Days of Zondo

The unravelling of Angelo Agrizzi, State Capture’s racist whistle-blower

By Jessica Bezuidenhout 30 January 2019
Caption
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – JANUARY 28: Former Bosasa Chief Operations Officer (COO) Angelo Agrizzi testifies at the commission of inquiry into state capture on January 28, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Agrizzi revealed how Bosasa, allegedly paid former president Jacob Zuma, through former SAA chairperson, Dudu Myeni, up to R300 000 a month in exchange for doing it bidding. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

After a marathon nine days in the witness box, former Bosasa executive Angelo Agrizzi finally vacated the stand at the State Capture inquiry on Tuesday afternoon – publicly unmasked and shamed as a racist.

Angelo Agrizzi’s testimony before Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo was peppered with personal traits, colourful anecdotes and details that sought to portray an image of a deeply conflicted man caught up in the corrupt clutches of Bosasa Inc.

Snippets about his fountain pen, an ageing Great Dane, the mirrors in his Fourways mansion, an Italian-South African genuinely worried about putting on a meal for impromptu visitors provided for some endearing moments during his extended spell in the witness box at the State Capture inquiry.

Complicit he was, admitting to having fed the corruption beast over nearly two decades as it provided an income to fund his millionaire lifestyle, Ferraris and trips to Italy.

He personally packed many of the piles of cash in bags for his fellow directors and senior staff to dish out to dirty civil servants and politicians; but he grew a conscience about three years ago when he started gathering a personal stash of evidence – little black books, company records, secret recordings and a string of partners-in-crime – to expose Bosasa, primarily its CEO, Gavin Watson, and others.

For eight days, Agrizzi provided shocking testimony about the extent of Bosasa’s corrupt tentacles that allegedly allowed it to unlawfully clinch and retain billions of rand in government deals.

The inquiry, which is investigating allegations of fraud and corruption in the public sector, has until now largely focused on the Gupta family.

Agrizzi confirmed that the Guptas were not alone and named State Capture’s number one culprit, former president Jacob Zuma, among scores of alleged beneficiaries of the Bosasa scheme.

Agrizzi was dishing dirt like no whistle-blower had done since the Commission started last August.

But, at about 1.30pm on Tuesday afternoon, 29 January, his confidence seemed to wane in that witness box.

The bloke who had been rattling off names, codes and payments in absolute detail for days on end, seemed shocked, at a loss, worried.

This was when senior advocate Paul Pretorius, head of the State Capture Commission’s legal team, announced that a short recording of a conversation Agrizzi had had with members of the Watson family in his TV room last year, was to be played.

South Africa was about to hear another ugly truth about Agrizzi, and just like his testimony about his own complicity in the corruption scandal, this too would come straight from the horse’s mouth.

The clip, seemingly leaked through his former Bosasa partners, was short, painful and confirmed that apart from being a corruption enabler, Agrizzi was also a racist.

A diabetic, he blamed it on pressure, a piece of carrot cake and the three or four gins he had knocked back before the Watson family members arrived to allegedly negotiate a multimillion-rand pay off to keep him quiet.

On Tuesday afternoon, in that moment as the leaked recording was played and screened on live television, South Africa discovered the real Angelo Agrizzi.

State Capture’s star witness never quite fully returned to his earlier confident self.

In my gut, I knew they had come there to set me up.”

But being the big kahuna that he was at Bosasa, Agrizzi mistakenly believed that he could manage them.

He was outfoxed and a clip of the conversation in which he referred to his former colleagues by the k-word – repeatedly – was leaked to the media within days of him allegedly telling the Watsons and their cohorts that there’d be no deal to silence him.

In trying to stop or manage the manner in which the recording would be played, Agrizzi protested that there was “context”, a broader conversation that had led to his moment of shame.

I’m not trying to find excuses. I am embarrassed, ashamed. I am not sleeping, am beside myself. Judge me on that. Play it,” he finally said.

The clip, to someone hearing it for the first time, is loaded with the painful and harsh reality of racism.

They steal, they loot, they rape, they destroy,” the man who came to testify about Bosasa’s grand-scale looting was heard saying.

There was no redemption, nothing to soften the blow. Pretorius made no bones about the Commission’s take on the recording.

This is nakedly racist, grossly offensive and difficult to describe in words the (effects) of what is said, to the individuals (mentioned) and to the country at large.”

I’m sorry, “Agrizzi said.

Pretorius continued by stating that Agrizzi’s comments, “which exhibits racism in an extreme form”, could be viewed as part of the motivation of the former Bosasa boss-turned whistle-blower for giving evidence at the inquiry.

My answer to this is work with the facts. I made a mistake. I have shamed my family. I’m paying the price for this.”

He then made this baffling statement: “I don’t see how someone can say I am being racist (in testifying) when I present facts that Watson is corrupt. He is not black.”

The Zondo Commission has issued notices to a long list of parties implicated by Agrizzi’s testimony. Some will be submitting their own version of events or will apply to cross-examine him.

However frank and detailed, Agrizzi’s testimony is, thus far, one-sided and will have to be tested by the Commission.

But, however much that leaked recording unmasked Agrizzi as a racist, it would be unwise to disregard his testimony, marked as it was by an extraordinary number of explosive allegations.

He implicated Zuma, Cabinet minister Nomvula Mokonyane and the top brass at the National Prosecuting Authority, including suspended deputy national director Nomgcobo Jiba and special director Lawrence Mrwebi, along with a list of junior and senior civil servants allegedly paid off by the controversial facilities management company over a period of more than ten years.

Agrizzi exposed how Bosasa allegedly blew as much as R6-million a month on bribes – cash the company at times obtained through phoney invoices from betting halls and liquor stores.

He also revealed how Bosasa allegedly had former Correctional Services commissioners Linda Mti, Zach Modise and Khulekani Sithole on the take, and that the company paid former Correctional Services chief financial officer Patrick Gillingham up to R110,000 a month for his services.

On Monday, 28 January, he testified about payments to media consultants and journalists and spoke about R300,000 in alleged payments to former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni. He also claimed that during a meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria, Myeni had slipped him and Watson confidential and secret documents about the NPA and the Hawks’ investigation into the company.

Agrizzi will now work with investigators to complete a supplementary affidavit for submission to the inquiry and has offered to hand in all his electronic devices for an independent analysis.

He urged the Commission to bear in mind that the incriminating recording was first leaked after he rejected a pay-off from the Watsons to keep quiet.

There had been multiple offers, including a R50-million deal to ensure that none of the parties would do anything to “impugn” the dignity of another – this Agrizzi said was just formal, legal language to buy his silence.

No legal agreement would say ‘you wouldn’t snitch on each other,’” he said.

Adv Pretorius said the Commission had a duty to present the controversial recording as Agrizzi’s statements brought into question whether his evidence to the inquiry was motivated by racism.

Agrizzi pressed on. “Just consider the facts.”

A dignified Justice Zondo didn’t go into the detail of his k-word rant, simply stating: “What I heard there is extremely offensive but that does not mean I will not examine your evidence to figure out where you’re speaking the truth and where not.”

Agrizzi told the Commission that he had committed the next six months of his life to the State Capture inquiry and then, addressing Justice Zondo directly, he said: “Thank you for the way you treat me. I am not worthy of that.” DM

*Agrizzi’s former Bosasa colleague, Andries van Tonder, the man who secretly filmed Gavin Watson counting and packing cash inside a Bosasa vault, has taken the witness stand and is scheduled to testify about his tenure at the controversial company on Wednesday, 30 January. 

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