By Sebastian Jones
In 2001 Princeton University purchased bonds in British arms supplier BAE Systems, essentially giving a $1.5 million dollar loan to a company whose dealings with regimes like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe have come under repeated scrutiny from investigators, journalists and activists, WPRB has learned.
In Zimbabwe, BAE has been tied to alleged efforts by arms dealer James Bredenkamp to supply the government with military equipment, potentially in violation of sanctions. Just days ago Bredenkamp, who The Guardian claims “acted as BAE’s agent in southern Africa”, had his assets frozen by the United States Treasury Department for his close relationship with Robert Mugabe’s regime.
For years BAE supplied military equipment to Zimbabwe, a relationship that began in the 1980’s when the Zimbabwean Air Force acquired 12 fighter planes from British Aerospace, BAE’s predecessor.
In 2000, the British government imposed an arms embargo against Zimbabwe, yet replacement parts for BAE-manufactured planes arrived as late as 2001, in apparent violation of sanctions, according to a UN report. Those components were allegedly supplied by Bredenkamp, who received £20,000,000 between 2003 and 2005 from BAE, The Financial Times reported this July. The payment served as “the first detailed evidence of a financial relationship” between Bredenkamp and the company. Both have both repeatedly denied violating sanctions.
Beyond its dealings in Zimbabwe, BAE Systems has run into trouble elsewhere for questionable business practices. As of June 2007, The Guardian reported that the company had been investigated for alleged corrupt dealings in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Czech Republic, Romania, Chile, South Africa and Tanzania. In past decades, the firm counted the brutal Indonesian dictator Suharto among its clients.
For its part, Princeton’s dealings with BAE apparently extended beyond investments: in July 2001, one month after the bonds were purchased, Defense Daily reported that Princeton and BAE, along with 11 other universities and corporations, were collaborating on a “lucrative” $76,000,000 research project commissioned by the Army Research Laboratory.
University Spokeswoman Cass Cliatt, responding to questions about University investments in BAE Systems and in Zimbabwe generally, told WPRB in an e-mail sent Monday, that “as a matter of policy, the University does not disclose the specifics of investment portfolio or its return drivers.”
As with Princeton’s more recent investment in Zimbabwe revealed by WPRB yesterday, the University would not confirm or deny whether it currently has holdings in BAE Systems and would not say what internal standards, if any, Princeton employs in selecting and vetting its investments.
Stay with WPRB as we prepare additional reporting on the subject to be aired this Thursday on 103.3 FM and on the web at www.wprb.com at 5PM. Among our guests will be Andrew Meldrum, who wrote for The Guardian and The Economist about Zimbabwe for 23 years until he was kicked out of the country in 2003.