The following is the text of a memo I wrote to The Africa Fund Trustees on the shotgun case in April 1998. It included two press clips, one from the South African newspaper Business Day and one from New York Newsday. The layout here is somewhat different from the original. Please note the address and phone below for The Africa Fund is no longer correct.
The Africa Fund
50 Broad Street, Suite 711, New York, NY 10004. (212) 785-1024 Tilden J. LeMelie, Chairman
Fax: (212) 785-1078 • E-mail: email@example.com Jennifer Davis, Executive Director
To: Africa Fund Trustees
Re: Shotguns and ammunition for South Africa
From: Richard Knight
Date: April 7, 1998
I thought this reminder of the consequences of a past Africa Fund victory would interest you. Attached is a recent newspaper clip from the South African newspaper Business Day. It reports on the case of Fred Tatos, who acquired shotguns and ammunition illegally from the U.S. in violation of the arms embargo. The US Commerce Department has banned Tatos and his company, Suburban Gun, from buying firearms in the U.S. until 2007. Tatos moved to South Africa from Zimbabwe after that country became independent but still used his old Zimbabwe business as a front for his purchases of U.S. firearms.
The Africa Fund was responsible for bringing this matter to the attention of the Commerce Department. We obtained shipping reports indicating shotguns were being transshipped through South Africa to Namibia and Zimbabwe; but we believed that the guns were actually destined for South Africa and would be used in the tremendous political violence going on in South Africa at that time. The Africa Fund compiled a considerable amount of other evidence and pushed both State and Commerce officials. In 1991, with the assistance of the Center for Constitutional Rights, we filed a request for documents from the Commerce Department under the Freedom of Information Act. When this request was turned down, we filed a court case to get the documents. While the case was being heard we received from an anonymous source a series of internal State Department and Commerce Department cables and letters indicating that government agencies had issued licenses based on fraudulent applications with no accompanying documentation. Although we eventually lost the court case, we did succeed in cutting this source of weapons to South Africa and got considerable publicity for the fact that the U.S. government was not seriously enforcing the arms embargo. As Jennifer Davis noted in her September 1992 Senate testimony “One can only conclude that U.S. officials were asleep at the switch.”
Business Day, April 7, 1998 (Date is approximate)
US bars Cape Town gun dealer from suppliers
WASHINGTON — The US commerce department announced lass. week that it was barring a well-known Cape Town gun dealer, Fred Tatos, and his firm Suburban Guns, from US sources of firearms and ammunition until 2007 as a result of their conviction last year for apartheid-era smuggling.
The potentially bankrupting penalty was draconian compared with the US government's treatment of Armscor, whose access to US military technology was restored last month despite its having been convicted a year ago on far more serious charges that directly affected US security. Furthermore, un- like Tatos, Armscor has yet to come entirely clean about all it obtained illegally or from whom.
Court records show that, unlike Armscor which stonewalled US prosecutors for six years, Tatos came for- ward and gave a full account of his activities and suppliers to US authorities as soon as he became aware in 1992 chat his company was under investigation by the New York district attorneys office.
When his case finally came to court last July, Tatos pleaded guilty to importing Sl,8m worth of mostly hunting weapons from the US between 1982 and 1991. He confessed that his company had evaded the arms embargo by falsifying export documents to make it appear that the weapons were being shipped to affiliates in Namibia and Zimbabwe.
In the dying days of the anti- apartheid campaign, the case became grist for the mill of US activists who
claimed, on evidence not borne out in the court record, that Suburban Guns had been a conduit for weapons to Inkatha.
Tatos could have been fined up to $l,5m. Instead, federal judge Loretta Preska assessed a nominal impost of $10000, accepting the recommendations contained in a probation officer's report on Tatos's background endorsed by the justice department.
The report included affidavits, sworn in mid-1996, from a senior SA prosecutor, John Welch, a deputy attorney-general based in Pretoria, and Abraham Burger, head of the SA Police's central firearm register.
Welch, who said he was chairman of a cabinet task group to investigate SA drug laws, and also a past president of the SA Gun Owners' Association, called Tatos “a respectable, responsible and law-abiding arms dealer”.
Burger said Tatos had “a good working relationship with the SAPS and “has in the past assisted (the SAPS) in any investigation relating to unlawful dealing in arms and ammunition”.
The report found Tatos, who emigrated to SA from Zimbabwe after that country's independence, to be penitent, quoting him as saying, “I do sincerely apologise for breaking American law for many years in order to procure products for my business. Under the circumstances (it) was necessary for the survival of the business and my ba- sic livelihood.”
Tatas's counsel Philip Hare is lodging an appeal on Tatos's behalf against the department's action.
NEW YORK NEWSDAY, TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 1992
Suit Asks Release Of Gun Sale Data
By M.P. McQueen
An antiapartheid group gave documents to a federal judge yesterday that it contends show U.S. government agencies are trying to cover up the illegal sale of guns to South Africa by U.S. manufacturers who smuggle them in through surrounding countries.
The Africa Fund, a nonprofit educational organization, contends that many of the arms are winding up in the hands of the Inkatha Freedom Party and are being used to promote violence against the rival African National Congress in the black townships.
Among the unclassified documents given to U.S. District Court Judge John Keenan in Manhattan were copies of a cable sent from then-Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger in July, 1991, to a U.S. Customs attache in Rome in which he states that gun export licenses to a firm in Harare, Zimbabwe, which borders South Africa, “all appear to be fraudulent.”
The Africa Fund contends the cable is evidence that the illegal gun sales have occurred but that the Department of Commerce and other agencies are dragging their feet about putting a stop to them.
The fund submitted the cables yesterday during a hearing in a civil lawsuit the group filed against the U.S. Department of Commerce and then-Secretary Robert Mosbacher in January, seeking to force him to release more than 1,000 pages of documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The fund contends the documents detail illegal transactions involving American gun dealers' diversion of shotguns and ammunition to South Africa from surrounding countries.
But the Commerce Department is fighting release of the information, claiming it is part of an ongoing criminal probe. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chinta Gaston, who is representing the Commerce Department, has asked Judge Keenan to delay the request.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter B. Sobol, who represents the government in a criminal probe of illegal arms shipments that he said was started 1991, also asked the judge not to release the information.
Another cable submitted to the judge yesterday by the Africa Fund that was sent from the U.S. Embassy in Gaborone, Botswana, to the Department of Commerce last July says that two of the department's Office of Export Enforcement investigators were being denied entry to that country because “the government of Botswana doesn't want multiple Clouseau impersonators tramping about, each conducting his / her own little investigation,” likening them to the inept French inspector of the “Pink Panther” films.
Yesterday, attorney Franklin Siegel, who is representing the Africa Fund, charged the government is engaged in a cover-up, a charge Gaston and Sobol denied.