Gone with the wind farm: why Bosasa ‘kept Mokonyane close’
Agrizzi says the company kept greasing minister's palm because of a ‘multibillion-rand’ Eastern Cape development
The winds might still blow in the favour of controversial Bosasa boss Gavin Watson and his family, provided testimony from former company chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi on Thursday proves to be true.
According to Agrizzi, who took the stand at the state capture inquiry on Thursday, the family stands to make a fortune from a wind farm development in the Eastern Cape. And, he said, one of the alleged beneficiaries of payments from Bosasa, environmental affairs minister Nomvula Mokonyane, could prove useful in making it happen.
Because, he testified, after years of allegedly being on Bosasa’s payroll, the decision on whether to approve a contested “multibillion-rand” wind farm development in the Eastern Cape now lay in her hands. And Watson’s family would be set to benefit should the development go ahead.
Agrizzi – now infamous for spilling the beans on the company’s alleged illicit dealings with the state – in both his testimonies to the state capture commission, said he constantly questioned why the company kept Mokonyane close, even when it seemed that the relationship was not bearing any gains.
He said he asked himself this question even after he left the company in 2016. Now, he said, he had his answer. In the interim, Agrizzi – and other company representatives – have been arrested and appeared in the Special Commercial Crimes Court. Their case was postponed this week pending an ongoing court case over the liquidation of Bosasa, now African Global Operations.
Answering questions before the commission on Thursday, after having first appeared in January, Agrizzi said he always thought the reason Bosasa maintained Mokonyane’s favour was because of her political influence, which he said was used to freeze criminal proceedings in 2009 after the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) found that the company had bribed state officials to secure lucrative contracts.
“The big thing was for me the SIU case that we were told was closed ... Then I found out that in actual fact it was a little more than that,” he told the commission.
Agrizzi said he saw an article on GroundUp last month which referred to the Inyanda-Roodeplaat Wind Energy Facility, which sought to build 47 turbines near the Groendal Nature Reserve, 48km from Port Elizabeth. Because the wilderness area surrounding the reserve is protected under the National Forestry Act, the project reportedly received a backlash from conservationists and tourism organisations, but it was given approval by the department of environmental affairs (DEA) in April 2018.
Watson’s relatives – Ronnie, Valence and Jared – are allegedly among the directors of the company undertaking the project.
But the DEA’s approval is now under appeal, and the adjudication process is in Mokonyane’s hands.
“It’s a multibillion-rand deal. Everything was done to circumvent the rules of the environmental impact assessment … I saw the article on March 13 which refers to this. I got a call to say: ‘Now you know why this whole thing is happening’,” he testified.
When he first appeared before the commission in January, Agrizzi said the monthly payments to Mokonyane continued for almost a decade and that Bosasa footed the bill for “ridiculous requests”, including her Christmas shopping, ANC rallies and food for party events. Other requests allegedly included routine maintenance to Mokonyane’s home, and rental cars for her daughter. These claims were backed up by Agrizzi’s former Bosasa colleagues in testimony.
This time, Agrizzi recalled two occasions when he saw Mokonyane allegedly taking cash.
The first was at a venue in Bryanston.
“We sat in a lounge, on the right-hand side there was a massive dining hall or conference room. She was sitting at the head of the table. We had a meeting, we discussed everything, it went on until late at night ... [Watson] then left the bag on the chair next to her. That I can attest to,” he said.
The second instance had been at her Krugersdorp home.
“I can recollect the house and I can recollect that there was a meeting we were going to attend. The money was packed the day before; it was packed by [Watson],” he said.
Agrizzi described the premises, saying they met Mokonyane in her study, which is situated “as you walk through the front door and you turn right”. He also provided proof of a direct relationship between Mokonyane and the company when she e-mailed him in April 2012 asking that he help someone interested in purchasing and importing equipment. He provided the e-mails to the commission.
“Some people are very powerful in politics. It’s scary because people have the ability to do a lot of things. She was very powerful. I was told categorically that you don’t mess, you just do, you don’t argue," Agrizzi said.
The commission’s evidence leader, Paul Pretorius, said Agrizzi’s statement on Thursday only related to questions the legal team and the investigators had about his initial evidence, which needed clarification.
When he continues on Friday, Agrizzi will deal with new evidence he has brought to the commission.