 2009 that South Africa had attempted to export a ‘fast boat’ to Iran.

Zimbabwe’s involvement meanwhile remains unconfirmed. But political analyst Professor John Makumbe told SW Radio Africa on Tuesday that the country’s links with Iran should be probed. He said Zimbabwe “could easily be involved in such a deal,” saying Iran sees Zimbabwe as an ally.

Makumbe also said that if South African government officials are found to have known about the ‘sanctions busting’, and are aware of Zimbabwe’s role as a possible conduit, “South Africa’s role as facilitator in the Zimbabwe crisis becomes highly questionable.” Makumbe agreed that this could be why South Africa is slow to criticise the unfolding crisis in Zimbabwe, despite reports that ZANU PF is preparing for elections with the possible support of states like Iran.

“There is a love-hate relationship between Zimbabwe and South Africa,” Makumbe said, adding: “As it is, South Africa is not entirely unhappy about the situation in Zimbabwe and its continued pariah status, because it economically suits them.” SW Radio Africa

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