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NCACC inspectorate probing Icarus Marine

The Inspectorate of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) is investigating a South African firm for possible sanctions busting with Iran. The NCACC, in answer to a Parliamentary question, added that a team will later this month audit a 1996 Denel Dynamics export to Pakistan.

The answer to a question by Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier says a “complaint was received from members of the Wassenaar Arrangement with regard to Icarus Marine (Pty) Ltd and its possible involvement in the export and/or service delivery with respect to controlled goods relating to Iran.” It says the “investigation is currently ongoing”.

The Mail & Guardian newspaper on September 24 reported the NCACC was probing the import in January last year of a high-speed British motorboat containing American dual use technology and its export to Iran. The vessel has reportedly since been cloned by the country's Revolutionary Guard and is mass-producing it as an attack craft armed with torpedoes and missiles.

The newspaper reported the ultra-sleek Bradstone Challenger (pictured), developed by United Kingdom-based ICE Marine and US defence contractor Navatek, set a record for the fastest circumnavigation of Britain in August 2005. The paper said the US identified Cape Town company Icarus Marine as involved in the transaction. The M&G described Icarus Marine as a small design consultancy co-owned by its managing director, Shawn de Villiers, and naval architect Gunther Migeotte. “The US still regards Icarus Marine as a culprit, as a further notice in June this year placed it and its Norwegian sister company, Icarus Design, on an 'entity list' of persons 'acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.'

“The list means that permission for the export of sensitive US technology to them will be refused -- a form of trade sanction,” the M&G said.

De Villiers told the paper he believed Icarus Marine had been implicated "by association" because of separate design work it had done for a Tehran company, the Tadbir Sanaat Sharif Technology Development Center (TSS), importer of the Bradstone Challenger on the Iranian side. In a letter to the South African defence department last year and obtained by the M&G, De Villiers asserted Icarus Marine was not involved, “but seemed to point the finger at his own business partner, Migeotte, whom he says is associated with a Malaysian company, Austral Aero-Marine, which organised the earlier contracts between Icarus and TSS. Migeotte declined to comment, putting down the phone after saying: 'I am discussing the matter with the South African government.'”

The M&G, however, reported it had “independently verified” that another company, Scavenger Manufaturing allegedly played a central role in the transaction: “shipping sources confirmed that it was the "shipper" of the speedboat -- the formal term for the party responsible for the cargo -- as it transited South Africa.”

Scavenger maintained in reply to questions by the M&G that the Bradstone Challenger was "a recreational craft" and South African “customs would not have cleared the shipment if there were restrictions”. It said that "the world follows UN directives regarding export controls to Iran and none of these were breached", but refused to comment on the fact that it too had been placed on the US "entity list".

The Inspectorate was established in 2006 in terms of the National Conventional Arms Control Act 41 of 2002 and became operational on September 1, 2007. The response to Maynier adds investigations are initiated on NCACC instruction, or on the basis of complaints lodged with the Inspectorate or contraventions of the NCAC Act found by the Inspectorate during an investigation or audit. “In conducting audits on the armaments related industry, all transactions concluded by such company with foreign entities in foreign countries are audited in terms of compliance with the NCAC Act. Any transgressions found will duly be reported to the NCACC and criminal investigations initiated.”

In his question Maynier asked if investigations were conducted in relation to Burma, China, Libya, Madagascar, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. The response says none were. Other than the Icarus matter, the answer noted two further investigations: the intercept of a North Korean arms shipment in November last year and the ongoing verification of an export to Pakistan.

Regarding North Korea, the NCACC says a “Note Verbal” (a diplomatic communication) was received containing information on a shipment of North Korean military equipment “which was to be shipped via South Africa to the Republic of Congo in breach of United Nations sanction. The Inspectorate caused the containers to be offloaded and inspected during the last week of November 2009 into the first week of December 2009.” It notes the cargo was confiscated “and the matter is sub judice.” (Editor's note: The Supreme Court of Appeal in July 2007 in Midi Television v Director of Public Prosecutions struck down the sub judice rule as outdated. The South African National Editors' Forum at the time said this meant “that recourse to this legal excuse to avoid public discussion of an issue -- a favourite ploy of politicians -- is no longer valid and those using it can be called to account.”)

News of the intercept only surfaced in February this year when news agency Reuters obtained letters sent by South Africa to the UN Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee. It reported at the time several Western diplomats described the incident as a "clear-cut violation" of Security Council resolution 1874, which bans all North Korean arms exports and most weapons-related imports in response to its nuclear programme.

The letter said the South Africans discovered "that the contents fell within the definition of conventional arms in that the contents consisted of components of a military tank T-54/T-55." It added the documentation for the containers aboard a French ship described the cargo as "spare parts of bulldozer." T-54 and T-55 tanks were designed and produced in the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s but were later upgraded and made in other countries, including North Korea. South Africa has remained mum on the matter since.

In connection with Pakistan, the NCACC said a “contracting permit was approved during 1996 for the sale of certain items to Pakistan subject to the condition that the then Compliance Section of the Directorate Conventional Arms Control (now the Inspectorate) conduct annual verification inspections on the end use of the equipment.” The NCACC says these verifications are ongoing and have taken place every year except in the 2008/2009 period “due to the unstable security situation in Pakistan which resulted in the members’ safety not being guaranteed.” The next inspection is this month. “To date no contraventions were found by both the Pakistani End-User and Denel Dynamics (Pty) Ltd.”

defenceWeb could find no record of Denel sales to Pakistan, but the International Institute for Strategic Studies notes in its 2010 Military Balance publication that the Pakistan Air Force operates the “R-Darter” a beyond visual-range air-to-air missile. The Unofficial South African Air Force (SAAF) website notes under its entry for the weapon, retired from South African service in April 2008, that despite “repeated reports in the international media that the V4 [the R-Darter' SAAF name] is a version of Israel's Rafael Derby, South African engineers working on the project have told the webmaster that there was no Israeli involvement in the design of the V4, despite the striking similarities between the two!”

Maynier says he is pleased to see the Inspectorate “busy conducting investigations into various arms deals with Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. However, it appears that in the case of Iran and North Korea that the international community triggered the investigations. This raises a serious concern about about the capacity of our intelligence services to properly keep an eye on the conventional arms trade.

“Moreover, I am surprised that the NCACC's inspectorate have not conducted an investigation into the attempt to export aviator “G Suits” to Iran in 2009. I will be probing these and other 'dodgy arms deals' when the NCACC appears before the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans on or about November 3 at Parliament.”

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