SA corruption whistleblower: Boss could tell former president Zuma ‘what to do’

Angelo Agrizzi is set to continue his testimony at a public inquiry into political corruption

A member of security gestures to the photographer as former Bosasa chief operations officer, Angelo Agrizzi arrives at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, probing state capture in Johannesburg, South Africa on January 21st Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

A member of security gestures to the photographer as former Bosasa chief operations officer, Angelo Agrizzi arrives at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, probing state capture in Johannesburg, South Africa on January 21st Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

 

A whistleblower who gave explosive evidence to a public inquiry into political corruption in South Africa last week is set to continue his testimony on Monday.

Angelo Agrizzi, who was chief operating officer of the facilities company Bosasa, said the firm’s chief executive used his close relationship with former president Jacob Zuma to influence political appointments.

Giving evidence last Thursday, Agrizzi said his boss, Gavin Watson, held such sway over Zuma that he could tell the former president “what to do”.

Agrizzi’s comments were made after a secret audio recording of a conversation he said he had with Watson and Linda Mti, a former correctional services commissioner, was played at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector.

In the recording made on May 8th, 2015, a man who is allegedly Watson can be heard rehearsing what he is going to say to Zuma, whom he was due to meet a few days later, in relation to how he could protect Bosasa from prosecution linked to a 2009 Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report that incriminated the company.

The SIU, an independent statutory body accountable to South Africa’s parliament found that Bosasa, now called African Global Operations, bribed Mti and other Department of Correctional Services officials in return for prison tenders worth 1.5 billion South African rand.

Recording bribes

In the recording, the man Agrizzi says is Watson is heard outlining what he plans to say to Zuma: “Mr President, we need to get this thing closed down, we need the right people in the right place . . . we need to get the right person at NPA [the National Prosecuting Authority].”

The man identified as Watson goes on to list some NPA officials who could be appointed to protect Bosasa, including the then deputy national director of public prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba.

Earlier on Thursday, Agrizzi produced a notebook at the inquiry that he said he used to record the bribes government officials got in 2016 from Bosasa via Mti, who was also, he said, on a 100,000-rand-a-month (approximately €6,500) kickback.

Jiba, who was given the codename “Snake” because she was “alert” and “poised to strike”, Agrizzi said, was listed as receiving 100,000 rand per month, while her personal assistant Jackie Lephinka, or “J”, was allocated 20,000 rand per month, the inquiry heard.

Another top prosecutor, the NPA’s specialised commercial crimes unit head, Lawrence Mrwebi – he was dubbed the “Snail” – was given only 10,000 rand per month because he was slow to act in Bosasa’s interests, Agrizzi told the inquiry.

Jiba, who is currently the subject of a separate inquiry into her fitness to hold office at the NPA, has denied receiving any bribes from Bosasa.

Agrizzi testified that in exchange for payments Bosasa illegally received a string of confidential NPA documents via Mti on its investigations into the company, which helped it to develop legal strategies to defend itself.

The documents contained a draft charge sheet against Bosasa as well as investigation updates compiled by NPA prosecutors. Email exchanges between prosecutors related to Bosasa investigations were also included, according to Agrizzi.

Burning computers

Giving evidence last Tuesday , Agrizzi said when the SIU started investigating Bosasa for corruption, Watson instructed him to get rid of all incriminating documentation.

This involved faking a server crash, setting fire to computers and thousands of documents and then burying the burnt remains in a hole.

The SIU report dealt with four suspicious multibillion rand contracts Bosasa was awarded from the Department of Correctional Services for CCTV, fencing, catering, and access control at prisons across the country.

The NPA investigation into Bosasa was eventually shelved despite the evidence in the SIU report.

Agrizzi, who says he was Watson’s right hand man, said Bosasa bribed up to 80 politicians and government officials to illegally secure public sector tenders.

The Johannesburg-based inquiry initially had a focus on whether controversial business family the Guptas had undue influence over Zuma during the nine years he served as South Africa’s president, which came to an end last February.

However, Agrizzi was unveiled as a surprise witness on January 16th and since then his testimony has been its main focus.

The ruling African National Congress party this week branded Bosasa a “cartel” and said Agrizzi’s testimony showed there was a plan to create a “mafia state” in South Africa.

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