THE sly involvement of Russian defence conglomerate, Rostec State Corporation and its supervisory board chairperson Denis Manturov, also Kremlin minister of Trade and Industry, in the cumulative US$4,8 billion platinum project between Zimbabwean entities and a consortium of Russian investors has reinforced reports of a secret arms deal hidden behind the arrangement.
Manturov is the chairperson of Rostec supervisory board. Rostec, based in Moscow, is Russia’s biggest arms manufacturer and brings together 663 entities, that form 13 holding companies of which eight of them operate in the military-industrial complex.
One of the major arms companies out of the eight defence firms is Kalashnikov, Russia’s largest designer and manufacturer of combat automatic and sniper weapons, including AK47 rifles.
Other Rostec subsidiaries include Rosoboronexport, which conducts foreign trade and deals with military hardware, helicopters and equipment for electronic warfare, aircraft instruments, radio-electronic systems and various measuring apparatus, among others.
President Robert Mugabe this week commissioned the platinum mining project in Darwendale during a visit by Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his delegation which included Manturov.
The joint venture, dubbed the Great Dyke Investments (GDI), is between Pen East mining company and a Russian consortium made up of three corporations, Rostec, VI Holdings and Vnesheconombank.
Pen East Mining Company has the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) as once of its shareholders. The Zimbabwe military is said to be also involved.
Investigations by Zimbabwe Independent in 2012 established that Pen East was linked to the military. Its board chairperson was retired Colonel Tshinga Dube who is also the chair of Marange Resources and Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) general manager.
Dube has been involved with Pen East dating back to 2005.
A letter dated December 6, 2005 by Caroline Elizabeth Sandura, a director of Pen East and former ZMDC board member, seen by Zimbabwe Independent, authorises Dube to sign company documents for RussChrome and RussZim. RussChrome and RussZim are joint ventures between Russian state companies and Zimbabwean companies with links to the military. They have links to GDI.
Investment levels of the new platinum deal are expected to reach US$4,8 billion over the next 10 years as there are plans to set up a refinery for value-addition.
The commissioning of the project come as Rosoboronexport is holding an arms expo which started on Wednesday and will run until Sunday in Pretoria. More than 25 African countries are attending. Sources said Zimbabwe is also interested.
The exhibition, titled Africa Aerospace and Defence 2014, is showcasing Russian-made military and civilian helicopters.
Rosoboroneport and Russian Helicopter Company experts will discuss capabilities of the Russian military equipment, which include the Mi-171Sh, Mi-8/17, and Mi-17-VS Russian military-transport helicopters, Mi-35M transport-combat helicopter, and Ansat-U training helicopter.
Security and police agencies will be shown the Ansat, a light multipurpose helicopter, as well as its training version, the Ansat-U.
The Ansat can be used to transport goods and passengers, as well police and medical functions, such as surveillance, search and rescue operations. Ansat-U can also be used for training.
Sources attending the exhibition say Zimbabwe has some representatives behind the scenes, reinforcing reports the platinum deal involves an arms arrangement.
Rostec supplies more than 70 countries around the world. South Africa has been one of its clients, having bought Ka-32 A11VS multipurpose helicopters.
The presence of Manturov raised eye-brows as to why he was directly involved in the platinum deal instead of Minister of Natural resources who is Sergy Donskoy.
“There is strong potential for cooperation between our two countries. Already joint projects are under discussion in which KAMAZ (a Russian truck manufacturing company), Russian Railways, ALROSA, Uralvagonzavod, Tekhnopromexport, United Engine Corporation (UEC), Inter RAO, as well as other leading Russian industrial companies may participate,” Manturov said after returning to Moscow.
Uralvagonzavod specialises in combat vehicles. Some them include Terminator 2, fire support combat vehicle BMPT-72, TP90s modernised main battle tanks and Atom BMP armoured modular vehicle.
Rosoboronexport’s contracts concluded with sub-Saharan countries between 2013-2014 amount to about US$1,7 billion.
Nigeria, Cameroon, Mozambique, Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea have bought arms from Russia, while there are prospects for the delivery of weapons to Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and other countries.
Efforts to get a comment from the Russian ambassador to Harare, Sergey Bakharev, were fruitless. He was said to be out of office for a week.
Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa yesterday said he was not aware of the arms deal.
“Negotiations for this joint venture started around 2005- 2006 that is when the concession was given to another Russian company. That company decided to change the concession by trying to sell it to someone else and we said no, you cannot do that. That is when the Russians decided to restructure.I don’t know anything about an arms deal.”
He said Pen East was owned by government and it brings in ZMDC and “another company” which he could give details of. Chidhakwa also said there was nothing wrong in Manturov being a co-chairperson of the joint venture instead of Donskoy.
“For us it is good because we will be able to directly interact with the responsible minister,” he said. But Donskoy, not Manturov, deals with natural resources.
Zimbabwe has been trying to shop for arms for many years to replenish armoury depleted by the DRC war. According to the latest Africa Confidential report, Zimbabwe is trading platinum rights for Russian weapons.
“The government is desperate to replenish its armaments, many of them lost in the Congo-Kinshasa war when Zimbabwe intervened to save the late Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s regime from insurgents in 1998-2002,” the report says.
“The country could not replenish its lost military hardware due to an arms embargo which the European Union and the United States imposed, in 2002 and 2003 respectively, in response to high levels of political violence, human rights violations and intimidation by security forces and (Zanu PF) activists.”
In 2012 a report carried by the Russian Kommersant, a business daily, revealed in April of that year officials from Russia came into the country and secured an inter-governmental agreement on stimulating investment and defence, under which a state corporation, Rostech, would supply military helicopters in exchange for mineral rights to platinum deposits in Darwendale.
In March 2014 this newspaper ZDI, which manufactures and supplies army uniforms, field equipment and ammunition for both the domestic and international markets, is now buying and selling scrap metal to keep afloat while its workers have been sent on forced leave.
In April 2008, Zimbabwe tried to purchase large quantities of ammunition from China but the deal was thwarted after the Chinese cargo ship – the MV “An Yue Jiang” – was blocked from docking at eastern seaboard South African port city of Durban.