Ivor and Eric Ichikowitz’ names came out prominently in the UK media last week after being linked to a Malawian corruption scandal that has alarmed donors, mainly the UK. But it may all be sour grapes. The Brits seem to feel the R2-bil in financial aid which they give Malawi annually should not be spent with SA arms suppliers.
UK gives Malawi R2.13-bil a year
Malawian president Joyce Banda faces questions over her free use of the private jet, apparently sold to the Ichikowitz brothers’ arms firms, which were then rewarded with government contracts to buy military hardware.
The local “TIMES” newspaper ran a banner on Thursday reading “Malawian president linked to SA-owned arms company” – and “Paramount signed a deal to have boats patrol Lake Malawi.”
The Paramount Group is run by the South African brothers Ivor and Eric Ichikowitz and specialises in manufacturing armoured vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles. But Paramount also manufactures a range of naval boats ranging in size from just 8.5m to 42m (SEE SHORT VIDEO ABOVE).
Banda ostensibly sold the presidential jet as a sign that she would not tolerate the corruption that took hold of Malawi under her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika.
RIGHT: Ivor Ichikowitz
Reports in Malawi suggest that since the plane was sold Banda has used it regularly to travel to events around the continent. She embarked on 20 private plane flights in just three months, it was said.
Asked who paid for the use of the jet, her spokesman said it was "well-wishers" who "have told us not to disclose their identities".
The Dassault Falcon 900EX was bought by Bohnox Enterprises, a firm registered in the British Virgin Islands, and then sent to SA, where it is loaned to VIPs by the jet company Fortune Air.
Both companies are linked to the Ichikowitz’ Paramount Group, Africa's largest private defence and aerospace firm.
Paramount Group has already signed deals with the Malawian government for agriculture, fuel and military contracts through a network of investment firms.
Brits peeved off at our lads?
It seems from the media reports that the UK government are feeling peeved that they are providing financial aid to Malawi which is then spending it with Paramount – and, presumably, not British suppliers. None of the news reports, however, suggest that Malawi is obliged to buy British.
Ivor Ichikowitz is a major sponsor of Board activities. He is seen here with SAJBD president Zev Krengel at the launch of the “Jewish Memories of Mandela” book which he contributed towards.
In November, The Daily Telegraph revealed that a family foundation run by the directors of Paramount was paying for Bell Pottinger, a London PR firm, to burnish Banda's image. In that situation, Mrs Banda’s spokesman had previously also refused to identify the “well-wishers” paying for the PR operation.
At about the same time, Paramount signed a deal with Malawi to provide seven interceptor boats to patrol Lake Malawi.
Britain, which in 2012 spent £117-million (R2.13-billion at today’s exchange rate) supporting Malawi, has said it is seeking "greater clarity" from Banda about the "concerning" revelations.
"It is particularly concerning if there is a nexus between the selling of the jet, the buying of boats and the Paramount Group," Michael Nevin, the UK High Commissioner to Malawi, said.
No comment from Malawi
Banda's spokesman, Steve Nhlane, would neither confirm nor deny whether Paramount Group or any of its associated companies had provided any free travel.
Duncan Halliday, a spokesman for Fortune Air, confirmed the company had leased planes "on occasion" to Banda. "All costs for the leasing of aircraft for the president of Malawi have been settled in full by a number of third-party donors," he said.
He declined to say if Paramount Group was among the third-party donors.
Mrs Banda is currently dealing with a major scandal over corrupt procurement deals made by government departments, leading foreign donors including Britain to suspend direct aid that had accounted for 40 per cent of the impoverished country’s budget.
Is Paramount providing jet for Banda?
Mrs Banda was photographed standing on the tarmac next to her former plane in Nairobi in December, and next to another Fortune Air plane in Harare in April last year. Steve Nhlane, Mrs Banda’s spokesman, said “well-wishers” supplied the jets for free and there was no cost to the Malawi taxpayer.
The UK Telegraph ran this pic of Banda (inset) and her ex-jet
Asked who the well-wishers were, he replied: “You do not have to know them. Besides, they have told us not to disclose their identities. That is what friends are meant for, for helping each other.”
Pressed on the matter, he said that the costs were “usually” borne by whoever had invited Mrs Banda to attend an event. For example, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) paid for her, as the current chairman of the organisation, to travel on its behalf.
Leefa Martin, a spokesman for SADC, responded that she had “never heard” of the organisation paying for the travel of African heads of state. “How can he not know how the travel of his boss is paid for?” she asked.
Mr Nhlane would neither confirm nor deny whether Paramount Group or any of its associated companies had provided any travel for free. “The president has been accepting any appropriate means of transport available,” he said. “We are now going towards an election campaign and people will say anything to dent the image of the president.”
Mr Halliday, the Fortune Air spokesman, confirmed that the company had leased planes “on occasion” to Mrs Banda. “All costs for the leasing of aircrafts for the President of Malawi have been settled in full by a number of third party donors,” he said.
He declined to say whether Paramount Group was among the third party donors, adding that further details could not be given “for legal and high-level security reasons”.
Robert Phiri, executive director of the Malawi Public Affairs Committee, a watchdog, said if the government had “nothing to hide”, it should be open about who was funding Mrs Banda’s transport. “At the moment, no one believes what they say,” he said.
PICTURED LEFT: President Banda
“No one would believe that companies provide things entirely for free — that’s not how it works.”
Malawi’s government has said that the money raised by the presidential jet sale would go to the Malawi military to fund “peacekeeping operations” while the rest would go to agriculture and restocking medical supplies.
Paramount Group is run by the South African brothers Ivor and Eric Ichikowitz and specialises in manufacturing armoured vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles. It previously brokered a deal for the Malawian government to equip its peacekeeping troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Trans Africa Capital, a venture capital firm run by Eric Ichikowitz, has also signed agriculture and fuel contracts with Malawi’s government.