EXTRACT | Tobacco Wars: 'That guy fears nobody and nothing'

2019-07-30 12:33
Tobacco Wars by Johann van Loggerenberg published by Tafelberg.

Tobacco Wars by Johann van Loggerenberg published by Tafelberg.

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Yusuf Kajee ranks among the second generation of local manufacturers who began to take on the big brands on home turf. I first came to know of him in 2010, when he was still the proprietor of a tobacco manufacturing plant known as CK Tobacco, trading as Delta Tobacco.

A whistleblower described him to me as a 'guy [who] fears nobody and nothing'. Kajee is truly a colourful character. Since first hearing of him, I have come to meet him both in my official capacity and, later, casually. There is nothing flashy about Kajee. He doesn't drive a fancy sports car, own a posh mansion or wear fancy clothes. He is all laughs and smiles, and you can be forgiven for underestimating him and even thinking him a bit ditsy. Trust me, you'd be wrong.

CK Tobacco, also often referred to as Delta, no longer exists. There is some confusion in these names, because there was also a Delta Tobacco Corporation (Pty) Ltd around this time. SARS liquidated CK Tobacco after protracted investigations over several years, including a liquidation inquiry. By the time it shut down, Kajee had already moved on and started a new outfit in Pietermaritzburg, called Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturers (ATM). It has a state-of-the-art plant, with modern machinery and maximum-security features. CK Tobacco was Kajee's first foray into the tobacco industry and he would have learnt his lessons well from that experience. When he set up ATM, it was from the start a smooth-running operation in all respects.

Kajee was the most outspoken of the group of independent manufacturers, often inveighing against the multinationals. He was also the first person to expose the attack on me, and later on SARS, for what it was, in emails which he sent to various media houses in mid-2014. He made no bones of the fact that he believed that some law enforcement officials, BATSA and the Illicit Tobacco Task Team sought to discredit me because, according to him, one of their number had confessed to him that 'JvL could not be controlled'.

In an email of 11 August 2014 Kajee revealed that he had met Belinda Walter, who 'admitted that she works for [a tobacco firm] undercover, getting paid in Pounds … [She] began to explain in detail about how she intends infiltrating Johann van Logerenberg [sic] for them as they are unable to control him. [She] Said that they wanted Van Logerenberg's hands tainted and removed from SARS as he was becoming a problem for [the firm]. He had caught up with their transfer pricing model, paying royalties to their offshore company … [The company] not so clean after all. She thereafter began to leak information … to the SARS anti-corruption department in order to discredit Van Logerenberg.'

The media quoted parts of Kajee's email and also relied on another independent source in the tobacco industry. Said Kajee: 'She showed us her correspondence with Johann on WhatsApp. I believe he fell in love with her not realising she had ulterior motives.'

Walter's response was that the media coverage was 'full of “repulsive, untrue and blatant fabrications”, and that she [was] suing City Press for defamation'. She never did.

I have stayed in distant contact with Kajee after leaving SARS in February 2015. He would from time to time provide me with valuable information about what was going on in the tobacco industry. A deeply religious man, he would pepper his texts with words of wisdom from the Quran, while exchanging the latest gossip in the industry and politics with me. The interactions between us have been cordial and to the point.

As far back as September 2010, Kajee came to me and warned me that there were all sorts of plots to influence and capture law enforcement officials and intelligence officers to discredit us at SARS. His friend and business associate Paul de Robillard also warned us of the same thing around this time, even giving details of one such plot, saying that R600,000 had been 'set aside' to influence the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Police Service in order to discredit SARS officials. I, for one, believed their warnings. But nobody listened to me then.

Kajee is an unashamed supporter of the African National Congress and of former president Jacob Zuma. He was a relatively unknown businessman who only really came to public notice in late 2013 when it became known that one of Zuma's sons, Edward, was a director, later a shareholder and finally a partner in Kajee's ATM. In legal papers, Zuma accused SARS of corruption and racism and running a smear campaign against him. This followed investigations against ATM.

It also came out then that in March 2012 Zuma, in his capacity as a shareholder of ATM, wrote to the SARS commissioner, Oupa Magashula, asking him to investigate and resolve the dispute between SARS and ATM. Zuma had resigned as director of ATM the year before. In 2013, Kajee's lawyer would tell the media that 'Mr Zuma has no business interest in that company'. He stated that Zuma was removed as a director of the company because of 'all the judgments' against him and because his 'involvement would have impeded its application for a licence to make cigarettes'.

The essence of the dispute between SARS and ATM came to light during these proceedings. Basically, SARS claimed to have evidence that ATM at the very least manipulated processes and procedures and was at worst fraudulent and corrupt. SARS believed the firm was originally funded 'by means of concealed transactions, aimed at preventing SARS from having insight into such transactions as well as amounts provided by ATM's financier'. The findings suggested that during 2012 ATM had declared it had manufactured 972,000 cigarettes, or about 15,800 boxes, whereas SARS claimed it had manufactured at least 3.8 million cigarettes, or 190,000 boxes, and the consequent taxes weren't paid.

Kajee also had no qualms in telling the media that SARS had assessed him for outstanding personal income tax of R7 million in 2014, but said he disputed this.

Whatever became of these matters, I cannot say, since I left SARS in February 2015 when the disputes were still ongoing. In law I am in any event not allowed to elaborate on such matters. One thing I can say is that Edward Zuma was wrong to say SARS had acted in an 'underhanded' way, and this was never proved in any event. But some evidence would later emerge to show that it may have been certain players in the Illicit Tobacco Task Team who had been acting underhandedly against ATM.

On 26 August 2013, a heavily armed task force of eighteen police officials in camouflage fatigues, accompanied by immigration officials, descended upon the Pietermaritzburg premises of ATM. The task force surrounded the factory, with some scaling the fence and taking control of a security access remote from a security guard.

News of the raid was carried in the local newspapers and even made national news. According to affidavits and complaints registered with the police soon thereafter, the pretext of this massive raid was to investigate ATM for 'breaches of immigration laws'. While several employees were arrested, nothing else came of the raid.

But the raid wasn't instigated by the Department of Home Affairs at all. It was overseen and coordinated by leading members of the Illicit Tobacco Task Team, namely Brigadier Casper Jonker, Lt Colonel Hennie Niemann and Warrant-Officer Willie Schreiber. They were behind it all along. The search had nothing to do with tobacco investigations; in fact, the circumstances suggest this was a form of intimidation, an attempt to place pressure on ATM. No criminal prosecutions followed and nobody was convicted. In my view it was just pure abuse of state power.

On the day of the raid, Niemann and Schreiber were on site, together with the heavily armed team. According to eyewitnesses, Niemann took photographs using a camera belonging to Schreiber while walking through the factory. When questioned about this, it was claimed that it was 'for the benefit of Home Affairs to record where all the employees came from'. Later evidence would emerge that the Home Affairs officials admitted to having been duped by false allegations of 'immigration offences'.

Yusuf Kajee, standing his ground, and refusing to be intimidated by the show of force, opened criminal charges against the officials at the local police station. Accompanying his complaint were affidavits by employees who had been harassed, some even claiming to have been assaulted and threatened with violence. In addition, Kajee provided photographic evidence of broken doors, locks and gates, and damage caused to parts of the factory and to his cigarette stock. In Kajee's complaint, he detailed how, upon the arrival of the armed raiders, he opened the gates at their request but they stormed through.

Employees of ATM pointed out by the armed police were brought out of the factory, made to lie on the ground with automatic R4 or R5 machine guns pointed at them, and told to hand over their passports. Niemann and Schreiber then engaged with Kajee's lawyer, who by then had arrived on the scene, and said they were investigating a case of crimen injuria after Kajee had allegedly sworn at Brigadier Jonker during a telephone call.

The next month, on 11 September, a similar armed task force of officials raided ATM again. They came armed with a search warrant, again claiming 'immigration breaches'. It seemed a repeat of the prior raid. This time, according to the papers, not only was the factory raided, but also Kajee's home. According to Kajee's complaint, various premises were entered without his presence, which would ordinarily be required in a search and seizure situation.

What makes this second raid so interesting, aside from the unusual show of force, is that eight Chinese nationals were arrested, kept in custody for a week, and then released on a warning relating to 'improper immigration documents'. Kajee didn't relent; instead he upped the ante, and registered criminal complaints against the members of the Illicit Tobacco Task Team, including charges of trespassing, defeating the ends of justice, intimidation and harassment, fraud, malicious damage to property and assault. Nothing came of these complaints, and no criminal prosecutions followed the raid. For all the bluster and headlines, the Illicit Tobacco Task Team didn't really achieve much, other than terrorising Kajee's employees.

News of the raid was greeted with delight by some of Kajee's enemies and rivals in the tobacco industry. Among the data given to me in March 2014 were discussions between the Illicit Tobacco Task Team and Belinda Walter, showing that she was informed of the results of this raid by people involved in it. She sent a rather gleeful text message about the raid.

'Karma's a bitch – Kajee was raided today. Received – The operation in PMB was successful. 10 Chinese and 1 Zimbabwean were arrested and are currently detained at the local SAPS. All were charged with 3 contraventions of immigration act and will be deported asap. YK [Yusuf Kajee] will be responsible for the cost of their airplane tickets back to China. 2 Chinese and 7 Zimbabweans were let go by YK which is an offence under the immigration law and he will be charged accordingly.'

In another data set, this time in a text chat group of Walter's named 'Evil Inc', the participants seem at some stage to have given up on trying to use the media against Kajee to discredit him. 'I'm … aggravated that YK [Yusuf Kajee] seems to be getting away with everything … but I don't think it's a good idea to go to Moneyweb [the online news company] … we just giving him a heads-up and agitating him (a bit like kicking a hornet's nest) … bad publicity means nothing to him … Shall I spread misinformation? People I'm with know him.'

I subsequently found a number of articles published on Moneyweb in April and June 2013, with exposés of Kajee, De Robillard, Edward Zuma and others in connection with their attempts to take over a low-cost aviation company, Fastjet. One of them bore the headline 'Fastjet SA directors' tobacco smuggling links'.

In conversation, Kajee revealed to me that he had been poisoned some time previously, in 2014, and had to have his one kidney surgically removed. He didn't want to elaborate on the events save to say that he was just happy to have survived. This allegation reminded me of a rather disturbing exchange relating to Kajee that I had come across in the 'Evil Inc' chat group. The conversation was preceded by a discussion about Kajee and his business, about his 'getting away' with 'everything'. And then the discussion suddenly turned very dark.

Participant: [Son of tobacco baron] wants all his [Kajee's] details …

Participant: Does he have contacts? Can he bring in a hitman?

Participant: Do it!!!!

Participant: But they don't hurt people. I said it's the first person I want dead.

Participant: I don't hurt people either … but he is a cockroach …

Participant: I agree.

Participant: So we can exterminate him …

* This extract is taken from Tobacco Wars by Johann van Loggerenberg published by Tafelberg and retailing for R310.

Read more on:    johann van loggerenberg  |  books  |  tobacco industry
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