Georgia investors should not overlook South Africa provided they take the steps necessary to manage the potential risks, said Willem Heath, CEO of Cape Town-based Heath Specialist Consultants Inc., a fiscal investigations agency.

Mr. Heath visited Atlanta last week and met with representatives of the South African American Business Association as well as members of the city’s business community to promote his company’s services here.

He is the former head of South Africa’s much-lauded Special Investigative Unit, created in 1997 and charged with investigating the corruption of the country’s state assets.  Mr. Heath resigned from his post in 2000 due in part, he said, to the government’s lack of cooperation with the unit’s efforts to bring corrupt practices to light.

          “I don’t pretend to potential investors that corruption in South Africa doesn’t exist, nor do I deny that the AIDS epidemic presents a serious problem for the country’s economic future,” he told GlobalFax in an interview last week.  However, there are steps that U.S. firms can take to minimize risk, he said.

          In the past, some U.S. companies have experienced considerable losses after entering into “partnerships” with South African firms that don’t actually exist, Mr Heath gave as an example.

          To prevent against such an occurrence, he advocated that foreign investors hire investigative agencies, such as Heath Specialist Consultants, to perform an audit of such potential partners, including a study of balance sheets and site visits.

          If the company “passes” the two initial investigative phases, Mr. Heath’s firm will continue to monitor its activities on an ongoing basis for the foreign investor to ensure compliance.

          He added that he saw much opportunity in the South African market for joint ventures and investment in apparel production operations, equipment manufacturing and food processing.

          Wine production in particular, he said, is a vibrant industry in the country, with the majority of operations belonging to foreign investors.

          Currently the largest foreign investors in South Africa are Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, but the country is very open to the idea of U.S. investment, Mr. Heath added.

          Contact Mr. Heath at