Tale of The Three Amigos

2011-08-06 16:39

The National Prosecuting ­Authority’s racketeering, ­corruption and fraud indictment issued against Uruguayan ­businessman Gaston Savoi and his 22 co-accused on Monday in the Amigos case is 77 pages of terse – often ugly – and consistently colourless, legal jargon.

But the storyline it contains is worthy of the wildest Martin Scorsese gangster flick – a ­disturbing tale of how the ­massively wealthy Savoi bought his way into the inner circles of South Africa’s political elite, creating a vast criminal enterprise of politicians, civil servants, businesspeople and lawyers who he purchased at will along the way to rob the state blind.

According to the indictment, Savoi arrived in South Africa in 2000, buying a 50% share of the luxury hotel and lodge group Shamwari Holdings, and was granted permanent ­residence because of his ­extensive investments.

Three years later, Savoi ­attended a meeting of then president Thabo Mbeki’s International Investment Council, which was held at his Steenberg Estate in Cape Town.

At the meeting, he courted, among others, then trade and industry minister Alec Erwin and his special adviser, Rafiq Bagus; later using Bagus to make contacts in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government.

In 2004, Savoi met with ­KwaZulu-Natal’s influential treasury boss, Sipho Shabalala, to discuss his Intaka company doing business with the provincial government, which Savoi knew had major problems ­providing clean drinking water in rural areas.

Shabalala asked for a “donation” from Savoi for the ANC, of which he was a member. Savoi agreed.

A series of trips to Cape Town and South America by Shabalala and other government officials followed – paid for by Savoi – with the two punting that the province buy “Wataka” water purifiers and “Oxynataka” ­oxygen generators from Intaka.

Savoi and Shabalala’s wife, Ntombi, then set up a joint company, Skyros Medical ­Suppliers, to benefit from the “enterprise”, which the prosecution team says was aimed at ­defrauding government to ­enrich its members.

According to the indictment, Savoi and Shabalala, the head and manager of the “enterprise”, drew in then KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni and her head of department, Dr Busi Nyembezi, who themselves became its “managers”.

Savoi was the operation’s money and brains; Shabalala the pivot on which its operations hinged, its chief lobbyist, ­bagman de luxe and facilitator with the influence and ­knowledge to negotiate around legislation and tender procedures all the way to the bank.

The four, along with top ­officials who are now co-accused, allegedly ensured that proper tender procedures were bypassed and that Intaka secured tenders for oxygen generation plants at provincial hospitals.

At the same time, the “enterprise” had targeted the province’s local government ­department, then headed by co­accused and ANC treasurer Mike Mabuyakhulu, to sell it Watakas at inflated prices.

Shabalala’s role was to ­facilitate the sale of 22 Watakas, ensuring that tender procedures were allegedly dropped and that falsified quotes from ­“competitors” to justify the ­prices were not noticed.

Both deals went through ­between 2005 and 2007, with Intaka raking in more than R144 million from the province.

In return, Shabalala became Savoi’s alleged bagman, securing the services of attorney Sandile Kuboni’s firm to launder payments, including R1?million to Mabuyakhulu and two payments of R500 000 each to Nkonyeni.

Shabalala also allegedly made a second payment of R1 million to Mabuyakhulu when ­investigations into the deals by the then Scorpions began in 2006 to “assist Savoi and ­Shabalala to avoid prosecution”.

The indictment claims that the rest of the accused played ­various roles in the “enterprise”, ranging from laundering money to assisting in covering up false quotes, and helping bypass tender and procurement procedures.

They are former health chiefs Yolisa Mbele and Professor ­Ronald Green-Thompson; former supply chain management head Victor Ntshangase; former health chief financial ­officer Alson Buthelezi; Nozibele Phindela, Jabulani Thusi and Ian Blose; lawyers who took over Kuboni’s practice; Nkonyeni’s former lover, Lindelihle Mkhwanazi; and Savoi’s business associates – Annsano Romani, Donald Miller and Fernando Praderi.

Intaka; Kuboni’s law firm, Skyros; Mkhwanazi’s Rowmoor Investments and Ntombi ­Shabalala’s Blue Sky Investments are the corporate accused in the case, which resumes on January 20 next year.

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