Corrections, retractions and apology to Ivor Ichikowitz and...


Corrections, retractions and apology to Ivor Ichikowitz and Paramount Group

On 19 and 23 June 2023 Vrye Weekblad published two essays on the international arms manufacturer Ivor Ichikowitz and the company he founded, the Paramount Group. Ichikowitz and Paramount objected to some of the contents and the Press Council has ordered Vrye Weekblad to publish the corrections and apology attached at the end of the first article of 19 June below.


THERE is now solid information that Ramaphosa's visit, along with other heads of state, to Kyiv and St. Petersburg, was not an African initiative at all but rather that of two shadowy billionaires in Vladimir Putin's orbit: Jean-Yves Ollivier and Ivor Ichikowitz.

It now also appears that the chartered plane carrying 100 soldiers, policemen, and a handful of journalists who were supposed to travel with Ramaphosa was detained at Chopin Airport because there was no documentation for crates containing long-range sniper rifles, as reported by the Sunday Times. Such weapons are used in warfare and not for protection.

Pieter du Toit of who was on the flight, reported that the air force warned the police that their documents were not sufficient, but the head of the presidential protection unit, Gen. Wally Rhoode, stated at a press conference that it was due to Polish racism and sabotage. The Polish government angrily denied this.

Jean-Yves Ollivier
Jean-Yves Ollivier

Jean-Yves Ollivier, the head of the Brazzaville Foundation in London, had ties with apartheid South Africa and the Bell Pottinger group and was a consultant for the Russian nuclear power company Rosatom, with whom Jacob Zuma entered into an agreement that was later declared invalid by the court. He was Pik Botha's friend and played a major role in securing the release of SADF captain Wynand du Toit from an Angolan prison in 1987.

His “good friend" Ivor Ichikowitz is the owner of the South African Paramount Group, which is active in the arms and defense industry and has donated large sums of money to the ANC.

A spokesperson for his family foundation in South Africa, Nico de Klerk, confirmed to the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail that Ichikowitz assisted the Brazzaville Foundation with the peace initiative and “ensured" the participation of six African states in this process. 

Yesterday, speculation was that it might have been weaponry from the Paramount Group that was loaded onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R in December at Simon's Town Naval Base. The company sells weapons to Saudi Arabia and various African states. Paramount manufactures armed drones, among other things.

The first suspicion that Ollivier was behind the visits to Ukraine and Russia came when he (with Ichikowitz in the background) had a video conference with Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Azali Assoumani of the Comoros, Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, and Ramaphosa – and Museveni posted footage of it on Twitter.

Ivor Ichikowitz
Ivor Ichikowitz

The Russian news agency Tass reported on May 17 that Ollivier was arranging the president's visit. Tass quoted Ollivier: “It has been agreed with the President [of Russia, Vladimir Putin] that the visit should occur before the summit between Russia and Africa at the end of July. So it should occur between June 15 and July 15, not later."

According to the Russian publication Embassy Life, Ollivier met with the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Putin's Africa man, Mikhail Bogdanov, four weeks ago in Moscow. 

Newsweek quoted Ollivier as saying, referring to the presidents of South Africa, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia, the Congo, and Egypt: “Most of them were my personal friends. Why not have a peace mission, an independent peace mission led by heads of state representing Africa? And we started negotiating with Moscow and Kyiv about it." 

Ollivier (78) named his foundation after Brazzaville because he was involved in the negotiations in the Congo 35 years ago that facilitated the withdrawal of Cuban troops.

He was a middleman who helped break France's arms sanctions against apartheid South Africa. He was a shareholder in the arms manufacturer Thompson CSF, which later became Thales and is now facing corruption charges along with Jacob Zuma.

Tim Bell, founder of the PR agency Bell Pottinger, which Zuma and the Gupta brothers used in a propaganda campaign, was a trustee of the Brazzaville Foundation until shortly before his retirement.

Jean-Yves Ollivier and Ivor Ichikowitz at a special screening of Plot for Peace at The Curzon Mayfair on December 9, 2013 in London, England.
Jean-Yves Ollivier and Ivor Ichikowitz at a special screening of Plot for Peace at The Curzon Mayfair on December 9, 2013 in London, England.

According to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, Ollivier was paid by the apartheid government to promote their interests in French-speaking Africa.

Swiss Leaks said one of Ollivier's HSBC bank accounts was linked to “a former member of the apartheid-era SADF."

Ollivier's foundation partnered with the Dialogue of Civilizations in Berlin in 2020, which belongs to Vladimir Yakunin, a Putin oligarch who heads Russia's RZD rail transport company. The foundation stated that the two institutions “share many of the same objectives".

Ollivier has been trading in Africa for decades and negotiating between warring groups. He is a friend of Congo's kleptocratic President, Denis Sassou Nguesso, and received shares in mines and a cellphone company for his services.

Ichikowitz's Paramount Group in Russia specialises in imports and exports from Russia. 

Ramaphosa's warm reception in Russia, including a double bear hug from the germaphobe Putin, was in stark contrast to the chilly reception in Kyiv.

Did the Kremlin orchestrate the whole initiative to serve its interests? It no longer seems impossible, but much further investigation must be done.

On 19 June and 23 June 2023 Vrye Weekblad published two pieces by Max du Preez on the activities and actions of the international arms manufacturer Ivor Ichikowitz and his company, the Paramount Group, which is a regulated defence manufacturer in South Africa and in other countries of the world.

Ichikowitz and Paramount were not contacted before the publication of the first piece, but they issued a statement that was published in full in the second piece, with further comment.

Ichikowitz and Paramount were not satisfied and referred the matter to the Press Council, of which Vrye Weekblad is a member.

The Deputy Press Ombud, Franz Krüger, ruled that some corrections be published.

One such correction was that Ichikowitz’s grandparents had emigrated from Lithuania to South Africa, and not his parents, as Vrye Weekblad stated. We apologise for a bona fide mistake.

In the second piece, Vrye Weekblad already admitted that it had no documentary proof that a company in Russia bearing the same name “Paramount”, specializing in imports and exports, was linked to Ichikowitz’s Paramount Group. Ichikowitz and Paramount have denied any link between themselves and the company in Russia. We hereby reaffirm that we have no proof of any association between the entities. It was thus an error to report that Paramount specializes in imports and exports to Russia. We apologize and correct the error.

The Deputy Press Ombud also instructed Vrye Weekblad to correct the impression that Paramount sells Russian Mi-type helicopters in the United Arab Emirates and to make it clear that the company only sells “helicopter solutions”, parts and servicing, regarding these helicopters.

He further instructed Vrye Weekblad to correct and apologise for the statement that Ichikowitz is a “confidant” of Vladimir Putin. Vrye Weekblad should also reflect Paramount’s denial that it collaborated with Russia on the Barys 8 vehicle which is an armoured vehicle produced in Kazakhstan with no links to Russia.

We hereby do so.

But Ichikowitz and Paramount were unhappy with the Deputy Press Ombud’s dismissal of other aspects of the complaint and took the matter to the Appeals Panel of the Press Council, chaired by retired judge Bernard Ngoepe.

The Appeals Panel ordered Vrye Weekblad to publish several further retractions and apologies.

In the first piece, it was stated: “Yesterday, speculation was that it might have been weaponry from the Paramount Group that was loaded onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R in December at Simon’s Town Naval Base.”

Paramount’s denial about the Lady R was published in the second piece.

The judge and his panel rejected Vrye Weekblad’s argument that it had made it clear in the sentence in question that it was “speculation”, further supported by the words “it might have”. “Speculation should be verified in some way,” the panel declared.

Vrye Weekblad therefore apologises and retracts the statement.

Vrye Weekblad referred to previously published sources reporting that there was a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Paramount and the government of Saudi Arabia to manufacture arms in and for sale in Saudi Arabia.

Paramount did not contest the contents of the MOU but stated that no arms were sold in the end.

The Appeals Panel rejected Vrye Weekblad’s position that the stated aim to sell the arms manufactured in Saudi Arabia meant that it was reasonable to conclude that trade did or could take place; actually, that the clear intent was what was important.

The panel stated: “There was no evidence that indeed pursuant to the MOU, the arms were manufactured and sold to Saudi Arabia. A statement to that effect was too huge a jump from the mere existence of the MOU. There is a big difference between planning to produce arms in the future, and actually selling them (in Saudi Arabia) as alleged.

The panel found that Vrye Weekblad had breached Articles 1.1 and 1.2 of the Press Code and ordered the publication to retract the statement and apologize, which we hereby do.

In the second piece, Vrye Weekblad wrote about Ichikowitz: “Through his company Trans Africa Capital, he is also co-owner of a large gold mine which, according to critics of Putin, helps fund the war in Ukraine.

Ichikowitz objected to the suggestion that it helped fund the Russian war in Ukraine.

The Appeals Panel found that the argument was overstated, thus in breach of articles 1.1 and 1.2.

We apologise and retract the “overstatement” attributed to “Putin critics”.

On the issue of the gold mine, Du Preez’s piece stated: “According to my information, Ichikowitz was recommended as a shareholder by Zuma, who appears in photos taken at the signing of the agreement.

In his presentation to the Appeals Panel, Ichikowitz denied that he was recommended by former president Jacob Zuma. It was the South African government, not Zuma, he says.

The panel stated: “The respondent’s argument that Zuma and the government are one thing is seriously flawed. It is based on the wrong assumption that Zuma the President could never act in his personal capacity as an individual.”

We thus apologise and retract the statement.

The panel rejected Vrye Weekblad’s explanations why it did not ask Ichikowitz and Paramount for its reaction before the publication of the first piece. The panel stated: “We believe that had the appellants been given the right to reply, the original article could have been quite different; in any case, the reader would at least have had both versions and decided for themselves. It is not sufficient that the reply was published four days later.”

We stand corrected and apologise.

Read the Appeals Panel’s finding here.


♦ VWB ♦

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