EXCLUSIVE: The 'truth' behind an apartheid-era printing press and counterfeit money

Cape Town – A senior police officer has revealed how apartheid-era officials bombed a building in Johannesburg to allegedly cover up the theft of a 25-metre printing press, which they reassembled in police headquarters, and used to churn out counterfeit money.

Some R200 notes issued around the time of the 1995 Rugby World Cup were apparently created in this fraudulent manner.

It is understood a part of the printing press may still be in Angola.

Police officer Major-General Jeremy Vearey, on Wednesday spoke to News24 about the press.

"I last was told by our sources in the security police, who were working for the [ANC’s] department of intelligence and security, [that] a part of that press was in Angola."

He explained that nearly a decade after the press was stolen, a plate from it was found to have been used to create more counterfeit money.

It was not immediately clear how much counterfeit money was churned out from the press and for how long.

Vearey spoke to News24 about his time in the ANC intelligence unit as a trial involving his colleague, Major-General Andre Lincoln, is playing out in the Western Cape High Court.

Former president Nelson Mandela appointed Lincoln in 1996 to head an elite investigative unit. It was run separately from the police and focused on probing Cape Town based mafioso Vito Palazzolo.

Lincoln is claiming R15m in damages from the minister of safety and security (now the minister of police) in a civil trial. He alleges fellow senior police officers realised he had gathered intelligence on their plans, including one to murder Mandela, so they framed him.

Prior to working as police officers, both Vearey and Lincoln had been in the ANC’s now-defunct department of intelligence and security.

Vearey said that during this time, they had gathered information about certain police officers.

He explained that in the early 1990s, before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up, several security police officers feared being tried.

Fear and anxiety

"We used that sense of fear and anxiety to get some of them to work for us. We came [into the police] with a network of informants."

On May 7, 1987, Cosatu House in Johannesburg, which housed the printing press, was bombed.

"This was to mislead journalists," Vearey said.

According to TRC documents, former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock was involved in the bombing.

Former law and order minister Adriaan Vlok and then-chief of the security branch, Johannes van der Merwe, had provided evidence indicating that "prohibited meetings were held at Cosatu House".

Deon Greyling, a security branch officer "mentioned as a target the newly-acquired printing press that had arrived the previous week", the documents read.

Secret theft

Vearey told News24 the printing press was stolen and that the bombing was carried out to conceal this. The press was apparently dismantled and trucks were used to transport it away.

Vearey said it was moved to the police headquarters in Silverton, Pretoria.

He said ahead of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, stricter checks for counterfeit money were put in place. Scanners were used to detect it, particularly dollars, at hotels.

"In a Newlands hotel we came across R200 notes. We identified the counterfeiter as having worked for the security police in the 1980s."

The notes had apparently been printed on the stolen press. A large number of counterfeit US dollar bills were allegedly produced on the press.

In 2010 it was reported that the South African Reserve Bank recalled R200 notes issued before 2005 because of a counterfeiting problem.

But this may not have been linked to the printing press.

US link

Vearey said the lead investigator in the case against New York crime family head John Gotti came to South Africa to investigate the production of counterfeit dollars.

Lincoln, during his civil trial, previously testified that during the presidential investigative unit's initial investigations it was uncovered that Simon Nothnagel, attached to the police's commercial crime unit, was allegedly involved in a counterfeit US dollar operation.

These dollars, according to Lincoln's testimony, were printed at police headquarters in Pretoria.

This investigation led them to uncover the alleged plot to kill Mandela and recover, in police offices, a "handcrafted rifle" which would have been used in the attempt.

"Necessary steps were taken to prevent the assassination of the president," Lincoln testified.

Nothing ever came of the investigation.

Counterfeit dollar probes

The Western Cape High Court on Tuesday rejected the police minister’s application of absolution in the Lincoln case. The court said in its ruling, which dealt mostly with Lincoln’s evidence so far, that more was uncovered aside from Nothnagel's involvement in fraudulent transactions involving counterfeit US dollars.

"In collaboration with the American Secret Service, [the unit] also uncovered the so-called Operation Donna in which counterfeit US dollars were being printed in the basement of the SAPS head office in Pretoria, which – together with matric certificates, university degrees and drivers licences – were being printed for various generals within SAPS," the court said.

This civil trial is set to continue next Tuesday.

It was postponed on Wednesday as former high-ranking policeman, Leonard Knipe, who had been scheduled to continue testifying, was hospitalised.

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