Still following the money, Crawford-Browne lifts the lid on some shady dealings and ruffles a few feathers along the way

Political and financial skulduggery

REVIEW | Eye on the Gold Terry Crawford-Browne (Reach Publishers)

Terry Crawford-Browne’s third book digs into some uncomfortable truths.
RUSH FOR GOLD: Terry Crawford-Browne’s third book digs into some uncomfortable truths.
Image: THE TIMES/DANIEL BORN

Arms deal activist Terry Crawford-Browne has been denounced as a “nutter” by many of those he has sought to expose.

Gaslighting inconvenient people is nothing new to the political classes, of course, and is practised the more widely the closer perceived enemies get to the truth.

Shooting from the hip has always been CrawfordBrowne’s style, though factual and documentary evidence lie at the core of his arguments.

A light on the all-too-cosy relationships between governments and multinational companies.

Following Eye on the Money (2007), primarily a look into the sanctions campaign waged against the apartheid government, and Eye on the Diamonds (2012), an account of the arms deal and the role of the dubious diamond barons, comes the third instalment, Eye on the Gold.

As in previous offerings, Crawford-Browne, as a former international banker, follows the money and traces SA’s history to its economic foundations, in this case the rush for gold in Johannesburg.

He describes how the British, in their quest for global domination, pounced on the treasure to fund wars that would seal the fate of millions of people around the world.

From these beginnings was born the apartheid state, which for decades was able to hold its detractors at bay because gold was coveted by the most powerful nations on the planet.

But with the depletion of the country’s reserves came an even more desired currency. Oil, at least for the time being, holds sway, and this time it is the US which has exploited a resource to strengthen the dollar — at whatever cost.

“With oil priced in dollars, Saudi oil provides the US with unlimited finance for military interventions anywhere on earth. Thus, when Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Hugo Chavez or the Iranians demanded payment for their oil in other currencies or in gold, the next step was ‘regime change’,” Crawford-Browne writes.

To those who have not read his previous books, the chapters he devotes to his role in the banking sanctions campaign and the more than two decades he spent picking holes in the arms deal are interesting, although many will already be familiar with these accounts.

That said, they do serve to shine a light on the all-too-cosy relationships between governments and multinational companies.

In a revealing account, Crawford-Browne writes: “[Swedish defence company] BAE and the British government’s Defence Export Services Organisation had originally proposed that South Africa should pay for purchases of BAE Hawk and BAE/Saab fighter aircraft from gold reserves.

From these beginnings was born the apartheid state, which for decades was able to hold its detractors at bay because gold was coveted by the most powerful nations on the planet.

But with the depletion of the country’s reserves came an even more desired currency. Oil, at least for the time being, holds sway, and this time it is the US which has exploited a resource to strengthen the dollar — at whatever cost.

“With oil priced in dollars, Saudi oil provides the US with unlimited finance for military interventions anywhere on earth. Thus, when Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Hugo Chavez or the Iranians demanded payment for their oil in other currencies or in gold, the next step was ‘regime change’,” Crawford-Browne writes.

To those who have not read his previous books, the chapters he devotes to his role in the banking sanctions campaign and the more than two decades he spent picking holes in the arms deal are interesting, although many will already be familiar with these accounts.

That said, they do serve to shine a light on the all-too-cosy relationships between governments and multinational companies.

In a revealing account, Crawford-Browne writes: “[Swedish defence company] BAE and the British government’s Defence Export Services Organisation had originally proposed that South Africa should pay for purchases of BAE Hawk and BAE/Saab fighter aircraft from gold reserves.

“When this was rejected, one of numerous failed BAE offset projects became funding manufacture gold rope necklace chains for export ... Once in Miami, the gold chains were melted down and sold as ingots. The department of trade & industry in 2002 estimated that BAE would earn US$637 million in offset credits for its downstream gold products.”

Some of the most striking parts of Eye on the Gold occur in the latter chapters.

Contextualising global politics with economic power plays, Crawford-Browne’s insights read like a real-world Scarface, a mapping of the rise and fall of Tony Montana-like characters whose control or fallibility depends on money and its prevailing value.

An interesting observation concerns the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in 2018.

“Trump unctuously declared that Khashoggi’s murder was a shame, but added that the issue was ‘all about America First and hundreds of billions of dollars of business’.

In August 2019 the North Gauteng High Court set aside the Seriti Commission of Inquiry’s report on the arms deal.

“That era is rapidly collapsing. Muslims around the world are increasingly repelled by Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, the Khashoggi affair and the extremism of Saudi Wahhabism.”

Crawford-Browne is currently the SA country co-ordinator for WorldBeyondWar, an international movement to end wars.

Given the nature of the organisation’s work, it is unsurprising his approach is unequivocal in bringing the message home.

At times this does cause the reader to conclude the leaps he makes are too fantastic. But it should also be remembered that in August 2019 the North Gauteng High Court set aside the Seriti Commission of Inquiry’s report on the arms deal, which inexplicably had found there was no evidence of fraud or corruption.

That decision was largely thanks to Crawford-Browne’s tenacity.

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