Bridgette Motsepe-Radebe begins fightback against ‘mother of all lies’
A well-connected but beleaguered South African businesswoman says she doesn’t want political help from her family – even as she fears for her life. Instead, she will use the courts and law enforcement agencies to prove she didn’t steal and move millions of dollars out of Botswana – or plan a coup d’etat, as has been alleged.
Businesswoman Bridgette Radebe will be watching Friday’s bail application of a middle-aged Botswana intelligence officer, Welhelmina Mphoeng Maswabi, very closely. Maswabi, code-named “Butterfly”, was arrested more than a month ago and charged with stealing $390-million from the Botswana government to finance “terrorism”.
Motsepe-Radebe is implicated because she is mentioned in the state’s case as a co-signatory to two of the accounts – at Absa and Nedbank – to where $10-billion (R150-billion) of this money was moved.
Earlier this week, she publicly released letters from these two banks stating that the accounts into which the money is alleged to have been moved are fictitious.
The state has indicated it will not oppose bail. The money was allegedly intended for political purposes: to bankroll a campaign to President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Motsepe-Radebe regards the bank letters as the start of her fightback campaign, which she said she intends to pursue through the courts, rather than politically. She told Daily Maverick in an interview conducted in Paris this week that she didn’t want to involve her brother-in-law, President Cyril Ramaphosa, in resolving this issue, even though a perception might exist that he is involved by association.
“I don’t want to drag the government into this because I am a sister-in-law and have a husband (former long-serving minister and investment envoy Jeff Radebe),” said Motsepe-Radebe.
“That would be what Mark Thatcher did. He was accused of a coup [in Equatorial Guinea in 2004] and the next thing we hear is that the mother got involved and the issue died out. I said I don’t want to be a Mark Thatcher. What I will do is sue.”
Thatcher was fined and got a suspended sentence from the Western Cape High Court for the attempted coup.
Motsepe-Radebe said she decided to lie low before the elections, when there were allegations of her bankrolling political campaigns, because of the heatedness of the campaigns. The allegation at the time was that she was “laundering” millions of pula through Avante Security Services to sponsor a candidate to oppose Masisi at the upcoming governing Botswana Democratic Party’s congress.
Claims about her involvement in Botswana politics emerged in the Sunday Standard newspaper, on the heels of reports in the same paper in March that the South African National Defence Force was planning to be part of a coup d’état in the country ahead of the BDP congress – at which Masisi was eventually re-elected. South Africa denied this.
Then International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu stepped into the fray when she was sent to Botswana by Ramaphosa the following month, after the congress, to smooth diplomatic relations.
Following Masisi’s re-election, former president Ian Khama, a close friend of Motsepe-Radebe, left the party and threw his weight behind the newly formed Botswana Patriotic Front in the hope of unseating the BDP and Masisi. Contrary to the opposition’s expectations, the BDP emerged stronger at the election.
Motsepe-Radebe said she did speak to Sisulu, as well as ANC foreign affairs subcommittee head Lindiwe Zulu, at the time, and the two of them were “assigned to look into this”.
“All I wanted them to do was to ask the government of Zimbabwe, when I went to Zimbabwe did they imprison me?” she said, in reference to a story in the Sunday Standard which claimed Motsepe-Radebe was held in Zimbabwe after a meeting with, among others, Khama at Victoria Falls.
Motsepe-Radebe hoped this would clear her, but instead she was slapped with a visa ban to Botswana on Sisulu’s return, while she claimed the ANC never got back to her.
“I sent them SMSes, but it might be that the irritation came at the wrong time. Even as a political spouse I knew, ‘Shame, the poor woman might be under pressure’. They were so busy with the elections.”
Motsepe-Radebe said she believed there was a “black propaganda” campaign against her in Botswana, similar to that described in a recent divorce case involving a Botswana intelligence operative. Maswabi previously testified on the grounds of this case that story-peddling and ultimately “elimination” is part of such a campaign.
“Now they come with the mother of all lies against me, of stealing $10-billion,” she said. “The only thing they haven’t done is kill me.”
Motsepe-Radebe said the fact that Botswana’s intelligence agency and police had gone as far as saying under oath that they supported the state’s case, which contains the apparently inaccurate claims about the bank accounts, was concerning. “I’m worried that I could die now.”
The spokesperson for Botswana’s Directorate on Corruption an Economic Crime had by Friday not provided responses to questions sent on Tuesday regarding the case. Motsepe-Radebe said she had urged South Africa’s Financial Intelligence Centre to investigate the alleged transfer of billions from Botswana and alleged money laundering, but the institution told the Daily Maverick it was not allowed to comment on its work.
Motsepe-Radebe said she also wanted South Africa’s Department of State Security to investigate, but spokesperson Mava Scott said he was legally not allowed to comment on operational matters.
Motsepe-Radebe is exploring other options, such as asking Judge Dennis Davis, who chairs a committee looking at South Africa’s tax framework; former president Thabo Mbeki, who chairs the African Union’s 10-member High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows, and even Interpol to investigate.
“If there really was money that was stolen, they will help in Botswana to go and recoup the money stolen from the Bank of Botswana,” she said. “There is a court case going on and I’m supposed to be a criminal, so who is not going to investigate a criminal?” DM