Former president Jacob Zuma met with murdered South African state security contract agent George Darmanovic at his official office in Pretoria when Zuma was still head of state, raising questions about whether the controversial operative was working for him.
Darmanovic, who was assassinated in Serbia on Sunday, has been described by sources as a serial information peddler.
Zuma and Darmanovic, along with Frans Richards, who previously worked in South African intelligence circles, as well as a fourth man said to be linked to state security work but whose identity was not immediately apparent, were photographed in Zuma's office in 2012.
On Tuesday, Richards confirmed the authenticity of the photograph and told News24: "It was not a social meeting."
While Richards' response suggests the meeting was work-related, he did not divulge its details.
He could not recall the exact date the photograph was taken and declined to comment further.
Attempts, since Tuesday, to get comment about the meeting from a representative of Zuma were unsuccessful and a spokesperson in the Presidency, who received and read News24's query, also had not responded by the time of publication.
A highly placed source told News24 that Darmanovic had been viewed in intelligence circles as being part of a parallel intelligence unit.
News24 has established that Darmanovic had for years, up until his murder, been distributing a wide range of information and claims - against top politicians and police officers - to several well-placed individuals in SA who were able to influence the news cycle.
Darmanovic, who was named fully in Serbian media as Gorgija Gorg Darmanovic and who in SA went by the name of George Darmanovich, was gunned down in Belgrade, Serbia, on Sunday.
He died in hospital.
It is not clear why he was murdered.
Eleven days before Darmanovic was killed a man said to be Milan Djuricic, of Serbia, was murdered in Strijdom Park in Johannesburg.
Djuricic was friends with Dobrosav Gavric, also from Serbia, who was driving underworld kingpin and rumoured National Intelligence Agency operative Cyril Beeka when he was murdered in Cape Town on March 21, 2011.
READ: REVEALED: Murders expose links of Serbian warlord's assassins in SA
Both Djuricic and Gavric were wanted in Serbia after they were convicted of assassinating the country's most feared warlord, Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan, in 2000.
Gavric, through Beeka, was linked to underworld activities in Cape Town.
It is understood, based on communications seen by News24 that Darmanovic had been involved in, among other matters, probing a high-profile figure with suspected links to the Cape underworld.
He had also alleged that high-profile police officers were working with a suspected crime boss. However, another source dismissed this as false information which had been peddled by others before.
Darmanovic was also in communication with suspected underworld kingpin Nafiz Modack, who is facing an extortion charge in Cape Town.
Modack is an acquaintance of Zuma's son, Duduzane Zuma, and in 2017 News24 was leaked a photograph of the duo sitting in a Cape Town hotel.
It is understood this meeting may have been a chance encounter, however, Modack previously told News24 he protected Duduzane on a visit to Cape Town.
In January in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court during Modack's bail application in the extortion case, Charl Kinnear, a police colonel who is investigating clashes in clubs, testified about Modack's links to Darmanovic.
Part of a recorded conversation Modack had with Darmanovic was also played during Modack's Cape Town bail application which stretched from mid-December 2017 to the end of February 2018.
Modack is accused in the case, along with Colin Booysen - the brother of alleged Sexy Boys gang boss Jerome Booysen - Jacques Cronje, Ashley Fields and Carl Lakay. They face extortion charges relating to nightclub security.
The group is expected back in the Cape Town Regional Court at the end of May.
During their bail application Kinnear testified: "The person Modack phoned in Serbia is the same person who gave information for the first few chapters of The President's Keepers."
Kinnear had been referring to Darmanovich as being a source in author Jacques Pauw's critically acclaimed book.
'He couldn’t keep a secret'
In his book, Pauw described Darmanovich as a "glitzy character who operated from a safe house and drove fast cars with boots full of guns, cash and police dockets".
"Darmanovich should have been a crucial witness before the IGI (Inspector General of Intelligence), but he was never called. Because his name was blown in the media, he became a liability to the SSA (State Security Agency). Although a South African citizen, he left the country and returned to Serbia," the book said.
"It is common practice for intelligence agencies worldwide to use so-called proxies to do their dirty work. A proxy is a person, group or other entity that acts on an agency's behalf. If the proxy is compromised, there's nothing that points directly to the agency. A contract worker should never reveal his/her connection to the agency. This was where Darmanovich failed miserably: he couldn't keep a secret."
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