Peter Bruce Tiso Blackstar Editor at Large
Picture: 123RF/GAJUS
Picture: 123RF/GAJUS

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Jacques Pauw’s new book, The President’s Keepers, almost smothered the Sunday Times yesterday, and rightly so. Citing what Pauw calls “impeccable sources” inside the SA Revenue Service (Sars) it accuses President Jacob Zuma of not paying his taxes during the first five years of his presidency, of taking R1m a month in salary (in addition to his official one) from KwaZulu entrepreneur Roy Moodley, and it accuses Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of accepting funding for her campaign to become the leader of the ANC in December from a cigarette smuggler.

Zuma will have quite a battle clearing his name before the December conference. Pauw suggests that the new head of Sars, Tom Moyane, an old Zuma family friend, has since ensured that Zuma is now tax compliant but that doesn’t answer any of the many questions his behaviour in his first term raises.

We will have to wait and see how Zuma responds should he come under political pressure on the issue. What we won’t have to wait long for are the answers to another story buried deeper in yesterday’s paper to which I am an unwitting party.

Last August the Gupta website, WMCLeaks, published a story, which I initially did not see, in which it somehow linked myself, former finance minister Trevor Manuel, the local head of Bank of Baroda Manoj Kumar Jha (whom I have never heard of, let alone spoken to), Financial Mail editor Rob Rose, and an unnamed “middleman”.

The story was accompanied by a diagram purporting to show how we were connected, suggesting we had all been in telephone or SMS contact with each other as part of a conspiracy to get Bank of Baroda to close the Guptas’ bank accounts.

MTN was alerted to the story and investigated to see whether anyone had been looking into those cellphone accounts — and lo and behold in turns out someone had been looking into mine.

An MTN fraud analyst, Primrose Nhlapho, was found to have illegally looked into my account. Confronted by her bosses, she confessed and now faces a criminal charge. She was due to face an internal disciplinary hearing but never turned up and has since resigned.

Nhlapho told MTN she had been paid R3,750 by a company called CPI (Combined Private Investigators), one of the biggest private investigation businesses in the country. It specialises in the vital job of combating cable theft.

She said she had been paid the money by a former policeman, Nico Smith, who is CPI’s head of investigations and intelligence. He was, according to his Facebook page, promoted into his position on August 16, 2016.

I know nothing about the Bank of Baroda beyond what I have read in the media, but it turns out that barely a month after Smith was promoted, I was surveilled by persons unknown. For about a week in September 2016 someone followed me around taking photographs of me and my wife, on my own and with friends. This was at the height of the now-collapsed UK public relations firm Bell Pottinger’s dirty tricks campaign for the Guptas.

It also turns out that on the September 2016 day that I visited a business to collect, or order, (I can’t remember which) some good collars for my dogs, my stalker photographed me saying goodbye to the woman who had the collars made. We hugged each other goodbye and I went on my way.

That very same day Nhlapho — not for the first time — had a look into my account.

It may have been a pure coincidence.

But last June, a long time after the surveillance, the Guptas published a scurrilous article on their website suggesting I was having an affair with the woman I had hugged in the road outside her home. They used the photographs taken during the previous September’s surveillance to illustrate their “story”.

They published my home number, the woman’s phone number, my wife’s phone number. They brought my first wife and our children into the story. It was disgusting and on the day I responded to it in my regular Business Day column, there was a protest outside my house.

I doubt that whoever it was who surveilled me had anything to do with the way in which his or her surveillance was eventually used. I also do not know Nhlapho and I am really sorry she has lost her job for such a paltry amount of money. But there’s not much I can do about it. MTN has already charged her. Neither do I know Smith. He seems to be an upright citizen, a loving father, a committed Christian and, most impressive, a Sharks supporter.

Nonetheless my employers thought it prudent to engage our attorneys and as a result we sought and obtained harassment protection orders in the Randburg magistrate’s court to prevent CPI from harassing us further, given that they were the ones who paid Nhlapho. The orders were granted and reported on in yesterday’s Sunday Times.

Both Smith and CPI strongly denied to the Sunday Times that they were behind the intrusion into my cellphone records. They say they will oppose the harassment order in the Randburg magistrate’s court on November 8.

Little wonder — failure to obey the order carries a maximum five-year jail term. It is a serious business and I look forward to meeting them.

It will be interesting to hear on what grounds they oppose the order. CPI and Smith concede that they paid Nhlapho, but they argue the money was intended for her son, who does some kind of work for them. Neither has ever heard of me.

I have nothing against Smith or CPI. As I say, they do important work. But Smith and Nhlapho apparently have a relationship going back in time. When he was a policemen, Smith would apparently use her to help execute section 205 orders (that’s when a judge orders that one’s cellphone records may be accessed).

What is particularly unsettling is that CPI’s biggest clients are Transnet and Eskom. Given the firm’s work in cable theft that would make perfect sense. But both state-owned companies, as many leaked e-mails have shown over the past few months, are heavily influenced by the Guptas.

If you join the dots, as people advise we should, you’ll get the picture. As I say, I’m not interested in Nhlapho or Smith. I’m making no judgments, but if CPI or Smith did indeed cause my cellphone account to be illegally accessed (on at least three occasions according to MTN), I’m pretty keen to know on whose behalf they did it.

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