Opinion

EXTRACT The Bosasa Billions: Bosasa goes to war

EXTRACT The Bosasa Billions: Bosasa goes to war

Between2007 and 2009 the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) investigated Bosasa and inresponse the Bosasa bosses set about constructing an impenetrable legalfortress to shield the company. The multi-pronged strategy ranged from attemptsto thwart the prison tender probe in court, to allegedly bribing high-rankingofficials of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and deleting evidencefrom the company's servers. Inside the company, top executives were pressuredto hold the line and warned of the consequences of breaking ranks.

The SIU probe was hamstrungalmost from the start. From the outset, soon after it had been authorised bythen president Thabo Mbeki in 2007, Bo­sasa launched an application for a HighCourt interdict to block the investigation.

The SIU eventually reached anagreement whereby it was allowed to continue with the investigation, butprecluded from interviewing certain key witnesses, like the Bosasa boss GavinWatson and other senior executives.

"That obviously led to thescope of the investiga­tion being limited quite significantly," saidClinton Oellermann, the SIU's lead investigator.

Thereason for these seemingly generous concessions by the SIU remains shrouded inmystery to this day. Oellermann said he still had no idea why they had beengranted. In a request for comment, Advocate Willie Hofmeyr, then the head ofthe SIU, referred all queries back to the SIU, stating that the matter hadhappened a long time ago.

Bosasa and I

Besides the interdictapplication, Bosasa also stymied the inves­tigation in other ways, said Oellermann.At one stage, the company approached the SIU with startling inside information:They had heard that the unit was planning to conduct a search-and-seizureoperation at their premises. Oellermann was adamant that he and his team didnot provide Bosasa with this sensitive information. He had no idea who theinformant was.

"They approached us throughtheir lawyers and there was an agreement that they would allow us access totheir servers and image them digitally and forensically."

But Bosasa said that they neededtime to prepare and requested a postponement of the search. According toOellermann, his superiors at the SIU granted the request. By the time the SIUobtained access to the servers, thousands of files had been deleted using thesoft­ware program Eraser. "I think over 40 000 files were intentionallydestroyed or deleted from the server," Oellermann said.

Bosasa blamed a server crash forthe loss of information. "The obtaining of documentation referred to byyou is proving more challenging than initially anticipated. In this regard weannex the Bosasa IT disaster log dated 8 November 2007 from where it isapparent that Bosasa's server crashed on that date with a cata­strophic loss ofinformation," a lawyer's letter sent on behalf of the company read.

SIUblocked

In addition to the direct legalroad blocks set up by Bosasa, the SIU team was also constrained by thepresidential proclamation authorising the initial probe.

As is customary, it laid downstrict parameters for the in­vestigation. "With this investigation, itrelated to four tenders at the Department of Correctional Services. They arecommonly referred to as the kitchens tenders, the access control tender, thefencing ten­der and the television tender," Oellermann explained.

While the SIU team came across "significant"irregularities un­related to the prison tenders, because there was noadditional proclamation, the SIU could not legally pursue them. Theseirregulari­ties included tenders from the Department of Home Affairs and theAirports Company South Africa (Acsa). "We were not able to test theallegations because they fell outside of our proclamation," Oellermannsaid.

Despite the obstacles they faced,the SIU investigators were still able to find ample evidence of corruption,culminating in the damn­ing report presented to Parliament in 2009.

However, there was no mention ofone key figure: Gavin Watson. Oellermann said the Bosasa CEO was omitted fromthe report be­cause investigators were precluded from interviewing himaccording to the agreement struck following the company's application for aninterdict against the SIU. According to Oellermann, the SIU investigators diduncover in­formation that implicated Watson but "never had the opportunityto test these allegations with him, or present evidence to him or any­thinglike that". The information showed Watson was "aware of what wasgoing on at all times and was in fact at the forefront of the irregu­laritiesthat had been identified".

Oellermann pointed out that a lotof the evidence against Wat­son was based on hearsay. "We were informedthat you would never find Mr Watson's signature on a document, you would neverfind an email that he had sent or anything like that. He tried to keep his noseclean or out of the document chain."

According to Angelo Agrizzi,Watson would boast about the fact that he was not mentioned in the report.

Bosasa also pulled every po­liticallever at its disposal. After the final SIU report was submitted in 2009, ittook the company only a day or two to get its hands on the confidentialdocument. Only four people received the final copy of the report: Nosivi­weMapisa-Nqakula, at the time minister of correctional services, Jenny Schreiner,acting national commissioner of correctional ser­vices, Advocate WillieHofmeyr, head of the SIU, and Advocate Suad Jacobs, the programme manager forthe SIU investigation. A copy was also submitted to the SIU archive. The fourindividuals and the archive all received hard copies of the report; noelectronic versions were distributed. Still, within a matter of days Bosasa hadits hands on a copy. By the time Oellermann left the SIU in 2012, nothing hadcome from the damning report he and his fellow investigators had compiled.

* This extract was taken from The Bosasa Billions written by James-Brent Styan and Paul Vecchiatto and published by LAPA.