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Shotguns and Ammunition Sold to Apartheid South Africa in Violation of the United Nations Arms Embargo

By Richard Knight

The Africa Fund learned of apparent sales of shotguns and ammunition to apartheid South Africa in violation of arms embargo and alerted both the State Department and the Commerce Department in November 1990.  Dumisani Kumalo, then Projects Director of The Africa Fund, contacted both the State an Commerce Departments. Dumisani and I had a series of meetings with Commerce Department officials.  But it appeared the investigation was going nowhere.  So in June 1991 The Africa Fund filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request with the Department of Commerce to get documents relating to the shipments including export licenses.  When this was turned down we filed a FOIA suite in federal court, which I coordinated for The Africa Fund.  In discovery we learned that some 1,100 documents met our request.

There were several important results of this case, although we eventually lost the suite and did not get the documents we were seeking.  The case showed the lax enforcement of the arms embargo by the U.S. government.  One of the first responses to us was that the shotguns and ammunition had only been transshipped through South Africa.  (One could not imagine the U.S. government allowing transshipment of prohibited items through Iraq.)  During the case we received from an anonymous source a series of government cables and faxes that showed government incompetence in handling the original orders and jurisdictional wrangling between the Commerce and Customs once the investigation got underway.  The case is outlined in more detail in Testimony of Jennifer Davis, Executive Director of The Africa Fund, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Recent Developments in South Africa, September 23, 1992 (Excepts, with attachments).

Eventually a series of U.S. companies were charged, although the three cases cited here are small compared to the size of the case.  The cases were handled by the Bureau of Export Administration (BXA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Suburban Guns (Pty) Ltd.: In July 1997 Suburban Guns off Cape Town, South Africa, was fined $10,000 and placed on two-year's probation and ordered to pay a $600 special assessment fee  for illegally exporting shotguns, rifles and ammunition to South Africa.  On March 23, 1998, the Commerce Department imposed a 10-year denial of export privileges. See Order Denying Permission to Apply for or Use Export Licenses.

James L. Stephens / Weisser's Sporting Goods: On November 28, 1995 the imposed a 15 year denial of export privileges and a $60,000 civil penalty on James L. Stephens, president and co-owner of Weisser's Sporting Goods for the illegal export of shotguns to Namibia and South Africa.  Separately, on November 20, 1995 Weisser's Sporting Goods in National City, California pled guilty to one criminal count of violating U.S. export control laws for exporting shotguns to South Africa  On January 16, 1996 Weisser's Sporting Goods was fined $30,000 and placed on three years' probation.  Read the November 28, 1985 BXA press release of the Bureau of Export Administration. 

A.M. Rosenthal (Pty) Ltd: On March 19, 1992 the Commerce Department temporarily denied all U.S. export privileges to A. Rosenthal (Pty.) Ltd., located in Namibia and South Africa, and two of its employees, Karl Cording and Ian Ace.  On July 22, 1992 an Administrative Law Judge vacated this order.  The was later reversed and on August 8, 1997 the Commence Department's Undersecretary for Export Administration affirmed an Administrative Law Judge's order and decision denying Ian Ace's export privileges for 20 years, finding the manager of A. M. Rosenthal had conspired with others to export and exported U.S.-origin shotguns to Namibia and South Africa without a license.  The Under Secretary further found that, in connection with these exports, Ace made false statements of fact in connection with the preparation, submission or use of export control documents.  Separately, on June 6, 1997 one of Ace's co-conspirators, Karl Cording, was also denied export privileges for twenty years.

City Guns: An individual was indicted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of George, Atlanta Division, of stating that 620 fire arms were transferred to a Namibian company and an Austrian company when in fact they were transferred to City Guns, Ltd. in Cape Town, South Africa.  The individual was also indicted for illegally exporting to South Africa approximately 360 rifles, revolvers, semi-automatic handguns and .45-caliber frames.  I do not know the outcome of these cases.

The Africa Fund lawsuit received significant press coverage, especially in the Journal of Commerce.  I worked closely with Paula L. Green who wrote the stories and we gave exclusive on the original story.  I also worked with the Weekly Mail of South Africa, providing them information and receiving from them copies of a number of South African bills of entry documents.  One bill of entry was for "double barrel shotguns" for Suburban Guns and signed by Armscor, the South African government's armaments corporation. 

I wrote a report on the case Shotguns and ammunition for South Africa for The Africa Fund Trustees Shotguns and ammunition for South Africa in April 1998 that included copies of articles that appeared in the South African newspaper Business Day and New York Newsday.

The following is a selected list of the press coverage:

U.S. Probes Source of Illegal Arms Found in S. Africa by Paula L. Green, Journal of Commerce, September 14, 1992.

U.S. Investigates Arms Exports to Southern Africa by Ronald Sullivan, New York Times, September 15, 1992.

Suit Asks Release of Gun Sale Data by M.P. McQueen, New York Newsday, September 15, 1992.

Justice Dept. Probes S. Africa Gun Deals, New York Times, Sept. 15, 1992.

US Covering Up S. Africa Arms Sales, Apartheid Foe Says by Paula L. Green, Journal of Commerce, September 15, 1992.

Probe of arms shipments to S. Africa focuses here by Sharon Spivak and Philip J. LaVelle, San Diego Union-Tribune, September 16, 1992.

Anti-Apartheid Group Seeks to Subpoena Papers by Paula L. Green, Journal of Commerce, September 24, 1992.

Tons of US Arms Go Through S. Africa by Paula L. Green, Journal of Commerce, October 6, 1992.

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