South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party on Monday downplayed $826,000 in donations from United Manganese of Kalahari Ltd., a mining company partly owned by Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg.
Vekselberg was one of seven Russian oligarchs placed under sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2018 for supporting “malign activity around the globe,” including the Russian occupation of Crimea.
The Treasury Department stayed on Vekselberg’s trail into the Biden administration. In April 2022, Spanish law enforcement seized Vekselberg’s yacht at the request of a newly-formed U.S. task force assigned to crack down on sanctions violators. Federal agents raided properties linked to Vekselberg in Florida and New York in September.
In February 2023, U.S. prosecutors charged a Vekselberg associate named Vladimir Voronchenko with violating sanctions and money laundering. Voronchenko allegedly helped Vekselberg pay over $4 million to maintain his $75 million in U.S. properties. Two other Vekselberg associates were indicted for helping to maintain the yacht seized by Spain.
Forbes estimates Vekselberg’s current net worth at $6.9 billion. About $1.5 billion of his money in American and Swiss banks has been frozen.
The South African electoral commission recently collected disclosures from all political parties for donations in the past quarter. ANC’s statement included 15 million rand ($826,000) from United Manganese of Kalahari Ltd., a South African mining company whose connections to Vekselberg and heavy donations to the ruling ANC have been a topic of controversy since manganese prices blew through the roof in 2019.
Vekselberg is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, so Voice of America News (VOA) on Tuesday asked the ANC if his huge donations had any influence on the party’s stance toward the war in Ukraine, especially since the money arrived at a crucial moment in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reelection bid, when his party was desperately low on funds.
“The ANC receives both solicited and unsolicited financial support from various parties from all over the world. Some get accepted and others returned if found not to be aligned to the ANC’s values and policies. This current support will be looked at in the same light,” ANC spokeswoman Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri replied.
“The ANC’s stance on Russia-Ukraine conflict will remain the same. We do not believe that anything progressive can come out of conflict and war. We still urge all parties to meet and find amicable solutions,” she said.
South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) found that position risible.
“This explains what the ANC government’s approach to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is because it’s on the receiving end of millions of rands in donations from Russian oligarchs. It flies in the face of South Africa’s quest for and respect for human rights as the light that guides our foreign policy,” DA spokesman Solly Malatsi told VOA.
South Africa is officially neutral on the Ukraine conflict. It has abstained from two U.N. resolutions condemning the Russian attack. Ramaphosa has parroted Moscow’s line that NATO “caused” the war by expanding too aggressively into Russia’s sphere of influence, although the South African leader has also denounced the violence and offered to mediate a peace deal.
The U.S. criticized South Africa for holding joint military exercises with Russia and China in February, on a schedule that fell uncomfortably close to the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.
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