Profile: Richard Young
Richard Young wants to encourage whistleblowers. “I want others to see what I’ve been able to achieve with regards to the Arms Deal. I want people who know more about, say, electricity corruption or health care, oil or gas corruption, or cellular telephony any corruption, whatever it is to make that their hobbyhorse, to take it on and not let it rest.
“I would like another 20 small teams of people, insiders like me… to do what I have done. That is what will eventually lead to an end to the corruption which is completely out of control in this country at every level. If we don’t control it, that is the end of the Rainbow Nation.”
As we sit in the chilly Cape Town boardroom of Young’s multi-million-rand electronic engineering company, CCII Systems, he describes his marathon struggle to seek justice and expose the Arms Deal “for what it really was: simply an enrichment exercise for the elite and their party”.
The Seriti Commission, under way in Gauteng, has already exposed “massive revelations” which, he says, have not been properly grasped by ordinary South Africans.
Nearly six years have passed since the 55-year-old businessman reached a settlement following his long-drawn-out legal battles with the Minister of Defence, Armscor and others.
Young was a major whistleblower of the Arms Deal after his company, which had been selected to supply the Information Management System for the South African Navy’s German-built corvettes, was suddenly dropped from the process. It was a devastating loss for Young, as he had invested a large part of his life and capital in the project and had been led to believe by both the Navy and Armscor that the contract was his. At the time, he was convinced his bid had failed because of serious irregularities in the procurement process.
His claims for damages amounted to nearly R300 million with interest, but before the court battle could reach its climax, Young withdrew his company’s claims as well as two defamation suits against the Minister of Defence, Armscor and others, and settled for a relatively meagre R15m payout. Six years later he explains: “It was simply too much for an individual to litigate against both the government and a deep-pocketed international armaments company with everything to lose. The legal costs and high levels of effort, time and risk were just too high.”
Today Young’s business is thriving: the latest US Navy ships use CCII Systems’ network technology and his products are “selling like hotcakes” to the Italian, South Korean and Japanese navies.
But it has remained an obsession for Young that the huge overseas supplier companies and all the other players involved in the Arms Deal should be called to account. He has also vowed that once it is all over, he will write a book about the shameful deal which has consumed so much of his life and the country's resources.
In an oblique acknowledgement of the extent of his knowledge and research, Young has been called up to the Seriti Commission for nine consecutive days in April next year. There, he says, cracks are already starting to show. For instance, he finds it mind-boggling that Armscor’s acting general manager Dawie Griesel who said under oath 12 years ago that the deal had been conducted within Armscor’s normal acquisitions, standards and procedures has done “a complete about-turn” in his latest evidence before the commission.
“He said that under oath! And 12 years later he is changing his story! It is because they have worked out something… Those people don’t know what documents I’ve got or what documents the commission has got, or what evidence I and other people will give. I can’t believe that Armscor has changed their position so blatantly. It is proof that the Arms Deal, each leg of it, was done unlawfully. It is monstrous.”
When will his book appear? "I am planning it for when the end game has been played out...for when the cheese is ripe," says Young.
A quick tour of Young’s high-security Kenilworth offices walls bedecked with pictures of battleships, helicopters and complicated digital graphics of naval combat suites shows he is still consumed with getting to the bottom of the arms scandal: an entire office is filled with box files of relevant documents lined up in impeccable order. There are 23 files alone labelled “Schabir Shaik trial” and he has a large cupboard full of scrapbooks and cuttings including virtually every Arms Deal newspaper clipping from the past 15 years.
Then there’s Young’s virtual press office a collection of nearly all the news articles as well as legal documents that he has collected since 1995, which have been uploaded on to the website known as the Arms Deal Virtual Press Office.
Anyone can download all the relevant Arms Deal articles.
“It’s been a very useful resource, not only for myself but for official investigators and journalists.”
The website, which has more than 11,600 such articles, has had hundreds of thousands of hits from all over the world. Young is famous for his critical comments always typed in magenta text below each day’s press reports on the Arms Deal, which he then copies to a select mailing list. They provide extra tidbits to help people make the connections or to point out the lies. Sometimes it is simply to vent or keep his targets on tenterhooks.
Young believes the Arms Deal is responsible for tearing apart the fabric of South Africa a boil that will pain the country until it is lanced.
“It is my duty to help lance the boil so South Africa can move on,” he says.
Initially, Young wanted to see the whole Arms Deal sunk with the equipment sent back to the foreign suppliers but he no longer believes that feasible. What he wants now is to see those companies at the forefront of the deals answering for their deeds.
For him, the jury’s still out on whether the Seriti Commission will achieve anything or prove to be “just an exercise in kicking for touch”. He says the exciting bits will come out when politicians like Ronnie Kasrils, Terror [Mosiuoa] Lekota, Trevor Manuel and Thabo Mbeki appear, sometime early next year.
And, if he can be “arrogant for a second”, he wishes he could just run an inquiry himself. “It is easy to quickly drill down to the important matters: whether there was wrongdoing and where that took place. The documents are all there. We don’t have to beat around the bush for three to five years to make a recommendation, whether it’s a full-blown investigation by the Hawks or by the police.”
What Young wants to come out of the commission is the evidence and an acknowledgment that it is evidence of wrongdoing.
“What was purchased was far too expensive and far too complicated for our defence force to support and manage. The acquisitions were mainly irrational. The commission’s second term of reference is ‘utilisation’ the corvettes, submarines, Gripens, the light utility helicopters, the Agustas etc… are simply not being utilised.”
Young says there is plenty of evidence to show that the acquisitions were done with an ulterior motive by the likes of the late former defence minister Joe Modise, Mbeki and the ANC… “to opportunistically milk the country’s tax cow”.
In all the Arms Deal acquisitions there was “a leakage to the usual suspects… mostly in the form of what the authorities call covert commissions.
“In the BAE/Saab deal, alone, for the Gripens and the Hawks, the total amount of commissions was R1.2bn. But of that, R1.05bn was unlawful, covert commission. So only R195m was actual overt regular and lawful commissions. And if one analyses the submarines from Ferrostaal or the German Submarine Consortium, or the frigates from the German Frigate Consortium, or the corvette combat suites from the French company, Thales, the leakage in percentage terms is very much equivalent.”
Young concurs with what Noseweek editor Martin Welz has long maintained: that the reason for the 1999 Arms Deal was to fund the ANC’s 1999 election campaign.
“I would go slightly further: it was not just for the ANC as a party, it was a case of ‘one for me, one for ye and one for ANC’. The ‘me’ is the likes of Schabir Shaik and Fana Hlongwane (advisor to Modise from 1995 to 1998), the ‘ye’ is Chippy Shaik and Modise... and the ANC, of course, is the main beneficiary.”
There is sufficient evidence, says Young, to establish that there was impropriety, fraud and corruption the other terms of reference of the Seriti Commission.
Young believes the most important parties to go after are the “perennial corrupters” the foreign companies that are taking “absolutely massive” amounts of money away from Africa, including South Africa, resulting in a serious degradation of the lives of the inhabitants.
Companies who did the bribing like Ferrostaal, Thales, Thyssen, British Aerospace and Saab should “feel the heat” of formal sanctions, says Young. They should be placed on South Africa’s blacklist, kept by SARS, which is the usual fate of companies found guilty of bribery.
“These companies are even prepared to pay multi-billion-rand fines for what they do. Their business models are based on corruption, everywhere.”
The second category that should “feel the heat”, says Young, is that of officials working for these overseas companies. “They do this for a living, moving from one country to the next, looking at changes of government and elections and strategising for years in advance. It is part of their jobs and they get rewarded for it. They should end up in jail.”
Young’s third category is that of the opportunists, “the Joe Modises and the Schabir Shaiks who do it perhaps once in their lives”. In South Africa, he says, they were handed the opportunity on a plate by a change in government. The arms companies curried favour with the people with the new political capital in the ANC and Parliament and the Department of Defence and formed little multilateral relationships.
“I would even recommend to the Scorpions that they rather get those local people as State witnesses to prove their case. It takes business ethics as low as any human being can conceptualise, when you are ripping off the taxpayers of poor countries… You take money away from the taxpayers, out of the fiscus, and put it into the ‘me, ye and ANC’ pot.
“When you take that level of resources out of the fiscus, it has massive implications on everything you can think of, from food to health, education and roads. That multi-billion-rand leakage ends up diminishing the quality of other people’s lives and sometimes extinguishing them.
“Armaments, communications, forestry, oil, gas and cellular telephony… we have to take it on, wherever we can.”
Calling the shots
Richard Young grew up on a sugarcane farm in KwaZulu-Natal and was sent to boarding school, which included a spell at Michaelhouse. He was called up at the age of 18 in 1976, which was the time of the SADF’s invasion of Angola.
After “basics”, Young was deployed to Special Signals because he could speak, read and write Zulu. He was sent to 2 Signals in Pretoria where he was trained as a direction-finding operator and had to learn Morse code. “We used to find the source positions of enemy signals.”
The work was stimulating, and having come top in his direction-finding operator’s course, he joined an Operation BRUSH unit (Bush Reconnaissance Unit Signal HQ) in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). South Africa withdrew its forces at the end of June 1976 and Young was posted to Grootfontein in Namibia.
“When the recces were attacking Swapo or Zambian bases, we were listening in… we were hunting their transmissions. Some of those things were so top-secret and urgent that you had to rush off to the other signallers and they’d telex it to the directorate of military intelligence at defence headquarters in Pretoria. There was a serious war going on. We, as signallers, sat there with our earphones, listening in.”
Young later worked as an interceptor and when his military stint was over, acquired a BSc in electronic engineering from the University of Natal, found a job in data communications, completed an MSc at UCT, then at Wits, a PhD in engineering, focusing on real-time data communications.
In his early thirties, Young started his company C²I² Systems (slogan: “Force multiplication through information technology”) specialising in applied information technology in the defence electronics sector.
His interest in the navy started early on as the companies he worked for were involved in naval systems. Later, he was approached by Armscor to continue with work they had started in the late eighties on submarine and frigate combat systems.
He explains: “The Information Management System is the crucial ‘nerve system’ of the ship. It transports the real-time data that coordinates sensors, control elements and weapons.”
Young’s system was developed in conjunction with Armscor and defence contractor African Defence System (ADS) then still South African-owned and had been chosen by the SA Navy for its new patrol corvette combat suite.
But, at a late stage in the process, the contract was granted instead to Detexis, a subsidiary of the French defence company, Thomson-CSF, now Thales International. Thomson took over ADS which, along with other companies, played a dubious role in the arms acquisition process.
One director of ADS was the now infamous Schabir Shaik, brother of the former chief of acquisitions in the Department of Defence, “Chippy” Shaik, the man considered, along with former Defence Minister Joe Modise, to have been the main architect of the deal.
The deselection of C²I² Systems did not happen overnight, but towards mid-1998, after Thomson had purchased 50% of ADS from the Altech Group, Young got wind of moves to oust his company from the bid.
“We knew from ADS’s demeanour, once they were taken over by Thomson of France, that they were trying to work us out.”
Convinced that Thomson was being unfairly favoured a conviction that tied in with recent allegations linking then-deputy president Jacob Zuma with a bribe from Thomson to protect the company Young started investigating. “I realised there was a much bigger picture to this arms procurement process, involving irregularities on a massive scale.”
Through, Young has never wavered in his conviction that his company was best for the job.
“Technically, we designed a world-class system. No one denies that. It is untenable that the vested interests of certain people should sacrifice top-quality South African technology for inferior, outdated French technology.
“In June 2000, the South African Navy, the Department of Defence, Armscor and the German shipyard did a formal evaluation report and unequivocally found our system superior. I did not know then why we weren’t chosen. But now I know from the documents I have been given, exactly why.”
Young was personally involved in the corvette planning programme from 1992 and it consumed 90% of his company’s resources and energy from 1993 to 1999.
“I did my MSc and PhD on it. All that work has flowed back to the navy free of charge. I was a member of the design advisory committee responsible for system integration and system architecture.”
Young attributes his dogged pursuit of justice to a sense of patriotism. “I’m an avid supporter of South Africa and it irks me to see corruption, cronyism and nepotism creeping in wherever there is empowerment. In the long run that will be the downfall of this country. I was prepared to fight back.”
His legal action to recover damages consumed eight years of his life, working 70-hour weeks and he eventually settled for a R15 million payout. His experience as a key witness in the Public Protector’s hearings into the Arms Deal in 2001 was the most stressful time of his life.
“Not only was I a marked man, but it was clear that people were trying to catch me out, trying to make me put a foot wrong, which fortunately I never did and I don’t ever intend to do.
“It was like walking through a minefield with my hands over my ears; completely one-sided. After giving my evidence, I was cross-examined for three days in a row by seven advocates and attorneys… and not afforded the possibility of supporting my own evidence through discovery or cross-examination. I felt as though I was on trial for murder, except a murder suspect is only cross-examined by one prosecutor, not by six or seven opposing and adversarial counsel in succession. It was a completely asymmetrical situation which left me mentally and emotionally exhausted. I suffered from post-traumatic stress afterwards, no doubt about it.”
These days, he lives in a large farmhouse somewhere in the Cape on the water’s edge, with his partner Mariette and their horses and dogs, “three beautiful English pointers”, as well as an African Grey parrot called Newton “because he claims that he invented the Calculus”.
In between attending to his animals and fishing from his jetty, he runs his defence electronics company remotely.
Idyllic as it sounds, the farm does have double electrified fencing and Young takes pains to establish that Noseweek does not mention its location because, although he does not like to describe himself as a marked man, he concedes that, having been so deeply involved in the Arms Deal especially between 2000 and 2006 he is a person who was “taken note of”.
“Where I live now, I know exactly what’s going on. I feel I can live with fewer concerns about security.”
His company worth “possibly a couple of tens of millions of rands” turned 21 this year. “We sell our product across the world. The same product that was supposed to go into our navy, is today a fundamental part of the US Navy’s ship self-defence system and those of other countries. They are buying these things in substantial quantities.”
Next, Young plans to provide complete ship combat management and mission systems both for the SA Navy and others overseas.
“Looking at the silver linings, the Arms Deal allowed me to own this company exclusively. When I decided to take on the government, my partners at the time chickened out. I had no option but to buy them all out, so this company belongs to me and me alone. I call the shots. That’s the upside of the way the cookie of life crumbled for me.”
With acknowledgement to Sue Segar and Noseweek.
Alas, the sub-editors got there afterwards.
It should have read as follows :
"Coming top in the direction-finding operator's course, he volunteered and was selected to serve at one of the 2 Signals Operation Brush units in the then Rhodesia. Alas, Prime minister John Vorster pulled out all South African forces from Rhodesia at the end of June 1976 and instead he got the worst possible posting at Grootfontein." *1
*1 Far from home and no danger pay.
But otherwise a four-man Brush unit out alone in the sticks with its radio antennae, Ovambo piele and sulphur dioxide infested tinned fruit - military bliss - if there is such a thing.
Unfortunately, the sulphur dioxide transformed itself into hydrogen sulphide.
But fortunately for a contribution to my first year pocket money, I got posted sometime later to Mpacha and then finally to Rundu.
There ee received danger pay at the princely sum of R4,10 per day.
It was princely because normal pay was R0,98 per day.
The upside was that Castle Lagers were R0,15 each and Gunston Plains were R0,20 per packet..
Haircuts were probably R2,00 each, but only two were needed in six months - one at the beginning and, of course, one at the very end..
And who would have thought that Operation BRUSH meant Bush Reconnaissance Unit Signal HQ - I didn't until now.
I thought it had something to do with our border roofie haircuts that took six months to grow back to brush catch and made the girls on Ramsgate beach laugh and me shy.
Now also for the first time I learn that I was in a Bush Reconnaissance Unit, albeit Signals - actually electronic warfare.
And certainly it was not Signals HQ - that title was exclusively reserved for a place not so affectionately called by the rank and file as Poesplaas.
And I wasn't really an interceptor, just that at Section at Rundu we did intercept operations exclusively during the last quarter of 1976.
Those certainly were interesting days.
But that is another story.