Botswana asks AfriForum to help trace $48m funnelled into SA bank accounts

23 June 2020 - 12:47 By ERNEST MABUZA
SA's Dirco has for eight months ignored a request from Botswana to help trace millions of rands that ended up in South African bank accounts. Now AfriForum's Gerrie Nel has stepped in to help.
SA's Dirco has for eight months ignored a request from Botswana to help trace millions of rands that ended up in South African bank accounts. Now AfriForum's Gerrie Nel has stepped in to help.
Image: AfriForum

AfriForum has been briefed by the director of public prosecutions in Botswana to represent it in a high-profile money-laundering and fraud case involving huge sums of cash allegedly funnelled into South African bank accounts.

AfriForum will help by facilitating a request by the Botswana government for mutual legal assistance from SA in the Bank of Botswana fraud and money-laundering probe.

Botswana's director of public prosecutions, advocate Stephen Tiroyakgosi, submitted a request for mutual legal assistance (MLA) on September 25 2019 to the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco).

The head of AfriForum's private prosecution unit, Gerrie Nel, said there had been no response to this request. Nel said on Tuesday the brief from the DPP was to facilitate any request or development related to a request for mutual legal assistance in the matter.

 However, Dirco has disputed AfriForum's claim that the MLA request had disappeared.

"AfriForum is barking up the wrong tree, as we have documentary proof that the request for mutual legal assistance was received by Dirco, which responded to the Botswana High Commission and also transmitted the request to the department of justice," department spokesperson Clayson Monyela said on Tuesday.

Monyela said that after receiving the MLA request from the Botswana High Commission on September 17 2019, its chief directorate for consular services acknowledged receipt of the request a week later, on September 25 2019.

Monyela said in its response, the directorate advised the Botswana High Commission that the request was forwarded to the relevant South African authorities, being the justice department in this case.

Dirco said the Botswana High Commission would be informed of any developments in this matter.

Monyela also provided a letter written by Dirco to the justice department on September 25, in which Dirco submitted Botswana's request. He said after the reply from Dirco, the Botswana High Commission acknowledged receipt.

"The request for mutual legal assistance was sent to the department of justice, where it is receiving attention," he said. 

'Quite embarrassing'

Nel said money originating from the Bank of Botswana was illegally laundered through various international accounts, and $48m (about R828m at Tuesday's exchange rate) found its way into various accounts in SA.

He said an investigation by authorities in Botswana focused on the question of how, and how much, money found its way back to Botswana and for what purposes.

“It is quite embarrassing, but this particular request was personally handed over by the head of the international cooperation unit in the [Botswana's DPP office] to the designated officials at Dirco on September 9 2019,” said Nel.

“That MLA seems to have disappeared. The lack of feedback from South African authorities led our clients to form the irresistible inference that the delay or unwillingness [to assist] is quite deliberate.”

He said the request for mutual legal assistance identified suspects including high-profile and politically connected individuals in SA.

“An MLA is merely that. It is a request to assist foreign law enforcement to obtain evidence needed to prove a criminal matter in their country.”

Nel said after being briefed, AfriForum sent a letter to the director-general of Dirco on Monday. In the letter, AfriForum wanted to know about the status of the MLA and when a response could be expected.

Nel said AfriForum had received a response from Dirco, acknowledging receipt of the letter.

Tiroyakgosi said authorities in Botswana were looking at pursuing large sums of money that investigations revealed had found their way to SA.

“We need to get information from several banks in SA. Essentially we have been snowballed because the banks have not come to the party,” he said. 

“We engaged with the team led by advocate Nel to try to find ways and means, through various avenues, be it persuasion, be it court proceedings to ensure that we get the necessary assistance from all concerned parties. That is the nature of how we got to engage Nel.” 

Editor's note: The original version of this story did not include a comment from Dirco. The response, specifically to the claim regarding Botswana's mutual legal assistance request, had since been included. We apologise for the omission.