June 12th, 2011 19:54 EST
US Billionaire Philip Falcone New Johnny Come Lately Baron of Africa
For decades, the so-called `White Robber Barons` are exploiting African people and drying out African land without any remorse. They are trading, stealing, committing fraud, bribing, killing, breaking sanctions, dealing in arms, in a sentence, they are doing whatever they want, they rule Africa.
In Africa and beyond, their business is no secret. Everyone knows how they run it and with whom they run it. Media know about it, governments know about it, but it seems like no one cares. The rulers of Africa behave like nothing can stop them, nothing can touch them; they simply feel invincible.
The most notable `Robber Barons` are John Bredenkamp, Muller Conrad Rautenbach aka "Billy` Rautenbach, Nicholas van Hoogstraten, Philippe Edmonds, Andrew Groves and most recent Johnny come lately, Philip Falcone.
Most of these gentlemen claim not to have met Zimbabwe`s President Mugabe, nor know of each other. However, the fact is that they all know Mugabe and each other, and together they rule Zimbabwe. They don`t work for Mugabe, Mugabe works for them. Together, the Robber Barons` ", combined wealth is in billions of dollars, enough money to run Zimbabwe and manipulate other African countries for coming decades.
So, how did it start?
It started with John Bredenkamp, a South African-born businessman, Africa`s no.1 Tobacco Lord and Billy Rautenbachs` idol and mentor. Since 2008, along with Rautenbach, Bredenkamp was blacklisted by the US Department of the Treasury and the European Union for his "strong ties to the Government of Zimbabwe, providing financial and other illicit support to the regime through their companies."; in addition, is wanted in his home country for fraud.
Bredenkamp`s career took off in earnest during the late 1970s when he became deeply involved in the commercial affairs of the embargoed Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) regime of Ian Smith in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
It has been claimed that he effectively ran the finances of the Rhodesian armed forces during the later stages of the Bush War (1964-1979). In this capacity, he brokered export sales of Rhodesian products (mainly tobacco) and used the proceeds to fund the purchase of munitions and military equipment. His "sanctions busting" deals (often involving complex barter transactions) sustained the UDI regime for far longer than would otherwise have been possible.
Bredenkamp gained considerable clout in the political and economic affairs of independent Zimbabwe as well. It is known that he played a significant role in the events surrounding Zimbabwe`s intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 1998 and 2003. This intervention involved using the Zimbabwean army and air force to support the Kabila government in its war with rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. He also helped Mugabe to sustain the Zimbabwean economy in a time of turbulence. Bredenkamp became a power behind the scenes in the Zimbabwe ruling ZANU-PF party.
Bredenkamp became a major arms dealer in late 70s, when he reportedly broke sanctions imposed by the UN against the white minority government during the liberation war by supplying spare parts for the Hawker Hunter ground-attack aircraft of the Rhodesian air force. These aircraft also saw combat during Zimbabwe`s intervention in the DRC in the late 1990s.
There are also reasons to believe that Bredenkamp was secretly selling arms to ZANLA, the military wing of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), and ZIPRA, the military wing of the Zimbabwe African People`s Union (ZAPU), against the Rhodesian government during the UDI.
Robert Mugabe`s rise to power in 1980 did not stop Bredenkamp. He continued selling arms to the new Zimbabwe government trough his company Casalee from Belgium. Bredenkamp eventually returned to Zimbabwe in 1984 to financially support Mugabe, and to start global arms dealing.
British investigative television programme, broadcast in 1994, claimed that one of his companies sold anti-aircraft guns to Iraq and land mines to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Most recently, Bredenkamp`s name has also been linked to a billion-dollar arms deal in neighbouring South Africa, involving the British arms company BAE Systems.
In the mid 90`s Bredenkamp introduced Billy Rautenbach to the arms dealing business. Rautenbach soon after, started supplying arms to war-torn Congo. Some of the weapons allegedly came from Daewoo`s armaments factory, which is separate from its car manufacturing operation in South Korea.
Billy Rautenbach Napoleon of Africa is the most notorious of all `Robber Barons.` There are no words to describe Rautenbachs affairs. Throughout his career he has been accused of theft, bribery, murder, arms dealing and tax fraud.
Rautenbach`s arms and mining business were on a rise from 1998 till 2008 when the US and the EU blacklisted him and imposed sanctions on his companies. However, like with all other `Robber Barons`, those sanctions did not make him fall, they just slowed him.
In 1998, Rautenbach, who never had any mining experience, was appointed by DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila, the chief executive of the state-owned mining company, La GÃ©nÃ©rale des CarriÃ¨res et des Mines (Gecamines). His appointment came less than a day after Zimbabwe`s president, Robert Mugabe, met the Congolese leader, Laurent Kabila, to discuss how to pay for Zimbabwean troops fighting for the Kinshasa government against Rwandan. Rautenbach`s position at Gecamines was a payback for Zimbabwe`s military backing.
Soon after appointment in Gecamines started the weapons shipments to Congo`s army in breach of South Africa`s embargo. One prosecution source has said that Rautenbach was identified as a `key sponsor of the war`.
Rautenbach fled South Africa in 1999 after justice department investigators raided his office and home. The charges against Rautenbach include the theft of 1,300 cars from Hyundai, bribing customs officials and fraudulently reducing the tax liability of Wheels of Africa`s subsidiaries. In 2009, he reached a plea bargain with the South African authorities and paid a fine of 40 million Rand.
Billy Rautenbach allegedly played a "key role" in Yong Koo-Kwon`s (Daewoo`s executive) assassination. But to add to the mystery, the alleged motive of the assassination of general manager of the Daewoo Motor Corporation had nothing to do with the motor industry, rather with Daewoo`s armament factory. The two had clashed over arms supplies to DRC. Rautenbach prevailed.
In 2000, President Kabila sacked Rautenbach and had his assets seized for allegedly under-reporting sales and exports of millions of pounds of cobalt for the benefit of his firm, Ridgepointe Overseas Development Company. President Kabila then asked John Bredenkamp, to take over some of Rautenbach`s seized assets, among them the Kambove and Kakanda processing plants and a large number of deposits in the rich Katanga province in southern DRC. Bredenkamp invested in excess of Â£10m to open the Mukondo deposit, arguably the richest cobalt mine in the world.
Rautenbach maintained his interests in the mining sector during the second Congo war. In February 2004 Rautenbach was mysteriously awarded half of Bredenkamp`s assets in the DRC. Bredenkamp was allegedly never compensated, but he never wanted to be, since two of them were running arms imports to DRC and export of minerals. Kabila knew this well, but because of Rautenbach`s public image he had to remove him and call on Bredenkamp.The United Nations Panel of Experts on DRC named both men for plundering copper and cobalt from Katanga, and both deal globally in weapons
Besides the Volvo franchise and transportation company, Rautenbach is famous for two more deals he made in Africa: the Central African Mining & Exploration Company (CAMEC) and Hwange Colliery Company Limited.
Rautenbach was introduced to CAMEC and its Chairman Phil Edmonds by his protÃ©gÃ© and CAMEC managing director Andrew Groves; both hail from the former Rhodesia. Consequently, in 2006, Rautenbach became a major shareholder of CAMEC. Rautenbach owned a 20 percent shares in CAMEC following transactions, when he apparently sold mining concessions 467 and 469 (also known as C19 & C21) in Katanga Province, and 50 percent of the cobalt-rich Mukondo operation to CAMEC for stock.
Edmonds, Groves and Rautenbach become embroiled in a row over the shipment of arms to President Robert Mugabe`s dictatorial regime in Zimbabwe. Part of the $120m (Â£60m) payment that Camec made earlier that year for platinum rights in Zimbabwe - and a further $100m loan - have been used to pay for a massive arms cache from China: semi-automatic rifles, small arms and ammunition.
Thanks to the backing of Rautenbach, Edmonds and Groves sold CAMEC for $840 million. Shares tied to Rautenbach remain frozen by the EU. Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. (ENRC) from Khazakstan, which bought Camec for about 584 million pounds ($840 million), is unable to acquire that stock.
After he was declared persona non grata by DRC over CAMEC`s mining deals, Billy Rautenbach has struck agreement with the Zimbabwe`s struggling coal producer Hwange Colliery Company Limited, and Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who own large number of shares in the company.
Nicholas van Hoogstraten is a British businessman and real estate magnate. He is known for his business empire as well as his controversial life story: In 1968 he was convicted, and sent to prison, for paying a gang to attack a business associate.
In 2002 he was sentenced to 10 years for the manslaughter of a business rival. The verdict was overturned on appeal and he was subsequently released, but in 2005 he was ordered to pay the victim`s family Â£6 million in a civil case.
He has been estimated to be worth Â£500 million, though he has stated that his assets in the UK have all been placed in the names of his children. His assets in property and farming in Zimbabwe alone are estimated to be worth over Â£200 million.
It was with Rautenbach`s help that the fortunes of Edmonds and Camec rose beyond anyone`s expectations in 2006. The company`s share price increased by more than 700 per cent in just a year, drawing in blue-chip investors eager to cash in on the boom in mining stocks.
Rautenbach also provided Groves and Edmonds with the protection they needed for their conflict against Israeli Billionaire Dan Gertler, the King pin running Diamond and Cobalt mines in the DRC with strong support from the young Kabila`s regime.
The foursome later reached a truce which opened the doors for the entrance of Gertler into CAMEC. Fantastic bedfellows.
It was Edmonds, Groves and their new ally Larry Clark who brought Philip Falcone`s Harbinger Capital to the African continent in 2009 by taking control of African Medical Investments, a Medical business around East and Southern Africa. Grove and Edmonds are the infamous duo with a track record to match Rautenbach if not surpass it;
The duo took on the likes of the powerful, Dan Gertler in the DRC and were embroiled in the failed venture in South Sudan through their company, White Nile. They had befriended the South Sudanese leader at the time for Oil concessions and battled against the oil giant TOTAL whom Edmonds labelled as a `French Colonialist company.` No surprise that White Nile lost the illicit oil concessions and a fortune.
The Groves, Edmonds duo also recently tried to oust the Israeli company Engel Invest out of Liberian Iron ore mining rights, through a fraudulent media campaign via their local company, Southern Cross limited, registered in Liberia. Southern Cross is controlled by the duo through their listed company, Sable Mining and managed by N Van Niekerk from South Africa. Sable Mining had to back track its actions after the failed attempt to discredit Engel invest in Liberia in May 2011. Their choice of opponents borders on Anti Semitism.
Allegations have also recently surfaced about the Groves, Edmond duo`s bribery of a Liberian minister for mines in exchange for mining rights at Bupulu and Timbo concessions in Liberia. The matters are being actively investigated by the Liberian presidential authority and the regulators of the London Stock exchange (LSE).
Further illicit actions of the Groves, Edmond duos extend in to neighbouring Sierra Leone where they also acquired Redrock mining company which has had its mining concessions revoked by the Minister for Mines due to fraudulent acquisitions in May 2011.
Enter American Hedge Fund Billionaire, Philip Falcone who took controlling interest in African Medical Investments Plc (AMI) in 2009. AMI was the brainchild of Zimbabwean, Dr Vivek Solanki whom the Groves, Edmonds duo were partners with.
Billionaire Falcone and the Groves, Edmonds duo are currently embroiled in a David and Goliath " epic battle pitched against the modest Doctor for control of the Medical business in Africa.
Billionaire Falcone had to know about Edmonds and Grove`s lucrative and illicit businesses dealings and links to Rautenbach. Their actions are in the public press. One cannot invest millions to take control of a company without screening your bedfellows.
Falcone furthers his investment by also holding 22 percent stakes in Sable Mining, Groves and Edmonds company mentioned above, and Frank Timis`s African Minerals Ltd., which is developing iron ore in Sierra Leone.
Sable is 22 percent held by Harbinger, 4.5 percent by Eton Park and 4.3 percent by Oppenheimer Funds Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Groves and Edmonds each have a 0.65 percent interest.
Groves` claims they split from Rautenbach are questionable, as Sable Mining was recently awarded a coal-mining license by the Zimbabwe government along with Billy Rautenbach`s Clidder, Apex, Nigel Earl`s KW Blasting, and Makomo Investments.
Incrimination on Falcone, Groves and Edmonds also came few days ago after AMI`s ex CEO Dr. Vivek Solanki broke silence and raised further concerns about Falcone`s involvement in Groves and Edmonds affairs and illicit dealings in Africa once more.
Is the American Billionaire, Philip Falcone just along for the ride or is he muscling in on the fast track to acquire African assets to bolster his crumbling American assets?
American Hedge funds, despite their lack of ground experience in Africa want not to be left out of the new Land grab across Africa.
By Hondo Makoni