Mining magnate in R40m plea deal

2009-09-22 20:02

Johannesburg - Ex-Hyundai boss and mining magnate Billy Rautenbach is free to travel to South Africa again following a R40m plea agreement with the authorities he evaded for 10 years, an official said on Tuesday.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said Rautenbach, a Zimbabwean who fled South Africa when his Botswana-based Hyundai Motor Distributors collapsed, handed himself over on Friday.

He appeared on 326 charges of fraud in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court and was sentenced to pay a R40m fine in terms of a plea agreement on Friday.

"He had to pay R10m of that R40m immediately," said Mhaga.

The remaining money will be paid in instalments - R15m to the SA Revenue Service and another R15m to the Criminal Asset Recovery Fund.

"In the event that he fails to make payment, we have secured his farm which is worth more than R30m in Paarl in the Western Cape," said Mhaga.

The deal comes after Rautenbach over the past 10 years explored several legal avenues to prevent the state from seizing his assets.

The plea and sentencing agreement meant that there was no longer a pending warrant of arrest against Rautenbach.

"As far as we are concerned, that is the only warrant of arrest there was," said Mhaga, adding that this meant Rautenbach was now free to come and go as he pleased in South Africa.

Rautenbach appeared in the South African court on behalf of his company, SA Botswana Hauliers.

"When he appeared in court, he represented his company in his capacity as a director of this company," said Mhaga.

Restrictions lifted

Rautenbach's spokesperson, Madelain Roscher, confirmed in a statement that the company was ordered to pay R40m to certain state departments.

"It is believed that following careful analysis and consideration it was concluded that the alleged offences, which occurred more than 10 years ago, related directly to SA Botswana Hauliers and not to Rautenbach personally," said Roscher.

The deal meant that "all restrictions to operate within South Africa have been lifted", she said.

Rautenbach said in the statement: "It has always been my goal to return to South Africa to pursue potential business opportunities here once my name was cleared.

"It's been a frustrating time of exile for me having to watch the evolution of business in the new South Africa and being unable to make my contribution."

He said that during his "10-year exile", he "continued to support the South African economy with a procurement spend of R415m (an average of R8m per week over a period of one year) through mining activities".

Rautenbach is also a major shareholder in the Central African Mining and Exploration Company (CAMEC).

As part of CAMEC's "corporate social investment activities", it has "ploughed millions of dollars" into the upliftment of communities, his statement said.

Close ties to Mugabe

The US Treasury banned any dealings with Rautenbach last November and froze his assets in the United States, alongside three other businessmen, because of their close ties to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Rautenbach was accused of giving logistical support to large-scale mining projects in Zimbabwe, Agence France Presse news agency reported.

His name also came up in the drug case against Glenn Agliotti, who is accused of murdering mining magnate Brett Kebble.

In the Agliotti case, Rautenbach's name was mentioned as one of those who "benefited" former police chief Jackie Selebi, who is himself facing corruption charges.

In July 2007, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) authorities reported that Rautenbach had been denied entry to that country because "the government of the DRC... has taken seriously South African charges of fraud, corruption and other crimes against Rautenbach".

Rautenbach later denied this, saying he was not questioned by authorities but spent the night with friends and left the country again the next morning.

CAMEC's flagship operation in the DRC is a 50 000m² copper and cobalt processing facility in the Katanga Province.