One of the most sensational leaks alleging serious criminality in the tobacco industry occurred on Twitter earlier this month. Thousands of documents, photographs, sound clips and affidavits were dumped online implicating the multinational British American Tobacco company in various acts of criminality including bribing SAPS, SARS and other government officials and conducting industrial espionage on its rivals. The leak, if documents prove to be true, provide evidence of a serious threat to democracy. By MARIANNE THAMM.
The leak by an account, @EspionageSA, began early in August and confirmed, to some extent, what journalists at amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism had been writing about for years. That it reveals, according to former Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes, how “a messy nexus of intelligence networks employed by competing tobacco firms works and how their activities compromise state bodies, notably in the the battle for control of the SA Revenue Service”.
“What fewer people have noticed is that amaB, and Sam Sole in particular, have been tracking connections between the tobacco industry, big and small, licit and otherwise and grand corruption for over a decade. Many of the names in the mix in the SARS debacle, including Martin Wingate-Pearse, also featured in the M&G’s investigation into Jackie Selebi.”
Dawes added that prior to these investigations were those into “dodgy aviation and cigarette firms operating in Johannesburg that were linked to former apartheid spies, Russian aviation firms, and arms smugglers. I spent a lot of time snooping around hangars at Rand Airport and Rustenberg and talking to Russian pilots. Sam got deeper into the guts of the system.”
This was, he added, “an industry in which criminality and state capture aren’t accidents, they are baked into the mix, and in South Africa with its new and fragile institutions it poses a clear and present danger not just to health, but to the functioning of democracy”.
In light of the seriousness of these allegations Daily Maverick sent the following 28 questions to the Hawks.
Do you have any knowledge of the content of what has been publicly released on Twitter by @EspionageSA?
Do you have any knowledge of the disbandment of the Tobacco Task Team and its private partners, including FSS, TISA and BAT?
Who were the stakeholders who formed part of the Tobacco Task Team?
Do you have any knowledge of the existence of the Tobacco Task Team headed by Hawks Brigadier Casper Jonker?
Can you confirm that the Tobacco Task Team was managed by a team consisting of Brigadier Jonker as the head, Lieutenant Colonel Hennie Niemann of SAPS Crime Intelligence and SSA officials, Ferdi Fryer and later Chris Burger and NPA advocate Johan van Heerden and others of the NPA, SAPS, and FIC?
Can you confirm that attorney Belinda Walter was a paid informant for the Tobacco Task Team? Can you confirm that she was by way of introduction by the Tobacco Task Team also an informant to FSS and BAT for which she was also paid? Is it lawful to recruit and pay a lawyer for information on clients?
Can you confirm that FITA was formed “in conjunction with the Tobacco Task Team and the SSA”?
Can you confirm that SARS was not a permanent member of the Tobacco Task Team? If not, why not?
What were the aims and objectives [mandate] of the Tobacco Task Team and subsequent operating environments?
How were the members of the Task Team recruited/selected? Were recruitment processes followed? How were the private partners/stakeholders selected?
Who was heading the Tobacco Task Team and who was it responsible and accountable to?
Do you know anything about the illegal entry of tobacco manufacturer Carnilinx’s property by a joint team comprising members of the Tobacco Task Team and private security firm FSS where a person named “Rassie” wore a black “catsuit” and required everybody with him to wear gloves?
Who were Jonker, Niemann, Fryer, Burger, Van Heerden and what were their positions, roles and responsibilities within the Tobacco Task Team?
Can you confirm that the Tobacco Task Team, FSS, TISA and BAT co-operated in conducting surveillance of citizens of this country with the necessary legal authority?
Kindly share with us or provide a copy of any agreements between the Hawks, SSA, NPA, FIC, SARS, SAPS crime intelligence that guided the activities of the Tobacco Task Team?
Was the Head of the Hawks [accounting officer] briefed about all key strategic operations of the Tobacco Task Team?
Is it standard practice, for instance, for someone like Lt-Colonel Niemann to meet with informants together with FSS investigators and then sign confirmation of payment to the informer using funds obtained from FSS?
In light of the views expressed by the Ministers of Police and State Security on 3 March 2016 with respect to the so-called SARS “rogue unit”, can you confirm that the acquisition and use of sophisticated spy equipment with interception and surveillance capabilities by FSS is also being investigated by the Hawks?
The payment by FSS to individuals in a concealed manner in exchange for information on the commercial competitors of BAT and TISA members suggest the offences of money laundering, corruption and FICA contraventions. Were you aware of these practices? If not, are you intending to investigate those implicated?
Is there anything that the Tobacco Task Team, Hawks officials and police officials and those associated with the Tobacco Task Team may have been involved in that you would not have been aware of?
Do you know anything about operations code named “Charlie/Oudtshoorn/Black Widow/Bravo/Vlakplaas/Piper/Siera/Alpha/Ching” or the installation of sophisticated surveillance equipment at 19 De Beer street Lydenburg and Carnilinx, Salisbury Street, Johannesburg?
Who authorised these? Is this in line with the Tobacco Task Team mandate and was it done lawfully?
What were the objectives and targets of these projects?
Did the relevant Ministers approve the establishment of and identify members of the respective departments to work within the Tobacco Task Team? Provide evidence.
Were there things at the Tobacco Task Team that would have happened without your knowledge?
Did members of the Tobacco Task Team appear on the Hawks, SAPS, SSA, NPA, FIC, SARS normal employees’ payroll?
If this Tobacco Task Team was operating legitimately, why were they operating from guesthouses, hotels, restaurants and private dwellings? Further, why were they not provided with Hawks, SARS, SAPS, NPA or FIC equipment? Why did they use privately purchased equipment that belongs to private investigations firms?
How was the funding of the various operations managed? Which costs were paid for by the Hawks, the SSA, NPA, SAPS, FIC, SARS, BAT, TISA, FSS and others?
Who authorised the procurement of the surveillance equipment to be utilised during the Tobacco Task Team operations?
Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (as espionage and bribery are surely priority crimes?) spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi responded; “We only comment on official complaints and the BAT is one of those that was leaked to the public and no formal docket has been opened. Unless otherwise you have a case number we can assist and if not we cannot help, this goes to the SAPS as well.” DM
Photo: The Hawks’ acting head General Berning Ntlemeza (Lucky Nxumalo for Netwerk24)
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