Gillingham to Bosasa bosses: Mercedes Benz, please!

2019-01-30 21:37
Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. (Alon Skuy/Gallo)

Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. (Alon Skuy/Gallo)

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"Gavin phoned me and said: 'Frans, Patrick needs a new car'."

"Gavin phoned me and said: 'Frans, you better get hold of Patrick, he needs a car for his wife.'"

"Gavin called me and said: 'Patrick needed a car for his son.'"

One of the key men at Bosasa, Frans Vorster, took the witness stand at the state capture commission of inquiry on Tuesday and delved immediately into the deep end of the largesse Bosasa bestowed on former correctional services chief financial officer, Patrick Gillingham.

Gillingham, it emerged, would take nothing but the best of German engineering – Mercedes Benz, along with some cold, hard cash.

For two of his three children, however, Volkswagen Polos would have to do and a VW Golf with all the extras was for his wife.

Gillingham's eldest son was not a recipient of a Bosasa car, Vorster explained.

Commission chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, remarked at one stage that "the husband, the wife and the kids were driving cars bought by Bosasa".

At the centre of this was Vorster, who testified that he would be called upon by Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson to fulfil Gillingham's every request.

Vorster revealed that Bosasa's relationship with Gillingham started well before the company scored its first lucrative tender from correctional services.

READ: Agrizzi's Bosasa wingman on 'chicken' bribes, destruction of evidence and 'war chests'

In fact, it was Gillingham who convinced the correctional services department top brass in 2004 that outsourcing the catering contract would be best practice and would save the department bundles of cash.

Bosasa won the R300m tender, under the watch of then national commissioner Linda Mti, who also allegedly accepted bribes from the company in exchange for tenders.

"He (Gillingham) was basically the driver of the process and then Mr Mti would approve," Vorster said.

Gillingham's key role in the scheme that saw Bosasa collecting more than R2bn worth of tenders from correctional services is well documented in a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report finalised in 2009.

The SIU report describes him as having played an "integral role".

But how Bosasa first reached out to Gillingham remained a mystery until Wednesday.

Vorster – whose late father also worked for Bosasa and had a relationship with Gillingham – was the key man that sold Gillingham on the idea of working with the Krugersdorp company.

"Gavin Watson came to my office at Lindela [Repatriation Centre] in 2003 and asked to speak me alone. He said to me: 'Get hold of Patrick again, as he would love to tender for the catering contract for correctional services,'" Vorster said.

At that stage, DCS ran kitchens at its facilities and prisons in-house and the idea of outsourcing was not yet on the table.  

Soon Vorster was called to the now infamous vault at Bosasa's head office, where he would be handed cash that had to be given to Gillingham.

Vorster would then pack the cash into an A4 envelope so that it looked like documents.

"I would meet with Patrick at a certain restaurant, mostly in the Pretoria or Centurion area, and we would discuss specs and menus regarding the kitchens of correctional services. I would hand over the envelope and take the information back," he explained.

The amounts varied - between R5 000, R10 000 and R20 000.

Vorster described the relationship between Watson and Mti as "good and close", which "led to Gillingham being appointed to the procurement division" of correctional services by Mti.

Mti would later appoint Gillingham as chief financial officer.

Soon after Bosasa scored the kitchens tender in 2004, Vorster said Watson instructed him to assist Gillingham procure a Mercedes Benz.

At the time, Gillingham drove a clapped-out, old gold Mercedes Benz E240, which had a high number of kilometres on the clock and a broken left headlight. The dealership offered him a trade-in value of R89 000.

Bosasa bought the car from Gillingham for R155 000, paid directly into his bank account, and then paid the shortfall for a new Mercedes.

"We paid far more than what it was worth," Vorster said.

The fate of the old Mercedes Benz was not revealed.

The next year, Vorster was again called upon to procure a Volkswagen Golf for Gillingham's wife.

"Gavin phoned me and said: 'Frans, you better get hold of Patrick, he needs a car for his wife.'"

A year later, the call from Gavin came again - this time Gillingham's son needed a car.

Bosasa also procured a VW Polo for his daughter, but Vorster said he was on leave when this was done.  

Soon, Gillingham himself needed a new Mercedes Benz and Vorster, once again, made it happen.

READ: Hate speech: Human Rights Commission takes on Agrizzi over k-word tirade

Throughout, he testified, Bosasa would employ various tricks to hide the flow of cash being paid to the various dealerships.

"This was done so that if someone came to investigate, they would not be able to pick it up. The internal auditors didn't even pick it up."

Over the years, Bosasa also procured a VW Touareg V8 for Mti, and built luxury homes for both Mti and Gillingham.

Vorster said it was "open knowledge" that Bosasa was funding the construction of the homes in Midstream for Gillingham, and Savannah Hills for Mti, complete with custom kitchens and luxury furnishings.  

These days, according to Agrizzi, Gillingham drives a Mercedes GLA200 courtesy of a company owned by Watson's brother-in-law, Mark Taverner.  

Vorster also testified how Watson instructed him to "hire a cabriolet" for the daughter of Nomvula Mokonyane, then Minister of Water Affairs, in December 2015.

When a cabriolet could not be sourced, Bosasa paid for the hire of an Audi A3.  

During the SIU investigation, Vorster was also called upon to destroy evidence. He obtained the files relating to the purchase of the VW Touareg for Mti from an employee at the dealership, and burned the file.

"Who said all of this must be done? Whose idea was it?" Zondo asked at one point.

"That was a decision taken by Gavin, Angelo and myself, the crew at that stage," Vorster said.

The commission is expected to resume on Thursday.

Read more on:    bosasa  |  angelo agrizzi  |  raymond zondo  |  patrick gillingham  |  state capture inquiry
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