How spin doctor tried to 'influence' reporting on Bosasa

2019-01-29 14:47
Former Bosasa top boss Angelo Agrizzi. (Kyle Cowan/News24)

Former Bosasa top boss Angelo Agrizzi. (Kyle Cowan/News24)

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Carien du Plessis, one of the first journalists to expose the rot of corruption around controversial company Bosasa, has told News24 that one of the spin doctors named by Angelo Agrizzi at the Zondo commission tried to influence her reporting about the company in 2006.

Agrizzi, a former Bosasa executive, told the commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday that public relations practitioners Stephen Laufer and Benedicta Dube were contracted by Bosasa to discredit journalists who were exposing corruption involving the company.

LIVE: 'I am a racist, I agree' - Agrizzi on recording played at #StateCaptureInquiry

Dube, who is deceased, attempted to intimidate Adriaan Basson, now editor-in-chief of News24, into softening his line on Bosasa.

Du Plessis, who wrote the first Bosasa exposés alongside Basson, says Laufer also attempted to sway her reporting. She told News24 that Laufer took her to lunch and tried to convince her not to be so tough on Bosasa, because it was a black empowerment company.

"He tried to appeal to my sense of patriotism by explaining to me that Bosasa was a black empowerment company and, for that reason, we should not report so negatively about it. By that time, the evidence of wrongdoing against the company was so overwhelming, it was hard to believe his spin.

"I asked him if the end, however noble, justified the means. I can't remember how many times after that we interacted about the Bosasa story, but I do remember a few months later that he wasn't working for them anymore. It wasn't clear to me why he stopped," she told News24.

READ: Pinky Khoabane: It's all lies, I was never paid by Bosasa

Denial

Laufer on Monday denied that he was involved in any wrongdoing while working for Bosasa and said he dismissed them as clients once it became clear to him that he was being asked to engage in "clearly unethical" activities directed at "specific journalists".

He declined to comment when contacted about Du Plessis' recollections. He also declined to say whether he would be making a submission to the Zondo commission or be applying to cross-examine Agrizzi.

Du Plessis says Agrizzi's testimony about telephonic harassment following her and Basson's first stories corresponded with her recollections.

"There were almost daily anonymous calls to my mobile phone from landlines across the country from people purporting to be Bosasa staffers claiming they would lose their jobs because of our reporting.

"There were also people who tried to influence our reporting… Stephen Laufer was one of them. I knew him from the 'Last Thursday' networking dinners hosted by, amongst others, himself in his capacity as spokesperson of Saab (one of the companies involved in the arms deal).

"He approached me outside of these dinners and invited me for lunch at an outside restaurant in St George's Mall, Cape Town, where he spoke to me about our coverage of Bosasa. At the time – this must have been 2006 – I was part of Die Burger's parliamentary reporting team."

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Read more on:    bosasa  |  stephen laufer  |  angelo agrizzi  |  johannesburg  |  state capture inquiry  |  state capture  |  corruption
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