@espionageSA whistleblower uncovered

2016-09-24 06:57


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Johannesburg - The whistleblowers behind the Twitter handle @espionageSA, who leaked thousands of pages of information on the illegal spying, corruption and money laundering going on behind the scenes in the tobacco industry, have come out into the open.

Last month @espionageSA released documentation showing that a security company, FSS, contracted by British American Tobacco, was spying on competitors and who allegedly had police, metro police, and SARS officials on their payroll.

The leaks precipitated the Hawks demanding a warning statement from Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, and a book written by former SARS employees Johann van Loggerenberg and Adrian Lackay called Rogue: The inside story of SARS’s elite crime-busting unit.

They allege in the book that the narrative of the so-called “rogue unit” came about after the investigating unit got too close to organised crime, in particular the tobacco industry. In a way @espionageSA corroborated this, showing just how involved big tobacco was with law enforcement officials who were allegedly on its payroll.

The man behind the leaks Luis Pestana. He too is a player in the tobacco industry, selling cigarette filters and entry-level cigarettes.

His foray as a whistleblower began last year, when he said a colonel in an anti-tobacco task team and an investigator with FSS, Francois van der Westhuizen, approached him.

They met at the Bedford Centre mall in Bedfordview, Johannesburg. “He wanted me to become an informer,” Pestana said.

He said he gave them bits and pieces of information to get close to them. He said Van der Westhuizen was angry because his salary had been cut by R10 000. Pestana told Van der Westhuizen to give him information so they could sell it. He said Van der Westhuizen gave him hard drives taken from FSS’s computers.

Pestana said he gave Van der Westhuizen a car and helped him out financially. Then they contacted Craig Williamson, a former apartheid spy, to get them in contact with the big cigarette companies to see who they could sell information to. The golden number they wanted was 500 000 US dollars.

Pestana said they approached one company who wanted the information to find out which of their employees was spying on them. Pestana called them “the rats” and they were identified and fired.

They were paid for the information and then approached Carnilinx, Pestana said. He said they hired Van der Westhuizen, but he did not share his payment. As a result Pestana approached FSS to sell them the information Van der Westhuizen had taken from them and make affidavits against him.

But instead of paying him, he said a Hawks captain began harassing him.

'There are no favours in this game'

“This is all about the money. There are no favours in this game,” he said.  

Pestana said SARS was targeting his companies and constantly auditing his children. He felt it was all deliberate and had enough.

“That’s when I decided, I had the hard drive, it’s time to make this go viral.”

He approached an IT contractor who does work for him, Corrie Barnard, and they opened the Twitter account @espionageSA.

“We unlocked thousands of files which had been blocked by passwords and put it all out there.”

He said he believed this showed the public for the first time what was really going on behind the scenes in the tobacco industry, the manipulation, the spying, the money laundering, corruption, and the use of state resources to target competitors.

“This is proof of all that,” Pestana said.  

His aim is to have what happened properly investigated.

“They [the corrupt officials and FSS] were a law unto themselves,” Pestana said.  

The leaks have come at a cost. The twitter handle was removed three times. Barnard said emails to Twitter asking why have not been answered.

Disturbing phone calls

Barnard has received disturbing calls. He got a call from a woman asking him why he lied about his address. He had just moved house and asked her what she was talking about.

“She said she was at my old address with the police because there was a complaint that I had launched an illegal website,” Barnard said.  

He got a call from a man asking what his relationship with Pestana was.

“They said I was in financial difficulty and they could make all the difficulties in my life go away,” Barnard said.

A relative of his was called and questioned about a dormant company he had years ago.  

 “I think someone is trying to gain access to my personal affairs to dig up something on me,” the IT contractor said.

The two men have now created a website address www.espionageSA.co.za, and a new Twitter account @espionageafrica and are putting the information there.

New information was emerging every day, said Pestana.

“More people are coming out with affidavits. We will carry on posting,” he said.

Read more on:    british american tobacco  |  sars  |  hawks

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