12 Things You Should Know About Arms Maker Ivor Ichikowitz
Ivor Ichikowitz doesn’t like to be called an arms dealer.
Industrialist, venture capitalist, philanthropist — those are some of the titles people give to the founder and chairman of Africa’s largest privately owned arms company.
Born in 1966, South Africa-born Ichikowitz founded Paramount Group in 1994 when he was still in his 20s. It was the year South Africa started over and became a democracy. At first, Ichikowitz sold surplus military equipment at a time when the South African military was cutting its budget.
Twenty-one years later, he’s credited with pioneering military aviation production in Africa. His company may be on track to make a billion dollars in 2015.
Ichikowitz makes selling military hardware sound like a moral crusade, Simon Round wrote in the JewishChronicle. “He believes deals he has brokered have made his continent a safer place.”
Here are 12 things you should know about arms maker Ivor Ichikowitz.
He was a student of theater and literature before he got into the defense industry
Before he decided what he wanted to do when he grew up, Ichikowitz studied drama at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. While he was a student he became involved with protest theater, then traveled throughout Africa and studying African literature.
He founded Paramount group in 1994, the year South Africa became a democracy and elected Nelson Mandela its first black president. His company was initially just an exporter of surplus South African equipment at a time when the post-apartheid government was drastically cutting back its military budget.
The company grew into the largest privately owned defense and aerospace producer in Africa, with about 2,500 employees worldwide and sales growth of about 25 percent annually. The company’s revenue is approaching $1 billion this year, although that information has not been made public, Globe&Mail reported.
He’s a pan-Africanist
Pan-Africanism is an ideology that encourages the solidarity of Africans worldwide. It is based on the belief that unity is vital to economic, social, and political progress and aims to “unify and uplift” people of African descent.
Ichikowitz is a pan-Africanist. In a 2012 guest column in BusinesDayLive, he called on Africans to share technology and collaborate to build strong regional industries that bolster intra-African trade. He said Africa needed its own BRICS — the acronym for the group of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“In the past I have called for the creation of a pan-African BRICS as a way of achieving greater collaboration and working towards our collective economic interests,” he wrote in a guest column.
He appears to be a textbook case for diversified business interests
No one can accuse Ichikowitz of having all his eggs in one basket. He has so many business interests, we’ve listed them in alphabetical order, kind of. They include aerospace and aviation, agriculture, defense, dental and medical supplies, energy, finance, infrastructure, luxury tourism, mining and minerals, real estate and sustainable development.
Here’s a bit about his tourism-related business: Ichikowitz is co-owner of the luxury Molori Private Retreats, which provide visitors — his website calls them clients — with secluded residences, hotels, yachts, and aircraft charter facilities in South Africa, Australia, Europe and the U.S.
The Molori Safari Lodge in South Africa’s Madikwe Game Reserve has been described by Forbes magazine as the Camp David of Africa because of the statesmen and celebrities who stay there — and demand absolute privacy.
His Johannesburg office is decorated with model aircraft
Ichikowitz founded Africa’s largest privately owned arms company, Paramount Group. He sells products ranging from refitted Mirage fighter jets to naval patrol vessels. In March, Bloomberg reporter Franz Wild observed that Ichikowitz’s office was decorated with model aircraft and armored vehicles.
But there’s nothing playful about this: Ichikowitz won an order to sell 50 armored vehicles to Jordan, each worth more than $1 million. Each. Jordan shares borders with Syria and Iraq, where more than 200,000 people have been killed in a four-year civil war that includes Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliated militants.
“When you’re in a war with Islamic State there are no rules, so you’ve got to make sure that your armies are properly equipped with safe equipment,” Ichikowitz told Bloomberg. “Our platforms are all focused on making a safer environment for the soldier.”
He started a South African oral history archive
The Ichikowitz Family Foundation started the African Oral History Archive, which collects eyewitness accounts of apartheid. The effort resulted in an award-winning documentary, “Plot For Peace,” in 2014. The foundation also funded a program to train dogs to hunt poachers targeting South Africa’s rhinos.
Here are some other initiatives funded by the foundation: Granny & Childheaded Households; Alta Du Toit School; Barefoot No More; BUSKAID Soweto String Ensemble; Theatre Outings for the Aged; Union of Jewish Women; P.O.E.M. (Peace of Educational Mind Foundation); and Brazzaville, Congo field hospital.
He’s a pioneer of military aviation production in Africa
He’s credited with producing a revolutionary product — the Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft, or AHRLAC. It’s the first fixed-wing military aircraft to be fully designed and built in Africa. It’s potentially the cornerstone of an emerging African defense industry, Globe&Mail reports. The aircraft is intended to fill a new niche in the global military sector as an inexpensive light attack airplane for anti-terrorism operations, border patrols, counter piracy, pipeline security, anti-poaching and counterinsurgency – roles that are increasingly important where radical militias, chronic wars and criminal syndicates operate.
He lost a lawsuit against an auctioneer
Ichikowitz lost a three-year legal battle with High Street Auctions, which he sued for faking bids to inflate the price of a property he was buying. Ichikowitz bought Thaba Phuti, a lodge and game farm near Rustenburg, for 20 million rand in 2011. A video of the auction appears to show auctioneer Joff van Reenen pretending to take bids from nonexistent buyers to push up the price. The auctioneer did not specifically say before each bid that they were being placed on behalf of the farm’s seller — a process known as “vendor bidding” that is legal in South Africa.
Ichikowitz asked the auctioneer for his 10 percent commission back, and for the sale to be annulled.
The South African Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in March that High Street had been clear enough, and that Ichikowitz had “only himself to blame for ignorance of the possibility of vendor bidding by the auctioneer.”
He and the government of Gabon are “strategic partners”
The president of Gabon personally announced this week that the country’s low-cost airline, FlyAfrica, will expand to with new routes to destinations in East and West Africa. This was made possible by funding from “African industrialist, venture capitalist and philanthropist Ivor Ichikowitz,” Reuters reported.
Just don’t call him an arms dealer
In a 2012 video interview on CNBC, Ichikowitz spoke at length about the bad rap the defense industry gets. “People don’t really understand the difference between the arms dealers and the arms industry,” he said. “Calling us arms dealers is like calling the chairman of a pharmaceutical company a drug dealer.
“We’re in the technology business. We’re in the innovation business. We’re in the engineering business. We’re in the business of helping governments create the capability to ensure peace and stability. We’re not in the weapons business and we’re not in the destoying-anything business. We’re in the protecting business. We try be transparent as we possibly can. The defense industry over the years has had a reputation for being very cloak-and-dagger. I believe it’s a business like any other business. There’s method in our madness. We do this for reason. We don’t just do this because it makes us money.”
He is controversial
Ichikowitz said Paramount had never sold weapons to dictators or broken any arms control laws.
He became a lightning rod for opposition politicians in Malawi after striking a deal to sell a $145-million worth of patrol boats and other military equipment to the government of former President Joyce Banda. As part of the deal, Paramount agreed to buy Banda’s presidential jet for what Ichikowitz described as an excessive price to offset the government’s debt. Banda was able to continue using the jet. The deals sparked a furor in the Malawian election campaign, contributing to Banda’s defeat. The new government promised to cancel the contract, but the contract was eventually “restructured” with unspecified new terms.
Patrick Bond, a researcher and activist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal documented Ichikowitz’s political connections. He described him as a “dangerous asset” for Pretoria and Africa’s “most aggressive arms-dealing entrepreneur.”
At an Africa-U.S. political summit in Washington, D.C., Ichikowitz argued that the U.S. should encourage the development of an African defense industry to help defeat terrorists and extremists. He called on U.S.-backed institutions such as the IMF to stop vetoing military spending by African governments.
This provoked more controversy. U.S. news website, The Daily Beast, suggested that Paramount’s slogan should be: “Give war a chance.”
He’s a vocal supporter and funder of the ANC
Ichikowitz is close to several ANC bigwigs including President Jacob Zuma, earning him some criticism.
Ichikowitz shrugs off the criticism. “I’ve been a member of the ANC all my life,” he said. “I’ve been an absolutely unashamed supporter of the movement that brought liberation to this country. We make no apologies for the fact we’ve supported the ANC in many different ways, and one of those ways is making our aircraft available to its leadership when we’ve been asked to do so.”
His company believes in “transparent, open involvement with political parties,” he said, adding: “Paramount does very little business with the South African government.”
He makes selling military hardware “sound like a moral crusade”
Ichikowitz has the ability to make selling military hardware sound like a moral crusade, Simon Round wrote in the JewishChronicle. “He believes deals he has brokered have made his continent a safer place.”
He has personal relationships with world leaders and won’t do business with any country where he does not have a close understanding with the head of state. “There are countries like Equatorial Guinea where the president is accused of being a dictator, but you have to see what he has done for that country,” Ichikowitz said.
In a JewishChronicle interview, Ichikowitz said he spent an hour-and-a-half with Gaddafi in his tent, talking about a several-billion-dollar deal that was due to be signed around 10 months before the drama erupted in that country. Ichikowitz said he walked away from the deal.
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