South Africa

Days of Zondo

Agrizzi: More songs about Jacob and Dudu, and the sound of R250-million silence

Archive Photo: Former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi gives testimony at the commission of inquiry into state capture, chaired by chief justice Raymond Zondo on January 23, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

‘Bosasa paid Jacob Zuma and Dudu Myeni.’ Agrizzi names media consultants among journalists paid. ‘Armscor boss, Kevin Wakeford, was a R100,000 fixer.’ And why a sweetheart deal to silence Agrizzi flopped.

With a R250-million deal on the cards — perhaps naively, Angelo Agrizzi actually believed he could turn Bosasa from a dirty, corrupt enterprise into an apolitical one that could survive without government connections and the lucrative deals that came with it.

This is what Bosasa allegedly dangled to lure him back into the fold after a two-week radio silence in August 2016.

But the woes and fate of this controversial facilities management company were never just about Agrizzi, his sanity or redemption.

The stakes were simply too high, too many allegedly having been paid off to subvert the system – from ordinary bent civil servants to a network of politicians that went up to the highest office in the land and into the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

After much anticipation about the identity of journalists alleged to have been paid to spin for the embattled company at the height of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering investigations, everything paled once the name of former president Jacob Zuma, his close ally, Dudu Myeni, and some illegally obtained files were presented at the State Capture inquiry on Monday morning.

Agrizzi testified to how the former SAA chairperson Myeni allegedly facilitated meetings between Bosasa and Zuma, that she put in requests for the company to provide event catering in Zuma’s name (amounting to more than R3-million a year), and how she allegedly collected R300,000 a month in cash, ostensibly for the Jacob G Zuma Foundation, which she also chairs.

When Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson developed reservations about whether the cash was reaching Zuma, he allegedly travelled to Nkandla, the former president’s homestead and personally handed him a bag of R300,000 – during a meeting to lobby for help to crush the ongoing investigations.

Agrizzi told the commission of inquiry that Bosasa was first introduced to Zuma by an Eastern Cape guesthouse owner who had attended one of Bosasa’s morning prayer meetings. A colleague’s credit card was soon topped up to arrange a shopping trip for the woman, named as Zuki Madonga.

Later that same day, Agrizzi says he accompanied Watson to Zuma’s home in Forest Town, Johannesburg.

Zuma had been elected president of the ANC but was not yet president of the country.

A while later, Myeni would facilitate a second meeting with Zuma.

This, he testified, was shortly after a major newspaper exposé about the cost of the upgrade at Zuma’s homestead.

Watson went to Nkandla and allegedly reported back to a Bosasa executive meeting that he was shocked about the price of the refurbishments, that it wasn’t worth it and that the toilets looked as if they had come straight out of Builders Warehouse.

That meeting with Zuma, Agrizzi testified, was specifically about shutting down the Bosasa investigation.

Watson was unhappy that another alleged paid ally, Nomvula Mokonyane, was being cold-shouldered by Anwa Dramat, the then head of the Hawks, who were investigating Bosasa.

Watson, he said, needed Zuma to intervene.

He testified that he later attended a meeting with Watson, also attended by former Correctional Services Commissioner, Lindi Mti, who was on the company’s payroll.

Watson was on the line to Zuma and then allegedly handed the phone to Mti saying, “here, your boss wants to speak to you”.

Mti, at the end of the telephone conversation, allegedly told Zuma:

I’m ready to be deployed.”

Asked whether Watson ever gave him a sense that he had the support of Zuma, Agrizzi said:

Watson believed he was totally bulletproof (with Mr Zuma on his side).”

Agrizzi portrayed Myeni as a necessary ally because she was known to be close to Zuma.

When Watson asked for advice about a gift for Myeni, Agrizzi checked with his wife, who then recommended a Louis Vuitton handbag.

My wife placed the order and indicated the brand and model number. Another lady went to pay for the bag and then delivered to Mr Watson,” Agrizzi said.

He said he later watched as Watson stuffed the expensive handbag with R300,000 before it was given to Myeni.

Myeni allegedly later wrote a “thank you” note which Agrizzi read out during his testimony.

He said Watson asked him to accompany him to a meeting with Myeni one afternoon.

He told me that she had important documents and it was critical that we attended.”

Agrizzi claims Watson told him that Myeni had obtained some information from the NPA relating to the investigations against Bosasa.

Asked by senior advocate Paul Pretorius whether any preparations were made for the meeting, Agrizzi: “Yes, money was prepared, R300,000.”

This he said, was allegedly given to Myeni at the Sheraton Pretoria Hotel where they met her in a lobby area on the fifth or sixth floor.

She was sitting in the corner on a couch. It was a private corner with glass all around it.

She explained to us that she had had meetings at the NPA, long ‘tedious’ meetings, and that they were working on shutting down the Bosasa investigation.” Agrizzi had earlier testified to alleged bribe payments for suspended deputy national director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba, special director Lawrence Mrwebi and an executive secretary, Jackie Lephinka.

Myeni then allegedly showed him a pack of documents contained in a thick beige folder, described as a “police case docket”, which he said he was not allowed to copy.

Agrizzi excused himself from the meeting to go and read the “very very secret” documents in a quiet corner.

But it was too much material, so he sneaked a few photographs of the paperwork.

Of those he managed to photograph, were documents titled:

Department of Correctional Services case docket — it referred to the Anti Corruption Task Team, had monthly progress reports and listed offences under investigation as fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering.

Several tables were included with headings that the “status of the investigation”, the names of the various law enforcement officials involved in the case and the names of several suspects, including that of Agrizzi.

Asked why Watson’s name was not on the list, Agrizzi simply said if you had the right connections, you could worm your way out of anything.

A key feature of this evidence is that the investigators had already been to the Sheraton Pretoria Hotel where they examined the meeting area against details on the photographs that Agrizzi took. This includes a patterned background from either the floor or couch where Agrizzi says he photographed the documents.

The commission’s own investigators have scouted the carpet on the sixth floor of the hotel and will later lead independent evidence about this, and will present evidence about Myeni allegedly having been a guest at the hotel on the same day.

Agrizzi says he no longer has the cellphone he used to take those pictures but told the commission that his phones are traditionally synced to his computer. As such, he said, a simple check of the metadata on iCloud should provide the exact location of where the documents were captured.

He says when he returned to the private meeting room, Watson allegedly told Myeni:

Please, this has to get shut down now.”

Specifically, she was asked to go to the president to deal with it.

The journalists

Earlier in the day, Agrizzi shared facts and codes for bribes documented in one of his little black books which he has handed to the commission along with some secret recordings to boost parts of his testimony.

But the self-confessed enabler of Bosasa’s industrial-scale corruption operation also has some major gaps that will send investigators into a multitude of new avenues in the quest to fully gather the evidence required for concrete findings.

Until now Agrizzi has enthralled South Africa with his explosive testimony of how Bosasa clinched and retained government business by paying off politicians and senior civil servants. Most of it has been devastating in its detail.

But on Monday morning, he seemed tired, less present and reminded South Africa of the huge sacrifice he has made to spill the beans in one of State Capture’s biggest and most extensive scandals.

He told the commission there was no truth to weekend media reports that he planned to leave the country once his testimony was done, saying he had decided to sell his home as he and his wife were downscaling.

He had also alerted the commission’s investigators to an upcoming fishing trip to Italy.

Furthermore, he was distressed that he was under “protection” and unable to move around freely as this meant he could not be present for the birth of his grandchild today.

Agrizzi, seeming somewhat emotional, shared these personal details shortly before senior advocate Paul Pretorius, the head of the commission’s legal team, began asking him about journalists allegedly on the Bosasa payroll — Agrizzi previously said that Bosasa spent up to R6-million a month on bribes.

Last week he testified about a R71,000 payment requested by one of the company’s directors, Papa Leshebane.

This, Agrizzi said, he was told would be for payments to a number of regular beneficiaries, a few people at the Lindela Repatriation Centre where Bosasa held a contract through the Department of Home Affairs and “some journalists”.

Asked for the names of those journalists on Monday, Agrizzi named two PR consultants, Benedicta Dube and Stephen Laufer.

Laufer released a statement on Monday afternoon disputing Agrizzi’s testimony as it relates to him and said that he terminated the company as a client, allegedly after being asked to undertake “unethical” activities directed against specific journalists in 2007.

Read Laufer’s full statement.

Dube, a former HR manager at Independent Newspapers, has since died.

In addition, Agrizzi named “controversial” blogger and former newspaper columnist Pinky Khoabane, another mentioned only by the name of “Nthuli” possibly from The Times or The Star and a “Bongs” with ties to the Eastern Cape at one stage.

While the consultants were seemingly hired to perform work for Bosasa, Agrizzi says he never saw physical cash payments in respect of Khoabane, “Nthuli” or Bongz as they were handled by Leshebane.

However, he told the commission that he was generally requested to arrange the money.

Khoabane immediately took to Twitter and stated that she had never met Agrizzi (he never said they had) and had never received payment in exchange for writing favourably about the company. She also stated on Twitter that she would be making a submission to the commission and intends applying to cross-examine Agrizzi.

Khoabane has recently been involved in a public dispute with News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson, who has covered the Bosasa corruption scandal for about a decade, after her website, uncensoredopinion.co.za, published details of a recorded conversation in which Agrizzi allegedly made racist references to some black former colleagues.

Agrizzi on why Bosasa ‘paid’ Kevin Wakeford

Armscor CEO Kevin Wakeford took special leave when Agrizzi first named him during testimony at the commission. On Monday Agrizzi provided detail for his initial claims about the role allegedly played by Wakeford in aiding Bosasa during a run-in with the SA Revenue Service.

Described as a long-standing friend of the Watsons, Agrizzi says there was a stage where Bosasa was being audited by SARS, especially when negative media reports were circulating.

He said Watson would consult Wakeford for help at times, adding that he (Wakeford) would sometimes accompany Agrizzi to the banks to help explain allegations away.

Wakeford, Agrizzi testified, was paid a fee for this service.

Once, while Bosasa faced a major SARS investigation, Agrizzi says they had a meeting where Wakeford allegedly said they needed to rope in George Papadakis to “sort out” the SARS hassles. At the time Papadakis was a consultant to SARS.

For this too, Agrizzi claims, Wakeford was paid.

A large sum every month, in the region of around R100,000.”

Armscor released a statement last week announcing that Wakeford had taken special leave in order to prepare for the State Capture inquiry.

Further testimony is scheduled to be presented by an independent witness about wet and dry cement allegedly delivered to a Meyersdal property belonging to Papadakis, the commission heard.

Agrizzi’s testimony is nearing the end. On Tuesday he is scheduled to testify about the circumstances around his eventual departure from the company in December 2016.

He has thus far confirmed details of a R250-million deal allegedly presented to get him to return to work after he handed in his resignation. This, in part, entailed taking over the reins from Watson, whom he later discovered allegedly had no intention of playing ball. DM

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