R80m bribe for Angelo Agrizzi's silence

Watsons offered exec deal to withdraw his first corruption claim

27 January 2019 - 00:07 By GRAEME HOSKEN and BONGANI FUZILE


The Watson family was prepared to do anything to keep whistleblower Angelo Agrizzi quiet - including offering him a R80m hush fund.
An e-mail to Agrizzi from Bosasa lawyer Brian Biebuyck last September - which the Sunday Times has seen - contained a proposed agreement revealing an elaborate web to make the payments appear legitimate.
In the proposal, Bosasa boss Gavin Watson would pay Agrizzi a monthly consultancy fee of R250,000.
Agrizzi would also set up a new company, Newco, to which Watson would pay up to R10m a year, for six years.
Watson also included a R5m "good faith" payment.
Agrizzi's fee would be for advising Watson "personally in relation to his business dealings".
In exchange for these payments, Agrizzi was to back out of a undertaking he had given the media to release details of corruption at Bosasa and try to "reverse the negative publicity that was attracted due to the statement, particularly with regards to the clients and financial institutions related to the business".
The proposal also stated that "neither party shall do, allow to be done or cause to be done, anything which does or may impugn the good name and reputation of either party".
So keen were the Watsons to manage Agrizzi that the agreement proposed setting up an "oversight committee" to mediate any possible future disagreements between Watson and Agrizzi.
The committee would comprise Biebuyck, Agrizzi's current business partner, former Bosasa CFO Andries van Tonder and Watson's brothers Cheeky, Valance and Ronnie.
Over the past two weeks Agrizzi, who is testifying before the Zondo state capture commission, has alleged that high-level government and ANC officials were involved in corrupt deals with Bosasa.
These included allegedly helping Bosasa and its companies secure more than R10bn worth of government tenders.
Gavin Watson did not respond to questions yesterday.
Agrizzi yesterday confirmed several attempts by the Watsons and Bosasa to lure him back to the company.
He said they had offered him, among other things, enormous amounts of money that ran into many millions. "They did this because they realised that I had had enough of their dirty operations and posed a threat to the continued existence of their ill-gotten government tenders and contracts."
He said he had initially "played along" with the Watsons because he wanted to see what they would come up with. He said he could not divulge details of their offer, but "documented proof reflects that it ran into many tens of millions of rands and was an exorbitant plan to procure silence on corruption".
"It shows how desperate they were to prevent me from spilling the beans."
Agrizzi said he could also prove he received a host of messages from the Watson brothers urging him to sort out his differences with Gavin and return to the company. "This information is now in the hands of the authorities and the Zondo commission."
He said he was "fully committed to assisting and co-operating with all the authorities in reaching finality on the matter and ensuring that the corruption and racketeering is exposed. "We have all now received freedom from oppression and no one should be bound by the chains of corruption, which so easily can ensnare us."
The documents seen by the Sunday Times reveal the extent of the animosity between Gavin Watson and Agrizzi during 18 months of wrangling. Adding to the tense relations was Agrizzi's comment to Watson that Bosasa's political affiliations had become a block to the company's growth.
The Sunday Times reported last week that in a separate bid to take control of Bosasa - where he worked for 17 years before being fired in 2016 - Agrizzi in 2017 proposed paying Watson R10m a month to "go and retire in Port Elizabeth" and hand over control of the company to Agrizzi. This proposal was rejected by Watson.
Leaked cellphone messages, believed to be Agrizzi's, reveal that days before the agreement was due to be signed, Agrizzi became suspicious of Watson's intentions and the intense pressure the Watson family was placing on him to sign the document.
In a WhatsApp message last August, Agrizzi, responding to a request from Watson to meet, says: "… don't want to get involved with the type of people you are now associated with It's far too dirty - and not what Christ would want to see me associate with That's it" (sic).
In a series of messages believed to be from Watson, the Bosasa CEO tells Agrizzi that "someone wants the division".
"What's it going to solve destroying your family and my family and 5000 other families. I said to you I am prepared to work with you. I don't know what your issue is because you don't speak to me … who is trying to divide the two of us? Angelo somebody is trying to extort money out of us and trying to make money out of us."
In a statement drawn up by Agrizzi detailing negotiations around the "hush money deal", he describes how the Watsons used meetings running into the early hours of the morning to try to weaken his resolve.
Contacted by the Sunday Times, Biebuyck said the draft agreement recorded a proposed agreement between Watson and Agrizzi following months of disputes "pertaining in the main to Agrizzi's ongoing endeavours to acquire or take over Bosasa, to the exclusion of Watson's involvement".
"The agreement was drafted in August 2018 following settlement negotiations with Agrizzi, and constitutes a response to Agrizzi's own proposal which he put forward following these discussions," said the Bosasa lawyer.
"The proposed settlement agreement, which was not concluded, contains no provisions in relation to 'hush money' as has been suggested.
"Rather [it] seeks to achieve a lasting resolution of differences between two individuals who had been at loggerheads for months."

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