CONSERVATIONIST VS DAVID MABUZA
Fred Daniel vs outgoing Deputy President: Senior counsel, NPA prosecutor named in ‘framing’ allegations
In an affidavit and WhatsApp messages obtained by Daily Maverick, evidence has emerged that advocate Dawie Joubert, a senior counsel and member of the Bar’s examination board, has been involved in an attempt to frame conservationist Fred Daniel. Together with two suspects named alongside Deputy President David Mabuza in Outa’s recent criminal complaint to the NPA, a senior public prosecutor has been implicated too. The documents suggest that the fraudulent activities of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency are ongoing.
‘[Jan] Muller’s deal that I provide his advocate Dawie Joubert SC with a false affidavit in exchange for immunity from prosecution is in essence a request to frame Mr Daniel.”
So begins the next episode in the ongoing saga that has formed the substance of Daily Maverick’s long-running coverage of the battle between outgoing Deputy President David Mabuza and conservationist Fred Daniel.
The above allegation, which is included in a sworn statement signed on 3 February 2023 by Andre Pienaar, a wildlife capture expert and registered game dealer, is backed up by WhatsApp texts in the possession of Daily Maverick.
Implicated in Pienaar’s statement are two men who appeared as suspects alongside Mabuza in the explosive criminal complaint lodged by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) on 5 December 2022.
The two men, Jan Muller and Juan de Beer, were named as the thirteenth and fourteenth suspects in Outa’s complaint, a 41-page affidavit submitted under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, in which Daily Maverick’s reporting (as per the wording of the affidavit itself) played a pivotal role.
As readers may recall, Muller is a former senior manager and De Beer a current senior manager in the Wildlife Protection Services (WPS) division of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA).
According to the evidence submitted by Outa to the Investigating Directorate of the National Prosecuting Authority — and initially covered by Daily Maverick in the first and second parts of our “Dead Matter” series — both men, consistently and over a number of years, acted in breach of the Public Finance Management Act by repurposing the WPS’ Problem Animal Fund.
“The Problem Animal Fund enterprise exploited the province’s biodiversity by monetising the killing of so-called problem animals,” Outa’s complaint noted.
“This was done by selling hunting permits to the highest bidder.”
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But aside from Muller and De Beer, there are another two individuals implicated in the alleged attempt to frame Daniel, who, by any account, elevate the accusations to a much more serious level.
As suggested in Pienaar’s affidavit, Dawie Joubert SC, who acts as counsel for the defendants in Daniel’s civil claim against the government, and advocate Ansie Venter, a senior prosecutor in the Middelburg office of the NPA, were also involved.
So what is at the core of these allegations and where does the story start?
For that, we need to rely on the facts and evidence as outlined in Pienaar’s testimony.
In the opening paragraphs, Pienaar provides the name and address of his company, Parawild Edu-Capture in Hoedspruit, which is easily confirmed by information in the public domain. Equally confirmable is Pienaar’s assertion that he has operated the business for 30 years and has “lectured worldwide” on the subject of wildlife capture.
His credentials thus established, Pienaar goes on to explain that he first met Daniel between the years 1998 and 2008, when the latter was still in operational control of his Mpumalanga-based private nature reserve, Nkomazi Wilderness.
“I provided the Project with professional services during this time,” Pienaar testifies. “Parawild was specifically involved with a disease-free buffalo project at the Nkomazi Wilderness.”
Next, Pienaar notes that he “never delivered any crocodiles and/or hippopotamus to Daniel or [Nkomazi Wilderness].”
The last part is important because, as the reader will see, it is with regard to the (non)-delivery of these animals that the alleged attempt to frame Daniel took place. Before he goes there, though, Pienaar “pauses to confirm” that “as a registered game dealer with licence no. MPB 1050/18” it was his responsibility “to obtain the necessary permits to catch and transport animals for delivery to [Nkomazi Wilderness].”
Pienaar then continues:
“It is my experience that it has always been difficult to obtain permits for species of monetary value from the [MTPA]. I have come to accept that the reason for this is that officials of the Agency operate their own business that competes with the private sector they are mandated to serve.”
Again, the evidence that officials of the MTPA — most notably Muller and De Beer — had been engaged in such activities formed a core part of Outa’s criminal complaint, where the allegation was further made that both men committed perjury in the high court (see paragraph 232 of the affidavit).
Not only that, but similar evidence was led in Daniel’s civil trial, where the MTPA’s former CEO, Charles Ndabeni, confirmed in a witness statement that he had conducted an internal investigation which revealed the following (paragraph 36):
“It became apparent that the wildlife permit system had been repurposed from providing a critical service to the private sector, who relied on the system as necessary tools to maintain and protect biodiversity on their land, to a system that thrived on exploiting the province’s biodiversity to keep the [Problem Animal Fund] flush.
“To complicate matters, the law enforcement arm was abused to eliminate any competition for the [Problem Animal Fund] to create a monopoly that controlled the hunting and killing of wild animals, especially lion, elephant and large predators.”
While De Beer’s name was not mentioned in Ndabeni’s witness statement, Muller’s name — as the MTPA senior staffer who “controlled” the fund — was.
Which brings us back to Pienaar’s testimony of 3 February 2023.
“As a registered game dealer,” Pienaar states, “I have experienced first-hand how the PAF business activities of the MTPA WPS compete with the private sector.”
It was due to this first-hand experience, he adds, that he was allegedly targeted by the WPS in his commercial capacity.
“In June 2016,” Pienaar testifies, “the Wildlife Protection Services (WPS) confiscated my Mercedes Benz game truck and opened a criminal complaint against me under AC 321/2016 on 27 June 2016. The truck, a white Mercedes Benz with registration number DGY395L, engine number YES012782B and VIN number ADB65813526015799 was booked into the Whiteriver Police yard under reference number E280. The value of the truck and trailer then was R350,000.00.
“For almost six and a half years, I have tried to resolve the situation with no success. To date, I have also not been formally charged with any offence, except being removed as competition for the PAF.”
Due to the fact that Muller, De Beer, Joubert and Venter chose not to respond to Daily Maverick’s comprehensive list of questions, our attempts to gain clarity on the status of the charges against Pienaar were unsuccessful.
Still, as Pienaar continues in his statement, on Wednesday 10 August, 2022, he was “surprised” to receive a call from Muller on his mobile phone.
“Firstly, my surprise was that Muller is no longer a government official after he boarded himself from the MTPA in 2018. He should, therefore, not be dictating an Organ of State’s affairs. Secondly, Muller’s deal that I provide his advocate Dawie Joubert SC with a false affidavit in exchange for immunity from prosecution is, in essence, a request to frame Mr Daniel.”
And so we come full circle to the quoted allegation at the top of this article.
“Muller informed me that he was standing next to Juan De Beer,” Pienaar testifies, “whom I know as the Manager of Species Protection of the MTPA WPS, and another person, an unnamed senior public prosecutor, which I understood to be Ms. Ansie Venter from Middleburg.
“He asked me if I was prepared to provide a sworn affidavit that I had previously delivered crocodiles and hippos to Daniel’s project without permits.”
Muller, according to Pienaar’s testimony, “wanted the affidavit to prove that Daniel acted outside the law”.
In return, “he said that he was in a position to make a deal with the senior public prosecutor and the South African Police to return my expensive truck and squash all criminal charges”.
Pienaar then testifies that he requested Muller to make “his offer… in writing”.
As a result, he adds, “I immediately received further communications from Muller and De Beer via a string of WhatsApps followed by a phone call from advocate Dawie Joubert SC.”
In the affidavit, Pienaar translates the messages from the initial Afrikaans into English:
10 August 2022, at 15:17:
MULLER: “Good day, hope you are well there. I want to ask you a question, off the record and not at all for the MTPA. Have you ever offloaded hippos and crocs to Daniel. This is a very confidential question and should not be discussed with anyone else please”.
PIENAAR: I responded at 17:29: “I know nothing.”
MULLER: Responded at 17:43: “Don’t worry.”
Thereafter, Muller forwarded me various WhatsApps that he had received from Juan De Beer:
DE BEER: Forward by Muller: 15:05: “I have a buffalo case still pending against him. His truck stands at the Whiteriver SAP, case has run for years. Yes, I will withdraw, but then no civil claim against SAP over truck. From Juan, speak with you later.”
MULLER: Responded: 15:09: “Total exemption of any charges from your past.”
MULLER: 15:09: “Total.”
MULLER: 15:19: “Will this be OK with you?”
14 August 2022:
I then received additional communications from Muller:
MULLER: 14:24: “Sorry I am disturbing you again. The Adv wants to talk with you, when will it be suitable that he can phone?”
PIENAAR: I responded to Muller: 15:45: “At home in an hour. Reception is bad.”
MULLER: Responded to me: 15:49: 2 x thumbs up.
PIENAAR: Responded to Muller: 17:03: “I am ready.”
MULLER: Responded to me: 17:04: “Ok I am sending your number to Dawie Joubert. He is our senior adv.”
PIENAAR: Responded to Muller: 17:04: 1 x thumbs-up.
MULLER: Responded to Pienaar: 17:08: “He is also on the road; says he will phone you in a half an hour.”
On the same day, Pienaar testifies, he received a call from Joubert. The affidavit confirms that, during this call, Joubert informed Pienaar that he would “use his influence with the senior prosecutor Ms Ansie Venter in Middelburg to ensure that the criminal complaint by De Beer would disappear”.
Pienaar adds that while he was not prepared to frame Daniel, he was “willing to cooperate in an honest and transparent manner”. A few days later, he informed Muller that one of the conditions for his cooperation was “the permit to capture the 15 hippos on the Komati Farms”.
During a face-to-face interview with Daily Maverick in mid-February 2023, Pienaar explained: “I wanted to see how desperate they were. I know these guys. So I decided to put in the hippo story as well.”
Here, Pienaar’s testimony moves in a direction that suggests the fraudulent activities of the WPS are still ongoing.
Backed up by documentary evidence in an annexure to the affidavit, which is also in the possession of Daily Maverick, Pienaar lays out how Erjies Rohm — “a powerful player in the PAF enterprise” — blocked his permit application to capture the hippos in December 2021.
“Rohm also met with my client and used the confidential information in my permit application to solicit the work that I had applied [for],” Pienaar testifies.
“My client initially refused to deal with Rohm and chased him away as they suffered losses over the last ten years. Rohm was only interested to extract an amount of R375,000 (R25,000 per hippo) to profit from the animals. Rohm would then also be free to sell the hippos for more cash to hunters on the basis of the highest bidder.”
When contacted by Daily Maverick to comment on the allegations and the attendant evidence — a series of emails and letters, plus the permit application, that appear to corroborate Pienaar’s testimony — Rohm, like the other four individuals named in the affidavit, chose not to respond.
Finally, Pienaar testifies, on 29 November 2022 he reached out to Daniel himself, to inform him of the full chain of events.
For Daily Maverick, the question was obvious: why did Pienaar wait more than three months to come clean?
“I was waiting for them to respond,” he told us. “They were already putting stuff in writing that was incriminating them, and I wanted more of that. I also thought that they may have been monitoring [Daniel’s] phone, so I just waited.”
As far as Daniel saw it, as serious as Pienaar’s allegations were, they were simply part of a larger pattern. This pattern, he told Pienaar, was not only mirrored in the behaviour of senior counsel for the government defendants during the civil trial — regarding which the judge registered his “disgust” — it was clear in Outa’s criminal complaint too, where Muller and De Beer were accused of “defeating the ends of justice, fraud and perjury”.
By Daily Maverick’s reckoning, Outa’s criminal complaint contained a lot more that reflected the pattern. As just one example, there was the allegation that Mabuza submitted a false affidavit to the Carolina Magistrate’s Court in February 2018, stating that Daniel did not furnish the court with the evidence to justify an interim protection order.
“The purpose of the fraud,” Outa alleged, “was to have the interim protection order dismissed and to obtain a credibility finding against Daniel.”
While the civil trial is still ongoing, at the time of writing, the NPA’s spokesperson had yet to respond to Daily Maverick’s request for comment on the status of Outa’s criminal complaint. DM/OBP