Zimbabwean tycoon John Bredenkamp has died at 79.
Reports said Bredenkamp died days after a kidney surgery.
Bredenkamp was born in South Africa in 1940, but moved north to Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, as a child. He excelled at sport and captained his school’s rugby team and also captained the Rhodesian national rugby team.
He later became close to the white Rhodesian regime of Ian Smith as it battled black guerrilla movements. He was in charge of the financial affairs of the Rhodesian army and is alleged to have been involved in sanctions-busting for Smith in return for a valuable concession to export tobacco. Bredenkamp however, always denied the allegations.
Often touted as one of Zimbabwe’s richest men, Bredenkamp’s life was riddled with controversies even after the Zimbabwean independence in 1980 notably becoming a staunch supporter of the late Robert Mugabe’s chaotic land reform programme which solely emaciated the former breadbasket of Africa into the basket case that it now is.
After sanctions were imposed, it took four years for all companies linked to John Bredenkamp to be shut down, Panama Papers show.
After the land reform programme when Mugabe’s favour with the west thinned, Bredenkamp and another shadowy character, Billy Rautenbach had sanctions imposed on them as alleged Mugabe cronies. However, they managed to continue running their business affairs through offshore companies for years after concerns were first raised about their dealings by the United Nations (UN) and other authorities.
In November 2008, after violent elections during which hundreds of the Zimbabwean president’s opponents were imprisoned and murdered, the United States (US) acted against those it claimed had provided him with financial and logistical support.
Sanctions were imposed on alleged regime insiders Bredenkamp and Rautenbach. Bredenkamp had built an estimated £700m fortune from tobacco trading, grey-market arms dealing, sports marketing and diamond mining. His arms brokerage, ACS, counted BAE among its major clients. Rautenbach had business interests in South Africa and investments in Congolese mines.
Europe blacklisted both men in January 2009.
Their companies were registered with Panama-based offshore agent Mossack Fonseca and after Europe issued sanctions, the firm’s partners quickly agreed to resign and make a report to regulators in the British Virgin Islands, where both Rautenbach and Bredenkamp’s companies were incorporated.
But the Panama Papers, a leak of the internal data of Mossack Fonseca, appear to show the firm missed multiple external red flags in the years before the sanctions. Some of these might have prompted an earlier resignation, or more detailed checks on the source of funds. The firm also appears to have been slow to close down some of the companies in question, even after deciding to resign.
The files, obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington with the Guardian and other media outlets, show it took until March 2013 for all 16 offshore companies connected to Bredenkamp to be shut down.
The companies were wound down one after another. Mossack Fonseca said that in some jurisdictions it could take longer to resign from and strike off companies.
The firm added: “Sometimes the authorities require the registered agent not to file any resignation in order to prevent obstructing their investigation.”
Bredenkamp challenged the imposition of sanctions by way of judicial review proceedings in the high court in London, while Rautenbach also appealed against his listing in the US and in Europe. They were among a large cohort removed from Europe’s Zimbabwe sanctions in February 2012, apparently as part of a drive to encourage political reform. The US lifted sanctions against Rautenbach in April 2014, but Bredenkamp remained blacklisted.
In 2001 and 2002, Rautenbach and then Bredenkamp were reported by the UN for their alleged involvement in funnelling profits from mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo back to Mugabe. The deals were said to be payment for Zimbabwean military support during the DRC leader Laurent Kabila’s violent rise to power.
The UN accused Bredenkamp’s ACS of procuring equipment for the Congolese armed forces, helping fuel the country’s violent civil war. Another of his companies, Tremalt Ltd, was alleged to have acquired mining concessions in Congo at below market price in a profit-sharing agreement between the company and the Zimbabwean and DRC governments.
The multimillionaire, who had a home in Berkshire, rejected the UN’s claims, took legal action to clear his name and denied being a Mugabe crony.
In 2006, there was yet another external alert. The UK’s Serious Fraud Office raided Bredenkamp’s Knightsbridge townhouse and his offices in Berkshire. Investigators were looking for evidence of bribes paid to politicians as part of a deal to sell BAE fighter jets to the South African government.
At the time, Mossack Fonseca was acting for a clutch of companies registered in the BVI, including one called ACS Group Ltd. But the firm maintained the relationship. In 2007, it opened two more companies for Bredenkamp, Santa Carolina Resorts Ltd and Magaruque Resorts Ltd. They are named after two Mozambique islands where he was developing hotels and holiday homes.
In August 2008, it emerged that £40m had been paid by BAE Systems to a Bredenkamp company for which Mossack Fonseca was the agent. Kayswell Services allegedly received the cash from a London bank account belonging to Red Diamond Trading, a BAE subsidiary also registered in the BVI. Bredenkamp denied wrongdoing or any involvement in the BAE South Africa deal and no charges were brought.
Mossack Fonseca did not decide to cut ties until January 2009, following the sanctions. An internal email stated: “The partners approved to present a suspicious report to [the British Virgin Islands regulator] and resign as registered agent of the companies associated to Mr Bredenkamp.” The same action was agreed for Rautenbach’s Ridgepointe.
But the process was slow. Ridgepointe remained active until May 2009, six months after its US blacklisting. It took until September 2009, 10 months after US sanctions, for most of Bredenkamp’s companies to be recorded as inactive. One called Millennium Enterprises Limited, a subsidiary of ACS Group Ltd, was seemingly not struck off until March 2013.
Mossack Fonseca said: “We have never knowingly allowed the use of our companies by individuals having any relationship with North Korea, Zimbabwe, Syria and other countries or individuals sanctioned by the United States or European Union. We routinely resign from client engagements when ongoing due diligence and/or updates to sanctions lists reveals that a party to a company for which we provide services has been either convicted or listed by a sanctioning body.
“Also, sometimes the authorities require the registered agent not to file any resignation in order to prevent obstructing their investigation.”
When Mugabe initiated the ‘fast-track’ land seizures in 2000, Bredenkamp was instrumental in breaking the farmers’ resistance, by persuading them to open negotiations with the regime.
Bredenkamp insisted that Zimbabwe’s economic and political crisis would ease once a resolution of the land issue was reached.
Although Mugabe fiercely projected an image that his country’s chief enemies were the white citizens, his dealings with characters like Bredenkamp proved that all he cared about was the rewards, among them power retention, that he cared about.
At the time he moved his headquarters to Harare, he was estimated to be worth between £300 million and £500 million.
His residence, Thetford House, enjoyed a commanding view over the Mazowe Valley, about 35 kilometres north of Harare. He lived a lavish life, being flown into the central business district by a helicopter. He defended his dealings with both Smith and Mugabe saying his business required close relations with the very top in government.
To him, finding a middle ground in Zimbabwe at a point when the country was bitterly polarised was vital to help the country out of its economic crisis. It never ended; and even now, the country is facing a myriad of challenges which could even be worse than those under Mugabe.
One of Bredenkamp’s companies, Petraf, enjoyed the monotony of bringing fuel into Zimbabwe and critics claimed he was simply making money as a supporter of a corrupt regime.
Bredenkamp’s companies were said to be major suppliers of arms to the Congo war, according to the Africa Confidential news letter, and he was also managing Zimbabwe’s mining concessions in the Congo, including uranium, cobalt and other strategic minerals, following Rautenbach’s failure to make profits from the mines.
Those concessions were granted as payment for Zimbabwe’s support to the Kabila regime.
Although some said Bredenkamp was critical of Mugabe, he rejected the opposition Movement for Democratic Change then under the late Morgan Tsvangirai. Instead, he was said to be in favour of Mugabe’s then close associate and now president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
It was Bredenkamp’s role in the campaign to reform the white farmers’ union that revealed him as one of Mugabe’s strategic allies. He bankrolled the drive by Nick Swanepoel to persuade the farmers’ union to accept the loss of nearly half its members’ land.
Swanepoel, a former chairman of the Commercial Farmers Union, tried to convince white farmers to drop all legal cases objecting to Mugabe’s ‘fast track’ land seizures. He also called for the union’s leaders to step down and to be replaced by allies of Mugabe
A 2002 UN report named Bredenkamp as a key arms trader who made millions from illegally exploiting the natural resources in the DRC and recommended imposing a travel ban on him and freezing his personal assets.
The UN report described a network trading in weapons and valuable minerals across the war-torn Congo. It said the trade had helped fuel the DRC conflict that has claimed the lives of more than three million people.
It showed Bredenkamp’s close business links with senior members of Zimbabwe’s army and political elite.
In May 2000 the British Government – increasingly outraged by Mugabe’s human rights violations and violence against white farmers – imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe.
Bredenkamp – who voluntarily co-operated with the UN over the report – angrily rejected the conclusions that he had been involved in ‘illegal exploitation’ of Congo’s natural resources. He wrote to the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan protesting that much of the material in the report was flawed.
Britain’s imposition of an arms embargo on Zimbabwe appeared not to dampen Bredenkamp’s enthusiasm to help prop up Mugabe’s brutal regime. A year after the embargo was passed, Bredenkamp boosted his ever-expanding fortune by concluding a multimillion-pound contract to supply Mugabe’s armed forces with military equipment.
An invoice obtained by the UN and dated 6 July, 2001, revealed that one of Bredenkamp’s Zimbabwean companies, Raceview Enterprises, was supplying Mugabe’s air force with £2.3m of camouflage cloth, batteries, fuel, boots and army rations. Most controversially, the UN said it had other documents that proved Bredenkamp provided £2m of aircraft spares to the Zimbabwean air force. –Additional reporting from The Guardian