South Africa

Days of Zondo

Bosasa Inc: Not even the dead were sacred in schemes to feed corrupt hungry animal

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – JANUARY 16: Former Bosasa Chief Operations Officer (COO) Angelo Agrizzi during his testimony at the Raymond Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture on January 16, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Agrizzi revealed that Bosasa spent R4m-R6m in a cash a month on bribing officials and politicians for contracts and tenders. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Alaister Russell)

Bribery costs money and Bosasa concocted all sorts of outrageous schemes to generate the millions needed to keep the wheels of its corrupt and criminal enterprise going.

An exhausted Angelo Agrizzi who captured South Africa’s attention this week with his testimony about the industrial-scale corruption operation of utility’s company, Bosasa, wrapped up a third day of testimony before the State Capture inquiry on Friday afternoon.

The day’s evidence dealt with among other things:

  • Bosasa CEO, Gavin Watson’s controversial and clandestine donation to the campaign of President Cyril Ramaphosa in the run-up to the ANC’s December 2017 elective conference,

  • How the company paid nearly R2-million towards an unspecified ANC election campaign;

  • Claims of orchestrated server crashes to wipe out electronic records ahead of a visit to Bosasa by the Special Investigating Unit; and

  • An allegation that the company paid over R1-million towards the legal fees of controversial former SABC boss, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

And, Agrizzi presented startling details of the inner workings of the company’s alleged bribery system – one he estimated to have cost the taxman in excess of R100-million over a nine-year period.

Agrizzi based this figure on the roughly R4-million to R6-million a month Bosasa paid to corrupt government officials and politicians.

To grease the palms at the various state-owned entities and government departments where Bosasa held lucrative contracts, the company needed hard cash and lots of it as they were allegedly dispensing bribes every week.

The Bosasa system, he told the Commission, was not one designed for once-off gratification. The company believed in retainers to ensure long-term loyalty from the civil servants or politicians they had bought.

There were also substantial cash “bonus” payments, paid as hush-money to staff who were aware of what they were doing.

Agrizzi unpacked the content of one of his little “black books” containing a record of hard cash generated, counted and stashed in safes against bribes paid – however details of that and the much-anticipated names of the recipients are yet to be presented.

Cashing in on the dead

He also gave the Commission a detailed account of the various systems that he says Bosasa used to generate hard cash.

Initially, cash businesses like canteens or relying on grocery purchases from illegal immigrants held at the Lindela repatriation centre which Bosasa managed for government, were sufficient.

But later on, the company’s bribe needs required much more money, especially once they landed Correctional Services contracts that, Agrizzi described, as a “hungry animal”.

Among the mad schemes implemented by the company was to capitalise on an employee death benefit fund it had with Metropolitian.

At one stage (many) employees were losing loved ones, due to natural causes. We then decided we had to help them. We did a Metropolitan fund to cover them in the event of death.”

But because the issuing of death certificates was often delayed, the company paid families up front.

They spotted a gap: Bosasa would then use the names of those same families to issue a second cash cheque to the affected family – only this money would not go to the family, in fact, they would not even know about. The cheque would be cashed for the bribe operation but noted in the books as a “generous” second payment to the unsuspecting family.

The company would pretend it had issued a double-payment to the affected family,” Agrizzi said.

The last time he recalled signing off on one of these, was around mid-2016, he said.

Another system commonly associated with criminal activity involved Bosasa buying a company that owned a fuel station in Belfast, Mpumalanga.

Cash paid for petrol by motorists would be handed in bulk to Bosasa while the company would then issue a fictitious invoice against which Bosasa would release the equivalent via an electronic fund transfer.

Bosasa would also put in a booze order with a company called Jumbo Liquors. Except there would be no such delivery, just an opportunity to create an invoice, again for an electronic transfer to Jumbo Liquors which would then pass the cash to an agent who would hand it to Bosasa in exchange for a small cut.

There would be no alcohol, not even for Communion,” said Agrizzi (Watson and his staff did engage in frequent prayer services he earlier testified).

Those invoices, he testified, would be put through as tax deductible “operational” expenses, he said.

There was a string of others, like paying ghost workers supposedly employed at various sites of Bosasa’s government projects or more fictitious invoices from companies about to go into liquidation just so they can cash cheques against those.

They would raise fake invoices in name of a small start-up, one with no VAT number…it generally involved small suppliers,” he said.

Bosasa would simply re-generate those same invoices over and over to cash cheques against it.

In one of these cases, Agrizzi said, this involved a company linked to a former employee who had died. “Those people had no idea.”

Even the chicken orders for the prisons that Bosasa catered for were inflated – padded with orders for non-Vat items like rice or beans (items prisoners would never be fed) just so they could release extra cash for their bribery pay-out operation.

Agrizzi told the Commission there were roughly 80 or so people on Bosasa’s kick-back payroll for gifts at one stage and that, in addition to monthly cash payments, there were also favours ranging from servicing their cars, settling school fees or making travel arrangements for their children.

He said that when he doubted some of those requests, he would double-check to confirm the arrangements with Watson.

Watson, he said, would deal directly with bribes payable to “high profile” individuals. “Occasionally he would visit them to pay it in person.”

I told him to keep detailed records in case things happened.

Watson allegedly told him: “I don’t use paper, been trained to use my memory.”

Over the course of many years, Agrizzi said he was responsible for the cash transactions and keeping the books.

But, Watson, he said, knew all about it.

I could not do anything without his approval…it was too dangerous to do things without his knowledge.”

But, he said, he didn’t believe Watson actually knew the extent of the outgoing bribes which he was heard describing as “monopoly” money in a cellphone video recording presented at the Commission on Thursday.

Agrizzi detailed how, in an effort to tidy up a messy office one day, he came across a refuse bag containing R70 000 in cash.

The alleged bribes were initially paid out having been disguised as operational expenses like marketing but once this was picked up by the Special Investigating Unit, Bosasa switched to other, more novel systems.

The notes in the little black book submitted to the Commission were in Agrizzi’s own handwriting and were based on his personal record-keeping system.

And, he added, the rule was that he would sign off on every payment.

Towards the end of Friday, Agrizzi, who had been in the witness box for several hours, testified to his knowledge of the content of a controversial affidavit by former Bosasa auditor, Peet Venter, allegedly signed around 18/19 December 2017. (Read the full Peet Venter Affidavit.)

In this document, Venter details various alleged unlawful instructions he allegedly executed at the request of Gavin Watson.

This “highly confidential” statement with the heading, “Tax fraud and racketeering by Gavin Watson” was allegedly drawn up by Venter who now seemingly claims to have been “forced” to do it by Agrizzi.

In the affidavit Venter details Watson’s instructions for the Ramaphosa donation, which carried only an arbitrary reference, “Boag” on the recipient’s statements – the President, having said that he had no knowledge of the payment, has since undertaken to return the money.

Venter allegedly wanted to join Agrizzi’s team of Bosasa whistleblowers but changed his mind after a meeting with Watson –the statement though later surfaced in the public domain.

In the statement he details how Watson had allegedly instructed him to arrange a payment of R500 000 towards Ramaphosa’s campaign to clinch the ANC presidency in December 2017.

Agrizzi denied that he had any role in pressuring Venter to attest to this affidavit and

told the Commission that Venter wrote his own statement, on his own computer and said that several other witnesses could attest to this.

Nobody assisted him.”

Agrizzi’s testimony is scheduled to resume on Monday. DM


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