Report Wire - A theft from South Africa’s president. A silence from South Africa

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A theft from South Africa’s president. A silence from South Africa

8 min read
A theft from South Africa’s president. A silence from South Africa

Namibian investigators have been scorching on the path of the suspected burglars. After receiving a tip a couple of sensational heist — the theft of money from a farm belonging to President Cyril Ramaphosa of neighbouring South Africa — that they had traced massive cash transfers that the suspects created from South African to Namibian financial institution accounts.

All that was left to make a case in opposition to the suspects was to hyperlink the cash to the housebreaking.

But when Justice Ministry officers in Namibia reached out to their counterparts in South Africa for affirmation, they are saying they obtained an uncommon response that killed their case: silence.

Now, two years later, that silence is elevating new questions on whether or not Ramaphosa was making an attempt to cover the theft from public view and mobilizing the federal government equipment to assist him accomplish that.

The housebreaking of the president’s farm in South Africa, 650 miles from the border with Namibia, occurred in February 2020 however solely turned broadly identified this month. A political foe of the president levelled bombshell allegations that Ramaphosa had between $4 million and $8 million in U.S. foreign money stolen from his property, after which coated up the theft to keep away from scrutiny over having massive sums of money tucked away.

The cash had been hidden in furnishings in a home on the president’s Phala Phala sport farm, in keeping with the political foe, Arthur Fraser, the previous head of state safety in South Africa, who made his allegations in a prison grievance in opposition to Ramaphosa. The president by no means reported the crime to police, Fraser stated, however relied on his private safety unit to conduct an unlawful, off-the-books investigation.

The president has since admitted that his farm was burgled, however has denied any wrongdoing. The cash stolen was far lower than was claimed, he has stated, including that the money got here from the authorized sale of uncommon sport bred on the farm. A spokesperson for Ramaphosa declined to remark for this text.

A police automobile on the street by Phala Phala, a sport farm owned by President Cyril Ramaphosa, outdoors Bela-Bela, South Africa, June 18, 2022. (Joao Silva/The New York Times)

As the president makes an attempt to forge forward together with his common agenda — his farm hosted a sport public sale Saturday — he faces a troublesome street forward. The Hawks, one of many nation’s elite investigative models, are investigating him. Even his allies fear about potential prison costs related to allegations that he hid massive sums of overseas foreign money — from cash laundering to breaking tax or overseas alternate legal guidelines.

Ramaphosa, within the thick of a battle this 12 months to be reelected because the chief of his get together, the African National Congress, has remained largely silent.

Even the supervisor of Phala Phala, Hendrik von Wielligh, conceded in a short phone interview that it was uncommon to stash cash from sport gross sales on the home. Asked what often occurred with the proceeds, he stated curtly, “Normally to the bank.” Von Wielligh declined to debate the theft, saying “the people that investigated” had warned him to not speak to the press as a result of it will complicate the investigation, and probably scare off witnesses.

Fraser, who himself is dealing with allegations of corruption throughout his tenure as head of state safety, is an in depth ally of the previous president Ramaphosa pushed out, Jacob Zuma. Zuma’s allies have been in search of to discredit Ramaphosa in any manner they will as they battle his reelection bid.

The grievance filed by Fraser resurrected what in any other case was a seemingly forgotten case. But it was one which Namibian authorities took nice curiosity in two years in the past.

In interviews performed in 2020, a couple of months after the housebreaking, two Namibian law enforcement officials and two senior authorities officers stated informants had alerted police that the boys who burgled Ramaphosa’s farm had fled to Namibia. The officers and officers requested anonymity as a result of they weren’t approved to debate the case.

A confidential investigative report was written by a Namibian police official in June 2020 particulars allegations that U.S. {dollars} hidden inside a settee at Ramaphosa’s farm have been stolen by a person in Namibian custody on unrelated costs. That report, which lately leaked on-line, additionally stated that officers from South Africa and Namibia had mentioned the housebreaking, though it appears South African authorities ultimately stopped cooperating when Namibian legislation enforcement requested official help. There additionally have been discussions “allegedly ongoing between the countries’ two presidents,” the report stated.

Hage Geingob, Namibia’s president, has denied doing any favours for Ramaphosa concerning the housebreaking. And Namibian legislation enforcement officers insist they did every thing by the e-book.“It is not in my culture to hide a crime,” Martha Imalwa, Namibia’s prosecutor common, who tried to get data on the housebreaking suspects from South African authorities, stated in an interview. “We can’t force another jurisdiction to assist.”Around April 2020, weeks after the burglars have been stated to have made off with the money, Namibian police stopped a Ford Ranger pickup truck within the Namibian capital, Windhoek. Criminal informants in Namibia had instructed police that the occupants of the automobile had been concerned in a theft at Ramaphosa’s farm, in keeping with the 2 law enforcement officials and one of many senior authorities officers.

President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa’s sport farm, Phala Phala, outdoors Bela-Bela, South Africa, June 18, 2022.  (Joao Silva/The New York Times)

One of these suspects, Erkki Shikongo, stated in an interview that police held him and his cousin on the police station whereas they turned the automobile inside out. They used instruments to disassemble elements of the truck to go looking it, he stated.“They just said, ‘We are searching for something,’ ” Shikongo recalled. When he requested what they have been looking for, they might not inform him, he stated.

Police discovered nothing and launched Shikongo with out costs.

Shikongo and his cousin, Petrus Muhekeni, have been among the many 5 suspects named in Fraser’s grievance. But each males denied any involvement within the housebreaking. They stated in separate interviews they solely discovered about it after information studies surfaced they usually have been inundated with calls from journalists.

While authorities have flagged his money transfers, Shikongo stated his cash didn’t come from stealing from the president, however from shopping for and promoting gold all through southern Africa. Shikongo stated he would haven’t any drawback going to courtroom to show his innocence.“I’m not afraid of anything,” he stated. “I want to make sure my name must be cleared.”

The first public whiff of the housebreaking at Ramaphosa’s farm began with a secular crime: Imanuwela David, a Namibian-born man who holds a South African passport, sneaked into Namibia in June 2020 by taking a canoe throughout the Orange River.

David’s arrest for illegally coming into the nation rapidly turned a sensational media story. Details emerged that he was aided by a police officer and the CEO of Namibia’s state-owned fishing firm, which was embroiled in a corruption scandal often known as “Fishrot.” Speculation swirled that David could have been concerned in Fishrot.

Police stated he had introduced 11 notes of U.S. foreign money every price $100 into Namibia. He had a TAG Heuer and a Rolex watch, a gold chain and 4 cellphones. Police additionally stated on the time that David was a fugitive in South Africa, linked to a housebreaking there. They gave few particulars concerning the case, however one report in The Namibian Sun valued the quantity stolen at 65 million Namibian {dollars} (about $4 million) — the identical quantity Fraser talked about in his grievance in opposition to Ramaphosa this month.

Although Namibian police launched few particulars publicly on the time, the confidential investigative report means that they might have identified greater than they shared.

Produced on June 21, 2020, eight days after David’s arrest, the report stated there was data indicating that he was concerned in “a housebreaking and theft” at a farm belonging to Ramaphosa. (The report, nevertheless, names a unique farm owned by the president, not the one which was robbed.)The memo gave different particulars that may additionally floor in Fraser’s grievance two years later — {that a} lady on the property found the cash and instructed others about it; that the cash was hidden in furnishings; that David was a central participant within the housebreaking.

The confidential report was created by Nelius Becker, the top of prison investigations for Namibia’s nationwide police on the time. Becker stated in a current interview that he had shared it with two different senior officers and that it was supposed to stay confidential. He additionally stated that, to his data, Namibian police by no means tried to quash or cowl up any investigation.

But his report does describe a gathering between high-level authorities from Namibia and South Africa by which it seems that the South Africans tried to stress their neighbours. During the assembly, which came about at a border space often known as “no man’s land,” a South African official confirmed that one thing had occurred on the farm however that no case was filed, in keeping with the memo. The official stated David was the mastermind behind the housebreaking.“Due to the sensitivity of the matter and the envisaged fallout it will create in South Africa, they requested that the matter is handled with discretion,” Becker wrote within the report.

In a current information launch, Lt. Gen. Sebastian Ndeitunga, head of Namibian police, sought to mood any suggestion of impropriety. The assembly, on June 19, 2020, was merely to “share operational information” about David and different individuals suspected of stealing cash in South Africa and fleeing to Namibia, Ndeitunga stated.

Still, what unfolded within the subsequent weeks appears to counsel that Namibia was far more zealous in its pursuit of David and the opposite suspects than South African authorities.

Namibian investigators tracked the banking exercise of David, Shikongo and a 3rd man, Petrus Afrikaner, over a number of months. They recorded 6.7 million Namibian {dollars}’ price of transactions, in keeping with one of many senior authorities officers.

Namibian prosecutors have been making an attempt to construct a money-laundering case in opposition to the boys. So they drafted a request for assist establishing the sources of the suspects’ funds and whether or not they have been derived from illegal actions, stated Yvonne Dausab, the Namibian justice minister, in a textual content message. On Aug. 14, 2020, the Namibia High Commission in South Africa delivered the request to the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation, to be forwarded to the Justice Department, Dausab stated. South African officers by no means responded, she stated.

Chrispin Phiri, a spokesperson for South Africa’s Justice Ministry, stated in a press release Tuesday that the company had no official file of a request from Namibian authorities concerning the suspects within the farm theft.

Without that data, Namibian authorities may now not freeze the property of the suspects or pursue a case in opposition to them.