SPIES R US
Why Ramaphosa (apparently) kept mum about multimillion-dollar robbery at his farm
The President feared creating panic, so kept the robbery quiet, say sources close to him.
At lunchtime on Wednesday, former spy boss Arthur Fraser and a bodyguard stepped into the police station on Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, in Johannesburg and said he wanted to open a criminal case.
The police station is one of the best in Johannesburg, and Fraser was quickly attended to as he laid a criminal complaint against President Cyril Ramaphosa for holding and then being robbed of almost $4-million in cash at his Limpopo farm.
Fraser included a flash drive of video and other evidence and submitted his already-typed charge sheet and a detailed affidavit to desk officers.
They immediately notified the station commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Sthembiso Ngubane, who called up his provincial bosses. He knew the docket that had just been opened was explosive. He called up his superiors at the SA Police Service (SAPS) provincial headquarters in Parktown, Johannesburg, and they told him to get the docket to them as soon as possible – dockets at local police stations are easy to access for the media.
Then the national police sent a top brass team to fetch it, and within hours, it was in Wachthuis, the police headquarters in Pretoria, out of the reach of the public.
At the same time, Fraser got his lawyer to issue a statement alerting the public to his charges.
The Presidency was forced to confirm the robbery by lunchtime on Thursday. The case set the stage for a mighty showdown between the former spy boss and the President.
Presidency caught hopping
The Presidency was caught hopping by Fraser, who is used to setting cats among pigeons. He was the man who leaked the so-called spy tapes to former president Jacob Zuma, as Adriaan Basson and Pearlie Joubert reported here.
And in September 2021, it was Fraser, then serving as Correctional Services Commissioner under Ramaphosa, who set Zuma free on medical parole after he had been jailed on contempt of court charges for dodging the State Capture Commission.
The Presidency confirmed Fraser’s charges but denied criminal complicity. Ramaphosa had been away attending the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa in February 2020 when the robbery at his farm took place.
Fraser’s affidavit first revealed that a domestic worker was allegedly acting in cahoots with criminals who had invaded his farm on the weekend he was in the Ethiopian capital. He submitted camera footage showing that the robbers had gained access to the farmhouse via a window just after 10.17pm on one of the nights Ramaphosa was in Addis. His home is in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, but a full-time staff takes care of the farm.
The thieves made off with millions of US dollars, Fraser revealed.
“The charges emanate from the theft of millions of US dollars (in excess of four million) concealed within the premises of the President’s Phala Phala farm in Waterberg, Limpopo by criminals who were colluding with his domestic worker,” said Fraser’s statement released on social media and to selected media (not Daily Maverick).
Ramaphosa is a keen breeder and trader in buffalo and Ankole cattle. His political nomenclature is “The Buffalo” and the money is believed to be related to the main purchase of a red oryx.
In February 2020, the value of the dollars was about R62-million; but a source close to the Presidency said Fraser’s amount was an exaggeration. Asked why the President was paid in cash and then held the money on the premises, the source, who did not want to be named, said the farm made the transaction on the weekend he was away. Usually, the farm manager would bank it quickly.
His farm manager would routinely bank the money on the next available working day, after clearing transactions with the President. The buyer paid to purchase the red oryx with forex notes, as wildlife industry sales are often paid for in cash. Scimitar or Sahara oryx became extinct in the wild. According to Wikipedia, after a careful rebreeding of remaining stock across the continent, there are about 400 now.
The Presidency is reconciling all sales over that weekend to assess the trades.
Asked why Ramaphosa did not immediately notify the public of the robbery after it was reported to the police, the source said he did not want to panic the country or the farming community.
Fraser also alleged that the robbery suspects had been kidnapped, interrogated and then paid for their silence. The confidante of the President denied that anybody had been roughed up, kidnapped or paid off.
Farms in South Africa are hotbeds for crime, and a presidential farm being robbed, despite top-notch security, would create panic, he said. Former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma have had house robberies and did not release statements about those, said the source.
Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said that the Presidential Protection Unit had immediately launched an investigation when the robbery was discovered. As pinned on social media in his affidavit, Fraser said, “the Security Camera footage referred to herein was also handed to me by Major General Rhoode’s team”. Wally Rhoode is the head of Ramaphosa’s Presidential Protection Unit. (News24’s Kyle Cowan wrote about him here.)
The game plan
On the day after Fraser laid the charges, leading social media accounts of the RET faction of the ANC started sharing the next stage of their campaign.
Because Fraser has laid a criminal complaint or charge, the accounts established a narrative that Ramaphosa should step aside and that Deputy President David Mabuza should finish his first term, which ends in 2023.
The same gambit has been tried before against Ramaphosa by members of the RET faction and failed. The step-aside rule only kicks in once charges are investigated, and a charge sheet is drawn up and brought against a complainant by the National Prosecuting Authority. Ramaphosa committed no crime in not reporting his robbery.
But Fraser’s case will be embarrassing and destabilising to Ramaphosa in the short term. His wealth is an Achilles heel in a struggling country and for anybody to hold so much cash in foreign currency raises red flags for money laundering and tax evasion.
Daily Maverick requested comment from Mabuza and asked for an interview with Fraser, but these were not granted. Ramaphosa denied criminality. The Presidency said disinformation would not deter him from the fight against corruption. An aide said the President was facing a disinformation campaign.
The other factor at play is that the final report of the State Capture Commission is scheduled to come out on 15 June. It will make findings on lengthy hearings which heard that billions of rands had been squandered or stolen in false-flag operations by the State Security Agency.
Much of this happened when Fraser was the spy boss and when he allegedly ran a principal-agent network that was a front for massive personal enrichment. Zuma also had a personal special projects unit in the intelligence agency, which became like a private army of intelligence operatives, the Zondo Commission heard.
Fraser disputed the evidence before the Zondo Commission and applied to cross-examine witnesses, which Judge Raymond Zondo refused. He also laid perjury charges against those who implicated him. This week, Fraser said he wanted an update on the charges against the national security adviser, Sydney Mufamadi, and others, as Suné Payne reported here.
Where will it end?
Ramaphosa’s aides say he will not allow this attempt at destabilisation to stop his reform drive from gaining momentum. The Investigating Directorate last week, for example, made progress on crucial State Capture cases, including at Transnet, where thieves stole the most public money in the period investigated by the Zondo Commission. (Read this piece by Jessica Bezuidenhout for an update.)
But Fraser is a powerful man with deep roots in the security establishment. He was part of South Africa’s National Security Council. Asked about Fraser’s motivation, the source said the President did not know. Fraser, he said, had open access to Ramaphosa and could easily have reached out to state his concerns about the cash that the robbers stole.
Fraser’s complaint, meanwhile, says the cash at the Limpopo farm raises concerns of money laundering and corruption.
For their part, the police say a case of money laundering, defeating the ends of justice and kidnapping has been registered. “All that is being said and alleged is the subject of that investigation. As such, the SAPS won’t comment further on this matter and just like in any other case the SAPS won’t give a blow by blow account of the progress of the investigation,” police spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe said. DM
Additional reporting by Victoria O’ Regan