The ‘CIA agent’ who never was, plus five talking points from ‘Vrye Weekblad’

Here’s what’s hot in the latest edition of the Afrikaans digital weekly

22 October 2021 - 06:38 By TIMESLIVE
André Pienaar.
André Pienaar.

SA-born André Pienaar has been much maligned in the country of his birth. He’s been called an evil foreign agent by former president Jacob Zuma, and been vilified by journalists as a conniving intelligence operator.

He quotes US statesman Franklin D Roosevelt when asked how he feels about this. “Judge me by my enemies,” he says, “not my friends.”

Pienaar, the founder and managing partner of C5 Capital, an international investment group specialising in technology, spoke exclusively to Vrye Weekblad.

He’s a major player in cybersecurity, and in the space and nuclear power industries.

He leads the Limitless Space Institute and is on the boards of several cybersecurity companies; he’s on the advisory council of the US Institute of Peace; and he’s served on the president’s council of the transnational non-profit, International Crisis Group.

The son of an Afrikaner dominee, Pienaar is also one of the most connected South Africans abroad. He counts among his network former US and UK secretaries of defence Jim Mattis and Liam Fox, senior members of the Tory establishment, and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos (Pienaar’s wife, Teresa Carlson, is a former vice-president of Amazon Web Services’ worldwide public sector business).

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It’s not quite the picture Noseweek once painted — of a “mysterious and some say dangerous freelance intelligence operator”. In other reports, he was bizarrely named as the man who released the secret Zuma “spy tapes”, and was described as a supporter of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

With the release of the spy tape transcripts in 2014, he found himself labelled a “private intelligence operative close to [former president] Thabo Mbeki”.

Pienaar’s name has featured, too, in Zuma’s long-running corruption trial, with the former president’s legal team repeatedly alleging that he was a CIA agent who conspired against Zuma. In their view, this is one of the reasons the case against Zuma should be dropped.

Most recently, in his plea to have prosecutor Billy Downer removed from the case, Zuma claimed Pienaar’s code name was “Luciano” and that former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy had “received gifts” from Pienaar while leading the crime-busting unit.

Pienaar was part of a team that set up a standalone specialist law enforcement unit, staffed by the newly trained operatives, to fight organised crime and corruption. Once signed into law, the Directorate of Special Operations, or Scorpions, was born.

So what were Pienaar’s links to Scorpions head McCarthy? And where does “Luciano” come into the picture?

“Luciano”, as Pienaar tells it, was simply a joke between friends.

Read the full interview, and more news, analysis and interviews in this Friday's edition of Vrye Weekblad. 

Must-read articles in this week’s Vrye Weekblad

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FREE TO READ – PASS THE PARCEL | Can we trust the Post Office to send our parcels and letters? We rate the other available options.

A MATTER OF CIRCUMSTANCE | Was Oscar Pistorius saved by circumstantial evidence? That was some schadenfreude from the public when Pistorius was handed a more severe sentence on appeal. But he wasn't done in, writes Chris Marnewick SC, because the circumstantial evidence proved his version of events.

A NIGHT AT THE ST GEORGE'S | In a brightly lit conference room in Irene's most authentic Mediterranean hotel, resident satirist C. Louise Kortenhoven finds herself in the middle of a hostage drama.