Mandy Wiener

When the consigliere sings: What to do with Angelo Agrizzi?

2019-01-18 06:00
Angelo Agrizzi, the former chief operations officer of the controversial Bosasa group of companies is at the state capture inquiry. (Jeanette Chabalala, News24)

Angelo Agrizzi, the former chief operations officer of the controversial Bosasa group of companies is at the state capture inquiry. (Jeanette Chabalala, News24)

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When an insider who is complicit and guilty of committing crimes themselves decides to turn on his partners, what do you do with their evidence, asks Mandy Wiener.

It took a near death experience for former Bosasa executive Angelo Agrizzi to come clean. After awakening from a coma as a result of heart problems, Agrizzi and his family made a "conscious decision that we would clean up where we had made mistakes before".

As the right-hand man to Gavin Watson at politically connected services company Bosasa, the result of that has been a dramatic dropping of files at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.

Agrizzi's testimony has been revelatory. It is the first time that the inquiry has heard non-Gupta related evidence but also the first time that we have heard from someone on the inside.

READ: Adriaan Basson: Bosasa is the ANC's heart of darkness

All previous witnesses have been whistleblowers or targets of corruptors, like Cabinet ministers. This time it is the bagman, the paymaster himself, who is drawing back the veil and taking us deep into the belly of the corruption beast.

As the plumb, grey haired, somewhat charismatic businessman regaled the commission with his video display, there was something familiar about his testimony. In many ways, Agrizzi is Agliotti 2.0. The testimony of bags being stuffed with piles of cash and being handed over to those with power and influence was remarkably reminiscent of Glenn Agliotti's testimony about how police officers, particularly Jackie Selebi, were bribed.

What is so shocking about both Agliotti's evidence nearly a decade ago and Agrizzi's testimony this week, is the candor and brazenness on display. It was as if this conduct was acceptable behaviour.

If Agrizzi is to be believed, Watson and his cohorts would sit in the cash vault, casually counting out wads of "monopoly" money notes worth millions and dishing out bags for executives to go out and bribe at will.

Oh, here's another ten grand. Off you go then. Bring back the tender. Issa movie.

In fact, Agrizzi explained that he was so deeply involved in criminal activity at Bosasa that he thought it was normal and above board. It was like being part of "a cult". "You become so engrossed with what is happening that you start believing that was is happening is right. I was blunt, I kept quiet and I should have exposed those illegal activities from day one," he told the commission.

Agrizzi's Damascus moment to save himself

There is little doubt that Agrizzi's Damascus moment was inspired by a Darwinian desire to save himself. The net was closing in and he flipped, choosing to reveal all in the hope of cutting a deal with officials.

This is invariably what happens in mafia, organised crime type scenarios. The prosecutors need an insider who will give a first-hand account and in return they will be offered indemnity from prosecution as part of Section 204 of the Criminal Procedure Act. The lieutenant will be compelled to tell the truth, wholly and honestly. The court will then decide whether or not he should be granted immunity from prosecution. In Agliotti's case, the judge found that he was not honest and should be prosecuted. Luckily for him, that never happened because the political will to do so fell away.

It's unclear, officially, whether Agrizzi has in fact been offered such a deal but it seems to be an inevitability. We've been told there have been threats against him and his life is in danger – the name of notorious enforcer Mikey Schultz has even been thrown in for good measure to emphasis the threat level. It's unlikely Agrizzi would have taken such a gamble without knowing there was a deal on the table at least.

This scenario isn't unusual. Over the past few weeks, in a courtroom in Brooklyn New York, the entrails of one of the world's largest mafia operations have been spilling out. Alex Cifuentes, who has described himself as a onetime right-hand man to Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, has been testifying about bribes, including a payment to the former president of Mexico.

What to do with Agrizzi's evidence

The vexing question that so often comes up when an insider who is complicit and guilty of committing crimes themselves decides to turn, is what to do with their evidence. Their credibility is shot, often it is their word against another's and revenge is at play.

When crooks fall out, they will do and say anything to save themselves. There's no secret that Agrizzi had a fallout with his colleagues at Bosasa and there has been a smear campaign running on both sides, with damning racist tape recordings being exposed.

So what authorities have to do is find corroborating evidence, whether it is another witness, video or audio recordings, bank records, phone records, flight records – anything that can confirm the version presented by the turncoat.

In Agrizzi's case, the commission says he has submitted evidence to prove his claims, which includes audio recordings, photographs of confidential National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) files on the company and a video of the CEO counting cash. Investigators have then also had to confirm details like going off to check whether the carpet on the floor of the sixth floor of the Sheraton Hotel indeed matches the one in the photograph taken of the confidential NPA documents.  

There is a huge amount at risk for Agrizzi and now we need to watch closely what law enforcement authorities do with his testimony. It is crucial to remember that prosecutors have been sitting with evidence against Bosasa for years and done nothing with it.

We now know that was because officials at the top were allegedly recipients of the Watson's "monopoly money". Now that it is all out in the public domain, the Hawks and the NPA will have to move quickly to get Agrizzi's testimony repeated in a court of law.

It is imperative that criminal cases flow from the testimony at the Zondo commission and that convictions are handed down. If that happens, other consiglieres and bagmen may be more willing to come forward and sing to save themselves, bringing down empires of corruption around them.

- Wiener is a specialist reporter for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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