This is a national security risk

2016-11-13 06:00
The military pilot training school at Polokwane International Airport Picture: Supplied

The military pilot training school at Polokwane International Airport Picture: Supplied

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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.

Read more on:    ssa  |  ivor ichikowitz  |  polokwane

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