REVEALED: Inside the Hawks’ Bosasa probe
The back story of the Hawks' strategy in arrest of Agrizzi and co. PLUS what they know so far
As graft-accused Bosasa bosses one by one received phone calls instructing them to surrender in Pretoria, about 1,000km away in the Eastern Cape Hawks officers were digging up the site of a defunct prawn farm.
The calls – made by officials from the Serious Economic Offences Unit (SEOU) – appear to have been timed to be placed at the same time as the dig, according to Hawks sources speaking to Times Select on condition of anonymity.
“The suspects were ordered to hand themselves over within 24 hours. As those calls were being made, other officers were at the site. It’s not the only place that is being searched. The evidence that has been given at the commission has been noted and it’s being acted on,” a Hawks source said.
“The operations happening now are not the final pieces in the puzzle, but are crucial to closing this corruption down. Evidence has been gathered with a lot pointing to senior government officials.
“There is a mountain of very interesting documents, including bank and travel records, which have been recovered.”
For nine years the unit, along with other units within the Hawks and the Special Investigating Unit [SIU], has been investigating Bosasa and its alleged bribing and corruption of government officials, including ministers, to secure R10bn worth of contracts with the department of correctional services.
The investigation, says a Hawks source, has a number of legs, including looking at how money was shipped offshore, and is being ramped up by enlisting the help of the SA Revenue Service, the SIU and the treasury.
Catch and release
On Tuesday, as their colleagues began excavating a portion of the SeaArk prawn farm outside Port Elizabeth, SEOU officers called former Bosasa executive and whistle-blower Angelo Agrizzi; ex-Bosasa executive Andries van Tonder; former national correctional services commissioner Linda Mti, and the department’s ex-chief financial officer, Patrick Gillingham, to inform them of their impending arrest and to instruct them to surrender.
The four, along with former Bosasa executives Carlos Bonafacio and Frans Voster, are alleged to have been behind the irregular awarding of R1.6bn in tenders to the company by the department.
Agrizzi, Van Tonder and Gillingham, appearing in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on Wednesday on charges of fraud, money laundering and corruption, were granted bail of R20,000 each. Bonafacio and Voster, appearing in the same court on separate charges relating to Bosasa's dealings with correctional services, were also released on R20,000 bail.
All are to reappear on March 27.
Mti – who lives in Port Elizabeth – and another suspect who is overseas and who the Hawks refused to name, failed to appear in court (see below).
Times Select has learnt that shortly after 9am on Tuesday a group of Hawks and crime intelligence officers, armed with ground-penetrating radar equipment and an excavator, began scanning and searching a portion of the ground where the SeaArk prawn farm once stood at the Coega Industrial Development Zone, near the Port of Ngqura.
The dig took place at the IDZ’s maritime and aquaculture cluster, between what used to be a pond and a building, according to HeraldLIVE.
SeaArk, which was meant to be the world’s first closed bio-secure prawn-farming system, and was linked to a Bosasa entity, was launched in 2006. It was said to have attracted almost R9.2bn in investment before it was scrapped in December 2009 by Bosasa chief executive Gavin Watson.
But, according to explosive testimony by former Bosasa officials testifying before the state capture inquiry, SeaArk was a front used to launder money.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed the dig took place but declined to elaborate on what they were searching for.
“Based on intelligence, a warrant was obtained and the site excavated. We can confirm that it appears there was a hole and that there was something buried there.
“The team dug about 2m, where they noted the difference in soil content which was used as a filler.”
Mulaudzi said the excavation came after an intelligence-driven operation led investigators to the SeaArk site.
“Our forensic specialists were brought in and confirmed that one section of ground had been disturbed.
“There was clearly a cavity there that had been filled. The team dug past the cavity, but found nothing.”
A Hawks source with knowledge of the Bosasa investigation said the PE search was for documents and computers.
“Information was obtained from a credible source as to the items’ exact location.”
He said other legs of the investigation were looking into how money was shipped offshore by various people and entities.
The dig follows Agrizzi’s testimony to the Zondo state capture commission that he and other Bosasa staff members had destroyed evidence of corruption by setting it alight in a hole in Krugersdorp.
“There was already an existing hole. We threw all the collected items into the hole,” Agrizzi testified.
He said the corruption was aimed at furthering Bosasa’s business interests.
Incriminating documents and computers had been destroyed about a decade ago, ahead of an SIU investigation into Bosasa’s alleged corruption.
Agrizzi also detailed how Watson allegedly instructed staff to destroy damning evidence.
‘Once he bought me Klippies’
During a visit by The Herald to Mti’s home, his brother, Maxwell, 71, said he was unaware of any arrests.
“I did hear about these things on Bosasa though. But I don’t know what is going on now.”
Referring to the state capture commission playing on the television behind him, Maxwell said that was all he had heard about.
“My brother doesn’t speak to me about these things,” he said.
Asked when he last saw Mti, he said: “My brother was here last month. He came to visit me.”
The Greenbushes house is surrounded by a large electric fence with numerous outhouses on the property.
Mti also owns a large modern home on the banks of the Sundays River in Colchester, in the gated community of River Side Park.
All the windows of the house were wide open on Wednesday but there appeared to be no one inside. The house has electric and palisade fencing in front with electric fencing and a brick wall at the back.
Mti’s neighbour, Kobus Oosthuizen, 62, who worked at the Kirkwood prison, said the former prisons boss did not use the property often.
“His brother comes and cuts the grass. That is really the extent of the property’s use.”
Although Mti did stay for the odd weekend, he added.
“It was not often that he came. But I was shocked to hear about all this Bosasa stuff. I never thought he would be linked like this.”
He said he had invited Mti over previously to his house but he never pitched.
“Once he bought me a bottle of Klipdrift and a six pack of beer because I keep a watch on his house.”
Asked about the state capture commission and Mti’s alleged involvement, Oosthuizen said: “It’s not nice to hear these things but I am glad things are moving on all this.” – Michael Kimberley