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Bombardier lobbying plan faces heat in South Africa

Bombardier Transportation executives visit the new rail link from Johannesburg airport to the city.

Erin Conway-Smith/The Globe and Mail

As it battled for a $2-billion South African railway deal, Bombardier Inc. left nothing to chance. Its lobbying strategy was so intimately detailed that it even noted the cigar and jazz tastes of a top South African politician.

The inner workings of the Bombardier lobbying campaign were shown in a document published by a South African newspaper on Friday. The document included a personal dossier on the hobbies and families of key government officials – and where to find them in their social activities.

Bombardier declined to comment on details in the newspaper report, but acknowledged the lobbying strategy, known as a "capture plan," for the lucrative high-speed rail contract. A spokesman for Bombardier said "capture plans" are standard practice for any company in a bidding process. He said it is normal for a company to "understand potential customers in a competitive environment."

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Bombardier is facing questions for its $35-million payment to a Tunisian agent as part of its efforts to win the South African train deal, the Gautrain project, which ultimately provided $2-billion in construction and maintenance business for the Montreal-based company.

A provincial legislator in the opposition Democratic Alliance party is demanding a report on the $35-million payment. "Taxpayers have paid dearly for the Gautrain," said the legislator, Jack Bloom. "We need to know that money was not wasted in secret payoffs or any other unjustified extra costs that point to corruption."

A respected South African weekly newspaper, the Mail and Guardian, said the Bombardier lobbying strategy was focused on key officials such as Mbhazima Shilowa, then-premier of Gauteng province, who eventually announced in 2005 that the Bombardier-led consortium would be the preferred bidder for the high-speed rail project.

Bombardier's dossier on Mr. Shilowa was a detailed one. According to the newspaper report, the "capture plan" described the politician as "charismatic, flamboyant" with an interest in "wines, cigars, jazz, cars." It recommended that he should be lobbied through a "representative" and "special events."

The plan suggested that Mr. Shilowa and other officials could be lobbied informally at social events such as the Cape Town Jazz Festival. According to the Mail and Guardian, the plan also included details on the family members of another key official, Jack van der Merwe, who was head of the Gautrain project evaluation team in 2005 and is now the chief executive officer of the Gautrain Management Agency. It reportedly listed the job of his wife and the university studies of his son.

The newspaper said the plan called for giving commercial benefits to the friends or associates of senior government officials. "Conclude agreements with third parties close to decision makers," the document reportedly advised.

The Gautrain Management Agency would not comment on the "capture plan" and its reported dossier on Mr. van der Merwe and others. "We are awaiting a full report from Bombardier before we will comment," said Barbara Jensen, a spokeswoman for the agency.

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Last week, Mr. van der Merwe asked the Canadian company to give an explanation of its reported $35-million payment to the Tunisian agent. Bombardier has apparently not done so yet, although it has promised to answer his questions.

The Bombardier spokesman would not comment on the specific details reported on the Gautrain lobbying plan. "We cannot confirm that the information contained in the Mail and Guardian article is an accurate reflection of the capture plan obtained," he said.

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About the Author
Africa Bureau Chief

Geoffrey York is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.He has been a foreign correspondent for the newspaper since 1994, including seven years as the Moscow Bureau Chief and seven years as the Beijing Bureau Chief.He is a veteran war correspondent who has covered war zones since 1992 in places such as Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. More

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