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Cherie Blair’s investigation clears Ian Khama and Bridgette Motsepe of wrongdoing, scolds Botswana government

Cherie Blair’s investigation clears Ian Khama and Bridgette Motsepe of wrongdoing, scolds Botswana government

Former Botswana president Ian Khama and SA businesswoman Bridgette Motsepe have roped in heavyweights to address multibillion-pula money-laundering allegations made against them in what has become a reputational war with the Botswana government.

Butterflies, blue flies, fireflies – and lies. That’s how South African businesswoman Bridgette Motsepe and former Botswana president Ian Khama view the allegations levelled against them by Botswana authorities following the release on Wednesday 20 August of a damning report by an international law firm, Omnia Strategy, and a business intelligence outfit, Alaco.

A Zoom press conference accompanied the release, with journalists in Botswana and South Africa for the first time simultaneously attending an event by the duo. To help do their bidding, the pair have roped in the big names: Omnia chair Cherie Blair, who is an internationally renowned lawyer and wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, and former public protector Thuli Madonsela.

Screenshot: Former public protector Thuli Madonsela.

The story is as follows: ten months ago, an investigator with Botswana’s Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, Jako Hubona, alleged in an affidavit that the duo has been involved in moving $10.1-billion, the equivalent of roughly half the GDP of Botswana and twice its annual national budget, out of the country. The affidavit formed part of a terrorism and money laundering case against former Botswana intelligence officer Welheminah Maswabi, codenamed Butterfly. 

Screenshot: International lawyer Cherie Blair.

The affidavit was submitted on 28 October last year, five days after the country’s general elections, which put the incumbent Botswana Democratic Party, led by President Mokgweetsi Masisi, back into power while Khama chose to switch sides to the opposition Botswana Patriotic Front instead, after a fall-out with his successor. The case has since not achieved more than a successful bail application for Maswabi and a series of postponements for further investigation, the latest being this past Monday.

Screenshot: Former president of Botswana Ian Khama.

“We have tested the evidence in the affidavit and we have demonstrated in our report beyond a shadow of a doubt that the [witness] statement… is not merely misleading, but actually complete and utter fallacy,” said Cherie Blair, chair of Omnia Strategy.

She quoted Masisi as previously saying that the rule of law in Botswana – which ranks second only to Rwanda in Africa in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index – should be upheld and protected as the country’s success was anchored in that. Blair added that, in the Butterfly case, these words seem to have been forgotten. 

“This case is simply a scandal, and a national tragedy which has seriously damaged and is seriously damaging Botswana’s hard-won reputation,” she said. 

In the foreword of the report, entitled “Project Monarch: Flies & Lies”, she writes that it took the firm mere weeks after their formal brief on June 6, and in some cases, days, to unravel the “inconsistencies, errors and fabrications”, adding that there was “no magic to our efforts”.

Presenting the details of the case and their findings, Alaco’s Gordon Rainey said the affidavit alleged that Khama, while serving as head of state, in 2008 arranged for the opening of “special account units” at the Bank of Botswana (the reserve bank), after which $10.1-billion allegedly flowed out of the account into a variety of South African and offshore bank accounts held in the names of Blue Flies Inc and Fire Flies Inc, of which Motsepe was said to be a signatory but which apparently don’t exist. It’s alleged they intended to use the funds to orchestrate political unrest and fund opposition groups against Masisi.

Bank of Botswana Governor Moses Dinekere Pelaelo, has, however, previously told MPs this money never left the bank. Rainey said the South African Reserve Bank confirmed that they never cleared $48-million as alleged on 21 February last year. 

“It is our expert opinion that while the affidavit itself is authentic, a substantial amount of the content is a fabrication. There is no reliable evidence to support the allegations,” Rainey said.

He also questioned the political motives behind the case. “While beyond the scope of our instructions, one does wonder. It raises serious questions as to what the motivations were of the author, be it Hubona or those working alongside him.”

Madonsela – who moderated the press conference – expressed sympathy for Khama and Motsepe, who must have forked out some pounds sterling to fund the investigation (Blair couldn’t say how much her firm charged for it).

“Thank God when something like this happened to me, I never had to spend a fortune to clear my name,” Madonsela said. “They’ve had to do this because the real tragedy is that lies do stick, and you know it,” she told journalists. 

“We cannot allow perpetrators of fake news and disinformation, which have such a profound impact on our democracy and the rule of law, to go unchecked.”

Madonsela also called for the respective governments to take action – presumably to help Motsepe and Khama clear their names. 

“Ambassador Motsepe said she couldn’t involve the government of South Africa because as you and me know, she is related to this president,” Madonsela said, referring to the fact that Motsepe’s sister, Tshepo, is President Cyril Ramaphosa’s wife. 

(Motsepe, incidentally, has been going by the title of “ambassador” since August last year when she was appointed a goodwill ambassador by the Pan-African Parliament. Her main work there is – according to a press release on the occasion – to “add value to the Permanent committees on trade and gender”.)

Madonsela said: “She is a citizen of this country and there is a former president [Khama] of a neighbouring country that is involved. It is not possible that the governments of South Africa and Botswana should not be involved.” They shouldn’t undermine the investigations, she said, just question the methodology and make enquiries with their respective reserve banks.

“If no money left the Bank of Botswana, end of story,” she said.

Motsepe and Khama appeared to have taken a lot of care with their backdrops. Motsepe was seated in a Johannesburg hotel boardroom in front of a giant mural painting of a smiling Nelson Mandela, while Khama wore a yellow tie in his opposition party colours. Behind him was visible the feet part of a painting of a herd of elephants – another bone of contention between him and Masisi. Khama, with some backing from abroad, is championing for the conservation of these animals, a great tourist attraction, while Masisi has called for their numbers to be controlled as they pose a hazard to some villages.

Screenshot: South African Businesswoman Bridgette Radebe.

About Mandela, Motsepe said: “I’m also a product and I am also a protege of a great man, my father, but also [of] the man whose picture you see behind me, our father of the nation, Nelson Mandela. We will not steal any money from anybody,” she said, also referring to Khama whose father, Seretse Khama, was the first president of Botswana. She added that these allegations have not only affected her family’s legacy, but also the reputation of African women.

Khama, in turn, confirmed that he will be briefing lawyers within the next week to start “legal actions against this regime” and bring charges of perjury and defamation. 

“It is imperative that we investigate the political motivation of this affidavit,” he said, repeating his allegations that the Botswana Democratic Party has rigged the elections. “They should relinquish power and hold credible elections.”

Botswana director of public prosecutions Stephen Tiroyakgosi did not respond to a message requesting comment. Botswana government spokesperson Andrew Onalenna Sesinyi told TimesLIVE that the report “is unknown in the process that we are aware of” and the government had no further comment, as the matter was being dealt with “by the due process of the law”.

Botswana’s government has, however, instructed AfriForum’s Gerrie Nel to bring legal action against the South African government as it says a formal request for mutual legal assistance in the case had gone unheeded. Nel is set to make public the mandamus application – the first application for relief – during a press conference to be streamed on the organisation’s Facebook page on Thursday 20 August. 

“We have one or two challenges,” he said, adding he would be in a better position to discuss the approach during the press conference.

The department of international relations previously said the request was being dealt with by the department of justice. Spokesperson Chrispin Phiri, however, said: “We communicate with state parties and no one else. By state parties we mean ambassadors, and high commissioners.” DM

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