André Pienaar, founder of C5.
André Pienaar, founder of C5.
  • André Pienaar, who featured in South Africa's 'Spy Tapes' saga, has been named in a BBC exposé.
  • Pienaar runs an international cybercrime firm with links to Amazon Web Services (AWS), as well as to a controversial Russian oligarch.
  • AWS is a frontrunner to get a massive new contract to provide cloud services to the US military - and its association with Pienaar has been brought into question. 

A South African corporate spy-turned-businessman has been named in a BBC exposé on Wednesday.

The BBC linked André Pienaar, who apparently managed a controversial Russian oligarch’s interests in South Africa, to a massive new contract to store US military secrets in the cloud. 

Pienaar is a former corporate intelligence operative who featured in South Africa "spy tapes" saga

Pienaar’s cybersecurity firm, C5, has worked with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which has a large operation in South Africa. 

Read: Is Amazon scouting for a massive new office in Cape Town?

AWS is the leading bidder to host the US government’s $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (Jedi) project – a cloud computing platform that will support weapons systems and classified Pentagon data.

This may include the US nuclear codes.

Pienaar - described “a well-connected South African with business ties to a wealth of illustrious names” – reportedly has close links to Kremlin insider Viktor Vekselberg, the BBC reports. Vekselberg is on the US sanctions list due to his ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Vekselberg heads the Renova group, which owns various manganese assets in South Africa. Some of the assets were owned in partnership with the ANC's investment arm.

Vekselberg told the BBC that Pienaar “was a paid portfolio manager for his businesses in South Africa”.

“According to this version of events he must have been working for Mr Vekselberg whilst running C5 and working on projects with Amazon Web Services,” BBC reports. Pienaar told the BBC he consulted for Vekselberg on a mining issue.

The BBC detailed links between C5 and AWS, including C5’s work on an AWS contract to develop cloud-computing platforms for the Kingdom of Bahrain.  

Last year, Pienaar took part in a panel at the AWS Public Sector Summit in Washington that discussed the US Central Intelligence Agency's decision to appoint Amazon Web Services to host sensitive information in the cloud. 

AWS
An AWS tweet from 2017

But C5 and AWS say C5 is not involved in the Jedi bid in any way.

Pienaar's South African past

In the 2000s, Pienaar worked as a corporate intelligence operative, eventually heading the South African division of the global security group Kroll. 

He had close ties with former Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy, and played a part in the infamous Spy Tapes saga, when McCarthy was taped discussing the prosecution of former president Jacob Zuma with Pienaar. 

Zuma submitted secret recordings of McCarthy and other National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) officials to argue why he should not be prosecuted on hundreds of corruption charges. Zuma said he was being prosecuted to bolster the political position of Thabo Mbeki.

In 2009, the NPA withdrew the charges against Zuma, citing a political conspiracy against him and collusion between McCarthy and Mbeki.

"At the time, Pienaar was said to be acting as a proxy for Thabo Mbeki in colluding with McCarthy to bring down Zuma," Noseweek reported last year. "However, more recent developments – and closer scrutiny of company records from that time – suggest that Pienaar was far more likely a proxy of Jacob Zuma than of Thabo Mbeki. In which case the recorded conversations may well have been a deliberate set-up."

Noseweek points out that Pienaar - reportedly know in intelligence circles under the code name "Luciano" - has since emerged as a funder and council member of the African Union Foundation, which was headed by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Pienaar left Kroll in 2004 to start the investigations firm Good Governance Group (G3) in London. He sold his stake in G3 to a Swedish firm for £14 million, before founding C5. 

The Telegraph revealed in 2011 that Pienaar made payments of as much as £60,000 through his security company for an unregistered charity linked to the UK former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox. Fox was forced to resign due to undeclared ties with a lobbyist, who also had ties to Pienaar.

UPDATE: In a statement released following the BBC article, C5 said there are several factual inaccuracies in the BBC piece which are "the subject of legal discussions". 

In response to the Business Insider article, C5 said that "Pienaar is not a former South African spy. He has never worked for the South African government." 

"Mr Pienaar has never been known as ‘Luciano’ by anyone."

"Mr Pienaar has never worked as a freelance intelligence operative. He started his career in Kroll in 1996 in the London office of Kroll after completing a Masters Degree at the University of Wales. He ended up as Managing Director in the London Office.

"When Mr Pienaar was at Kroll, Kroll helped to build the Directorate of Special Operations, also known as the Scorpions, who investigated and prosecuted President Zuma (after Mr Pienaar had left Kroll and was no longer involved) for corruption. This is a matter of public record.

"We would question what evidence you have that Mr Pienaar leaked the spy tapes to President Zuma? The Spy Tapes are on the public record as having been taken by government agency that targeted the anti-corruption investigation into Zuma. The Spy Tapes have been thrown out by the highest South African Court as illegal wiretaps of unknown provenance."

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