Bosasa: lessons on how to buy a country
The testimony of self-confessed Bosasa paymaster Angelo Agrizzi suggests SA could be robbed blind because the watchdogs overseeing state institutions were themselves hopelessly corrupted
State capture inquiry witness Angelo Agrizzi’s evidence about the mechanics of corruption at facilities management company Bosasa has gripped SA’s usually fickle news cycle for a week now.
The testimony of the former Bosasa COO has dominated headlines, social media debates and conversation in a way that is arguably far more significant than it was for much of the testimony that came before.
Why is that?
Perhaps it’s because the as-yet untested evidence given by the self-confessed Bosasa paymaster confirms what many ordinary South Africans have long suspected: that the law enforcement and oversight bodies meant to protect them are compromised and corrupted.
If Agrizzi is to be believed, SA’s watchdogs have been enjoying the very same braai packs and cash-stuffed Louis Vuitton handbags used to capture the politically powerful.
His testimony suggests it is terrifyingly easy to ensure that an apparent slam-dunk corruption case never sees the inside of a courtroom, and that a parliamentary body meant to raise alarm bells about that very corruption can be effectively muted by bribing its members.
The evidence of this prosecutorial and parliamentary neutering is compelling.
Just four months ago, Special Investigating Unit (SIU) head Andy Mothibi took the extraordinary step of publicly taking on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) over its failure to pursue hundreds of criminal prosecutions recommended in the unit’s forensic reports.
The SIU is independent from the NPA and accountable to parliament and the president. It conducts investigations into "serious malpractice or maladministration relating to state institutions, state assets and public money" at the president’s request, and reports to him on the outcomes.
While the SIU has the power to institute civil claims to recover taxpayers’ money lost to irregular or corrupt tenders, it has no power to prosecute these cases. Instead, it must rely on the NPA to ensure those implicated face justice.
But this hasn’t been happening.
SA’s watchdogs have been feasting on the very same braai packs and cash-stuffed Louis Vuitton handbags allegedly used to capture the politically powerful
Mothibi said in September that the SIU had referred "many cases" to the NPA, but there had been no prosecutions to date.
"Leaving so many criminal cases, referred to the NPA by the SIU, hanging for [such a] long period is unsound and goes against the grain of good governance," Mothibi said. "It is absolutely critical to revisit all these outstanding cases which the SIU referred for prosecution to the NPA."
One of those outstanding cases involved alleged fraud, corruption and tender rigging at the department of correctional services in the awarding of four contracts (catering, access control, CCTV and fencing) worth R1.5bn to Bosasa.
The 2009 report found Bosasa had bribed former prisons boss Linda Mti and the department’s CFO, Patrick Gillingham, with cash, cars and gifts to win the tenders. It recommended that the NPA consider criminal prosecution.
Agrizzi testified on Tuesday that he had witnessed Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson making monthly payments of R65,000 to Mti on 25 to 30 occasions.
After one such meeting, Agrizzi claims Watson told him Mti — whom he referred to as "that fat man" — "always delivered on his promises".
According to Agrizzi, Bosasa continued to pay Mti for a decade after he resigned as national correctional services commissioner in 2006, as he had been "instrumental" in securing multibillion-rand tenders for Bosasa.
The SIU’s correctional services report was handed over to the NPA in 2010. Despite the strong evidence it contained, nothing happened.
The NPA last year blamed its years-long failure to act on the Hawks, claiming the unit had been slow to ensure key forensic reports were compiled.
The Hawks, in turn, claimed the delays were caused by issues with the payment of forensic investigators.
Agrizzi offers a more disturbing explanation for the delay. He claims Bosasa paid off key prosecutorial officials — including former prosecutions heavyweights Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi — to ensure the case was buried.
He further alleges Bosasa and Watson had decided in about 2011 that they had to bribe Jiba and Mrwebi through Mti, the very same former prisons boss implicated in the SIU report.
This was allegedly achieved through Mti’s former secretary, Jackie Lepinka, who has worked at the NPA for the past 12 years, and was reportedly working as Jiba’s personal assistant at the time.
She allegedly received R130,000 a month: R20,000 for herself; R100,000 for Jiba; and R10,000 for Mrwebi.
Sources in the prosecutions authority tell the FM that suspicions were swirling around Lepinka for some time, with one official suggesting she may have been "knocking" Bosasa for cash she never actually delivered to Jiba and Mrwebi.
Jiba’s response to the claims suggests this explanation may form part of her defence. She has been quoted as saying she wants to know "who has been accepting bribes in my name".
Agrizzi’s evidence on whether he personally witnessed Jiba receiving cash from Bosasa will therefore be pivotal, as will be the NPA’s explanation for why it failed to pursue the case.
What it means
Agrizzi’s testimony suggests SA’s law enforcement watchdogs were muzzled through corruption
Agrizzi has testified that he witnessed ANC MP Vincent Smith — a vociferous critic of Bosasa during his time on parliament’s portfolio committee on correctional services — accepting bribes of R45,000 and later R100,000 to ensure growing negative media coverage did not result in Bosasa’s contracts with the state drying up.
Smith, Agrizzi said, initially "wanted nothing to do with Bosasa".
But that stance seemingly shifted in 2015 and 2016, when Smith can be proven to have received R671,000 from Bosasa-linked accounts. But Smith claims these were personal loans from Agrizzi, who vehemently denies this.
Disturbingly, though, parliament’s ethics committee has done nothing to investigate the obvious ethical breaches committed by Smith in accepting this money and failing to declare it.
Unless parliament and the NPA properly investigate the officials named by Agrizzi and ensure that Bosasa finally answers to the evidence against it, his testimony may end up proving that SA’s watchdogs have been neutered.
Now, fat and silent, they will follow the whims of whichever master is willing to feed them.