New multi-billion dollar legal cases against apartheid-era businesses are being prepared in Europe and threaten to name and shame high-profile individuals and corporations, South Africans among them.
“They are going to open up a whole can of worms,” William Heath, President Jacob Zuma’s legal adviser, has confirmed to Independent Newspapers.
The latest cases are being prepared in Portugal and Belgium, with spin-offs in several other countries, against a number of financial institutions and corporations, some of which are still operating in South Africa.
Armscor contacted arms merchant Jorge Pinhol in 1986 to help facilitate the sale of helicopter parts to South Africa at the height of the arms embargo. The parts were to be ordered from French-company Aerospatiale,
but not wanting to implicate then French president Jacques Chirac, they re-routed the order via Portugal, which was a member of Nato.
Being Portuguese and a well-known arms trader, Pinhol was the ideal middleman and was offered a 10 percent cut if he could pull it off. Though the deal went through, Pinhol never received his multi-million dollar cut and in his attempt to seek compensation all these years later, he has set in motion a chain of events that “will make apartheid look 10 times worse then we ever imagined”, as one source puts it. “This is a game changer.”
The cases now go beyond Pinhol and Armscor and are expected to hit hard at financial institutions, insurance houses, arms-related corporations and a string of other sectors and will name and shame a host of prominent people, South Africans among them, who lined their pockets prior to 1994.
The compelling evidence was presented to Zuma last year and it is what forced his abrupt about-turn on South Africa’s position on the apartheid reparation cases that are under way in New York.
For years the government of Thabo Mbeki had opposed the US apartheid lawsuit brought by Dumisa Ntsebeza and the Khulumani Support Group for fear of what it would do to foreign investment.
What is being filed in Europe is independent of those filed in the US and it is understood that the latter pale in comparison to what is coming down the tracks from the European litigants.
They come at a time when Switzerland finds itself under scrutiny for its tradition of banking secrecy. A vast amount of the money generated from apartheid-era dirty business was stored in Swiss bank accounts.
Meanwhile, the lawyers for the South African Apartheid Litigation, the umbrella for the Ntsebeza and Khulumani plaintiffs, will appear in New York’s Second Circuit Court of Appeal tomorrow to argue why their case against General Motors, Ford, IBM, Daimler and Rheinemetall should go ahead.
Should it proceed, thousands of South Africans stand to gain in what could eventually be a multi-billion dollar pay-out. Should it fail, the litigation group will have one more chance to appeal.