Favourite courtier of African presidents Jacob Zuma, Ali Bongo and Denis Sassou-Nguesso, South African Ivor Ichikowitz is little by little making his mark in Central Asia. Alongside such influential regional businessmen as Kenges Rakichev in Kazakhstan and Fuad Seyidaliyev in Azerbaijan, the head of the Paramount arms group is trying to establish himself there, while still maintaining his positions in Africa.

A long-standing supporter of the African National Congress (ANC), the party which has been in power in South Africa since 1994, Ichikowitz was able to move into the arms business on a grand scale after the end of apartheid. A close associate of Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela, and a business partner of Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of South Africa's second post- apartheid president, Thabo Mbeki, he quickly benefited from the connections of the country's new masters and from the aura they enjoyed on the African continent. He also has links with influential businessmen close to the ANC like Tokyo Sexwale and Robert Gumede. But it was his links with the ANC's former treasurer general, businessman Mathews Phosa, a close collaborator of Jacob Zuma, which enabled his business activities to really take off after Zuma became head of state.

Ichikowitz did not by any means seek to limit his activities to the Rainbow Nation but quickly extended them to the rest of Africa, notably Gabon, Congo and Libya, as well as to Central Asia, notably Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, and the Near East. His friends include Frenchman Jean-Yves Ollivier, who has connections at the highest level in West Africa, and Souheil Rached, a former collaborator of Moussa Koussa, head of the Libyan security services during the Muammar Gaddafi era.

Known for his love of luxury and decorum, Ichowitz relies on a few close collaborators, with, first among them, his brother, Eric Ichikowitz, who has become increasingly prominent in the family group over the years. For the last 20 years, he has entrusted the day-to-day management of Paramount to John Craig, while, to direct strategy in the aeronautical field, he formed a partnership 10 or so years ago with one of the preferred engineers of the South African Air Force (SAAF), Paul Potgieter. In 2013, he acquired military aircraft and helicopter manufacturer Advanced Technologies & Engineering (ATE), headed at the time by Frenchman Jean-Marc Pizano, and thus took over the group's contracts with the armed forces of several countries on the African continent.

In reality, however, Ichikowitz built up his contacts network well before he went into the defence industry. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was one of the African representatives of raw materials trader Glencore. Subsequently, he became a key confidant of the powerful by opening luxurious lodges in southern Africa. With his former Glencore colleague Kirk Lazarus, he set up the Molori Safari Lodge in South Africa's Madikwe Game Reserve, where guests included such prestigious and influential figures as Nelson Mandela, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, former Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga and American boxing star Floyd Mayweather.

Ichikowitz comes from an East European Jewish family. His grandfather Charles Ichikowitz arrived in South Africa from Lithuania in the 1930s and made a fortune in the timber trade. His father Louis Ichikowitz went into business importing Suzuki cars from Japan. Despite his family's wealth, Ivor Ichikowitz has long sought to strengthen his influence through his charitable body, the Ichikowitz Family Foundation. This body finances everything from ANC dinners to anti-poaching operations in the Kruger Park and the work of artists. Ichikowitz also backs high tech start-ups. In August 2015, he invested $2 million in PaidEasy, a smartphone payments application created by Gregg Jackowitz.