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The Moti Files: Red flags in police hunt for former Moti Group employee

The Moti Files: Red flags in police hunt for former Moti Group employee
Property tycoon Zunaid Moti. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Kevin Sutherland)

Companies controlled by controversial businessman Zunaid Moti are fighting to put a lid on leaks flowing from alleged “theft of information” by a former legal assistant. Now the Hawks are involved and the alleged “whistle-blower” is in hiding.

As controversial businessman Zunaid Moti’s sprawling multi-billion rand conglomerate scrambles to contain a leak of sensitive company information, questions have been raised about the role of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and prominent forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan. 

Twenty-eight-year-old Clinton van Niekerk, who was employed within the Moti Group as a legal assistant, has already faced his former employer’s wrath for allegedly having left the company with thousands of downloaded files. 

He was arrested on 25 January at King Shaka International Airport for “theft of information” as he was about to leave the country.  

That set off frenzied efforts by Frederick “Frikkie” Lutzkie, who took van Niekerk under his wing, to try and prevent van Niekerk from being removed from Durban to Johannesburg, where the warrant for his arrest was issued, and to secure his release. 

Lutzkie, an ex-cage fighter turned coal baron, is a former business partner who fell out with Moti and is now engaged in a bitter dispute with companies in the Moti Group.

Van Niekerk is said to have turned to Lutzkie for help and protection, knowing that Lutzkie and Moti were embroiled in ongoing litigation.  

Lawyers acting on van Niekerk’s behalf claim that he is a bona fide whistle-blower and is being targeted by Moti in an attempt to muzzle him. They also claim that SAPS members have been weaponised in support of the Moti Group, and have abused their power and intimidated van Niekerk. 

Moti claims van Niekerk stole confidential company information and took it to his rival.

Whatever the motive, the leak threatens to expose sensitive information relating to Moti’s murky business empire, which includes business interests in mining, property development, security, logistics and aviation. 

Moti has significant interests in Zimbabwe, where he is perceived as being close to senior figures in Zimbabwe’s ruling elite. 

Lutzkie, a key witness in an extraordinary ex parte application to challenge van Niekerk’s arrest and removal to Gauteng, told the judge hearing the case that the information from within the Moti organisation includes evidence of “serious economic crimes”. 

Lutzkie told the judge, “We sit with evidence that Mr Moti and his whole team last year have committed serious economic crimes by selling [fictitious mineral reserves] in Zimbabwe to Australian and Chinese people… and that evidence is also with the police now.”

Lutkzie claims that the information also points to Moti’s dealings with Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. He told the court that they – presumably he and van Niekerk – did not approach SAPS because of Moti’s connections to the police. 

Instead, they cooperated with Australian and British authorities, who helped arrange a visa for van Niekerk. Van Niekerk, says Lutzkie, was on his way to London, via Ireland, when he was arrested.  

Moti has denied these allegations and derided Lutzkie’s version as unsupported by evidence.

Through a public relations agency he told amaBhungane, “With regards to the “fictitious” mineral reserves sold to Chinese investors, this is completely baseless. An agreement does exist between a Zimbabwean-registered Moti Group and a Chinese company in regard to a lithium asset. 

“This agreement was preceded by extensive due diligence investigations conducted by the Chinese investors. It is worth noting that the Chinese investor is a multi-national with extensive interests in Zimbabwe.

zunaid moti

Businessmen Zunaid Moti (left) and former cage-fighter Frederick Lutzkie. (Photos: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Kevin Sutherland / Supplied)

“The agreement between the Zimbabwean company and the Chinese company is confidential, and we therefore chose not to provide a copy, although you probably received the stolen document from Mr Van Niekerk.”

Moti’s representatives claim that van Niekerk illegally downloaded more than 4000 files and then resigned and took the information to Moti’s biggest foe. They say they launched an internal investigation and then laid criminal charges in November last year when Lutzkie included information they believed was leaked in court filings.

However, the circumstances of van Niekerk’s arrest and his treatment call into question the conduct of SAPS members from Sandton Police Station, where Moti is alleged by Lutzkie to wield influence.

Sibitane 

The role of one Colonel Cain Sibitane from Sandton SAPS has caused particular concern as it was recently revealed in the Sunday Times that Sibitane was travelling in a car with diamond dealer Sylla Moussa when Moussa was wounded – and later died – in an apparent hit on 20 August last year. 

Moussa was involved in a long-term dispute with Moti about the alleged theft of a priceless pink diamond. 

Sibitane, according to Lutzkie, played a key role in the investigation and arrest of van Niekerk.

Neither SAPS nor Sibitane responded to detailed questions, nor did they acknowledge follow-up questions sent to them by amaBhungane.

However, Lutskie’s latest court filings and a letter from van Niekerk’s lawyer to police and prosecutors seen by amaBhungane suggest that van Niekerk is now in witness protection and is cooperating with the Hawks in relation to allegations concerning the Moti organisation.   

O’Sullivan

Evidence in amaBhungane’s possession also raises questions about the role in van Niekerk’s arrest played by prominent forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan, who is working the case for Moti.

Moti was once the corruption buster’s publicly declared target but is now O’Sullivan’s client and occasional business partner. 

Documents alleged to emanate from inside the Moti organisation may cast light on how and why O’Sullivan flipped to Moti’s side and the work he has performed for Moti. 

O’Sullivan maintains that his relationship with Moti is above board and he has been open about it. 

“I run a forensic practice and have, from time to time, carried out forensic work for some of the companies connected to Moti, on an as-needed basis. I have not tried to conceal the fact that I have provided professional services for companies connected to Moti,” he told amaBhungane. 

He accused van Niekerk of having “stolen” the documents and of acting on behalf of Lutkzie to drive a “false” narrative. 

Police misconduct?

Lutzkie told the Durban High Court that van Niekerk was pulled aside at the airport when on the way to the UK to provide evidence in connection with criminal allegations involving Moti, though Moti has called this claim into question.

In an urgent application without notice to the police or prosecution service following his detention at King Shaka, van Niekerk’s lawyers obtained an order from the court preventing police from moving van Niekerk to Randburg, Johannesburg, where the warrant of arrest for “theft of information” was issued. 

Van Niekerk’s counsel told acting judge Warren Shapiro, that the young lawyer was distraught and said, “They are going to kill me. They are going to kill me.”

The court heard from one of Lutzkie’s employees and a witness in the matter that police officers drove van Niekerk around Durban and took him to a shooting range in an alleged attempt to intimidate him. 

Despite the judge’s order, police from Sandton SAPS who travelled to KwaZulu-Natal following the arrest, took van Niekerk out of the province to Gauteng, where he appeared in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court on 27 January.

On that day the police failed to respond to the provisional order issued by Shapiro the day before and the judge then made his order final.

As a result, the Randburg magistrate set the arrest warrant aside, the case was struck from the roll, and van Niekerk was immediately released. 

Counter application

The Moti Group has not given up though. 

In an urgent application lodged on 13 February in the Durban High Court, David Willoughby of Mazzetti Management Services – one of approximately 250 companies in the Moti Group – seeks to have the order securing van Niekerk’s release set aside.

Willoughby argues that the hearing presided over by Judge Shapiro was riddled with irregularities and should be set aside. 

Willoughby claims that van Niekerk broke the confidentiality provisions in his employment contract and “inter alia, the Protection of Personal Information Act, the Cyber Crimes Act, and the Criminal Procedure Act”.

Willoughby maintains that van Niekerk is a flight risk and that social media posts suggested that van Niekerk planned to relocate to New Zealand with his wife. 

The proceedings that led to the warrant for van Niekerk’s arrest, Willoughby argues, amounted to “a fundamental and serious error of law, an undermining of the rule of law and a blatant disregard for the rights of parties who have grounds to obtain a warrant of arrest against persons suspected of having committed crimes.”

He objects to what he says was “irrelevant controversial, speculative, and false defamatory testimony” that was allowed to go untested, including claims that there was a “good chance” van Niekerk would be shot and killed by the police.

Responding in turn to Willoughby’s application, Lutzkie says it is misguided and that the Moti Group, through Willoughby, is trying to take action on behalf of the police and prosecutorial authorities “without any authority to do so”. 

According to the affidavit, van Niekerk is now in witness protection. 

Post-arrest meeting

Willoughby’s court papers also reveal that legal representatives of the Moti Group met with Petrus Skhosana, the senior public prosecutor at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court. 

Also present at the meeting was O’Sullivan and his assistant, and two police officers from Sandton SAPS – Colonel Sibitane and Warrant Officer Prince Rabali, who amaBhungane understands was one of the policemen who brought van Niekerk from KZN to Johannesburg. 

Sibitane is second in command to the Sandton station commander, Brigadier Egen Moodley. 

Neither he nor Moodley replied to queries about Sibitane’s involvement with Moussa, the diamond dealer, nor about the alleged sway the Moti organisation exercises in Sandton police circles. 

Moussa was allegedly travelling near Carletonville when the attack happened. 

Alongside him in the car was Sibitane, who was “off duty” at the time. 

Sibitane was allegedly injured in the attack and returned fire with his service pistol as the attackers fled. He told TimesLive that he was “taken to Fountains hospital to be stabilised, while Moussa was first taken to Carletonville hospital then airlifted Lenmed hospital, where he died.” 

Moussa and Moti were embroiled in a fight over an infamous pink diamond said to be worth $50-million, which Moussa accused Moti of stealing. A case brought by Moussa in Switzerland against the storage company that held the diamond was ongoing at the time of his death.

Moti Group representatives have dismissed insinuations by Lutzkie that Moti was connected to Moussa’s death as “ridiculous”, saying that Moti was only a witness in the Switzerland matter, not an accused.

The mystery of why Sibitane was travelling with Moussa when the diamond dealer was targeted remains to be answered. 

O’Sullivan – corruption buster or gun for hire?

O’Sullivan – who has a long career of having worked with the police and is renowned for having exposed corruption within its ranks – has played an important role in the run-up to van Niekerk’s arrest. 

On 18 January O’Sullivan called up the former Moti Group employee from London and warned him to come clean on the alleged theft or face the consequences, saying:

“You’ll face the music. By the way we know exactly where you’re going and when you’re going… I didn’t phone you to let you – a little pipsqueak like you – interrogate me. Trust me when I tell you, you will face the music for what you’ve done. You can either cooperate with me, and things can be handled that way, or you can put your head in the ground and wait for justice to catch up with you.”

Van Niekerk’s lawyer Stephen May has alleged that O’Sullivan’s role is concerning and underscores that there was improper “external influence” in the arrest of van Niekerk. 

Paul O’Sullivan at the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court. (Photo: Hloni Mokoena)

In a letter sent to the senior prosecutor at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court and to SAPS members, May writes: “At this stage it is noted that O’Sullivan is not a member of the South African Police Service and it is, therefore, a matter of concern that there is so much reliance upon him in this matter”.   

May said O’Sullivan’s call to van Niekerk on 18 January, which was made on the same day the arrest warrant was issued, and the “flagrant disregard” for the order not to move van Niekerk from Durban “lead inexorably to the grim conclusion” that van Niekerk’s arrest was “the product of external influence which was irrational, male fide and had nothing to do with the legitimate prosecution of any prima facie case”.

O’Sullivan’s role is ironic, given that he and Moti were once viciously opposed.  

In 2012, O’Sullivan publicly threatened Moti with arrest in connection with an alleged attempt to assassinate Naeem Cassim. Moti and his close friend were said to have been in a dispute with Cassim over money,  and were accused of having been behind an incident  the previous year when Cassim and two friends were forced off the R512 by another vehicle. Cassim told media at the time that they had been trailed by three other vehicles and had been shot at multiple times. 

Moti has always maintained his innocence.

Cassim then hired O’Sullivan, who very publicly threatened Moti with prison time and warned him that he would need to “stock up on Vaseline. Twenty years is a very long time, old chap”. 

In separate radio interviews in 2012, O’Sullivan and Moti traded accusations. Moti accused O’Sullivan of smearing and harassing him. “He’s made a list”, Moti told the interviewer, “if I’ve had an argument with you and the dog next door and my neighbour, he goes to see them. So builds a case and then he comes in and says ‘I want to settle on these bases’. And that’s what he’s doing. He’s extorting me at the moment”. 

In O’Sullivan’s interview the following day, he in turn accused Moti of acting in “typical mafioso” fashion. Speaking about the Cassim case, he was emphatic: “I carried out an investigation and the facts speak for themselves”. Moti, in his unambiguous view, was guilty. 

“But I have a contract with the complainant where, if he starts backing off after I’ve exposed all the criminals, I’m entitled to continue with the investigation and charge him anyway – and I intend to do that. Nobody will buy me off.”

When the case was dropped later that year, O’Sullivan blamed it on a technicality and said “there is incontrovertible evidence in this matter and I have absolutely no doubt that the trial will proceed and justice will be done”.

The Moti Group told amaBhungane that the case was struck off due to lack of evidence. 

In 2013 the National Prosecuting Authority decided not to pursue the matter and the feud between the two men died down. 

Thereafter O’Sullivan emerged surprisingly as a Moti supporter. 

When Peter Hain, a British peer who campaigned against apartheid and made headlines for speaking out against state capture, entered into a commercial relationship with the Moti Group in Zimbabwe, he told amaBhungane that O’Sullivan, his close friend, had given the Group a clean bill of health. 

Now documents seen by amaBhungane suggest that the turn in O’Sullivan’s relationship with Moti may have been cemented by financial interests. 

O’Sullivan appears to have warmed to Moti as he started falling out with Cassim over money he said was due for the investigation his firm had done for Cassim. 

On 5 February 2015, O’Sullivan obtained a summary judgement from the Gauteng High Court against Cassim, ordering him to pay you R1 543 505.07 with interest.

A few months after that, O’Sullivan entered into a loan agreement with Moti – seemingly the start of a sustained partnership. 

The loan agreement, signed on 8 June 2015, would see Moti company Waleed investments loan a total of R1 681 542.80 to O’Sullivan – a figure strikingly similar to what O’Sullivan claims he was owed by Cassim. The debt owed by Cassim would be ceded to Moti’s company. 

O’Sullivan denied that the judgement he obtained against Cassim had anything to do with his apparent “switch” to Moti. 

He said that as early as 2014, after he had terminated his agreement with Cassim for non-payment of his fees and begun litigating against him, he entered into a loan agreement with an unrelated company that Moti then acquired a stake in.

He says that around the time he obtained a judgement from Cassim, “there had been an attempt by people connected to Cassim, to extort an amount of R50m from Moti”. 

“After terminating the mandate, in 2013, and discovering the attempted extortion, I washed my hands of Cassim and the alleged crimes committed against him”.

O’Sullivan says that when the state decided not to pursue charges against Moti and it “became apparent that Moti had not been involved in the alleged murder of Cassim”.

He apologised to the man he had had in his crosshairs not long before “for unwittingly assisting Cassim to extort him”.

O’Sullivan explains the threats and harsh words he reserved for Moti as a schoolmasterly attempt to ensure things did not get out of hand: “At that time, there was a lot of tit for tat and I did not want to see things escalate out of hand, so took a hard line… I wanted to drive the ‘behave everybody’ message home.”    

After his and Moti’s relationship improved, O’Sullivan says that Moti asked him to cede to him the judgment against Cassim – “a straightforward business transaction, covered by written agreements,” he says.

O’Sullivan has taken issue with the insinuation that he “flipped” to Moti’s side, telling amaBhungane that this “demonstrates a predisposed intention to colour your intended story”. 

He alleged that van Niekerk was “pretending to be a whistle‐blower… [to] cover up the crimes of theft of more than 4,000 documents… and handing same to your employer’s antagonistic opponent”.

As someone who has himself helped uncover corruption in the police and exposed powerful political figures, O’Sullivan is no stranger to police abuses. 

In a submission to the State Capture Commission he described an incident in 2016 when he was pulled off an aircraft just as he was about to depart for the UK with his family.

“I was removed form an aeroplane about to depart for London and together with my two minor children forced to disembark in full view of all the passengers in the aeroplane. I was then handcuffed and arrested in the presence of my two minor children, which left my children severely traumatized and me thoroughly humiliated…

“…My arrest and subsequent detention was, with respect, not intended to secure my attendance at a criminal trial, but rather intended to harass and intimidate me and to prevent and punish me from investigating corruption within the police.”

O’Sullivan, however, sees “no parallel at all” between what happened to him, and the case of van Niekerk. DM

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