Former Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) boss Lucky Montana allegedly instructed his very own “go-to IT guy” to wipe clean a laptop that was thought to have contained “sensitive” documents relating to the troubled state-owned entity after he had been dismissed.
Othusitse Mogoelelwa (33), a rap artist who goes by the alias 2C and who was fired from his job as an IT technician at Prasa in April, admitted in a sworn affidavit that Montana last year told him to “clean” his laptop and electronic tablet before these devices were handed to investigators probing Prasa’s financial affairs.
Montana was fired in July last year following City Press sister newspaper Rapport’s revelations about newly purchased locomotives that were too tall for South Africa’s rail network.
“By ‘clean’, I understood [that to mean removing] all of Mr Montana’s personal documents and Prasa-related documents from the devices,” Mogoelelwa stated in the affidavit he deposed at the Brooklyn Police Station in Pretoria in September.
The tale of Montana’s attempts to destroy documents and information amid ongoing probes by both private and government investigators is detailed in recent arbitration proceedings between Mogoelelwa and Prasa.
An urgent court application by Prasa to force Mogoelelwa to hand over an external hard drive that supposedly also contained Montana’s documents sheds further light on the saga.
In September, forensic investigators tasked with gathering documents at Prasa were tipped off by Prasa staff to look at a room that had been used by Mogoelelwa at the company’s offices in Hatfield, Pretoria.
“... the employee [Mogoelelwa] was Montana’s go-to IT guy,” one employee told investigators, according to the arbitration documents.
The next day, the investigators met Mogoelelwa at the room to discuss his IT equipment. The conversation was taped.
“The employee [Mogoelelwa] was recorded as saying he was doing Montana’s [digital] security. [He] was recorded as saying he went to Montana’s house [sometime during August] and Montana asked: ‘Can you delete that stuff and give it to them [the investigators],’” read the arbitration documents.
“No documents were recovered from the computer,” the documents show.
The investigators were also surprised to find a “digital intelligence forensic kit” in Mogoelelwa’s office.
“It is like he was running his own rogue intelligence unit in that room,” a source at Prasa said this week.
In the affidavit, Mogoelelwa admitted that he had wiped clean the two devices for Montana.
“While at the premises of Mr Montana, I restored the factory settings of the Apple Macbook Air, which removed all the relevant data from the device, and then I removed the Microsoft Outlook [email application] from [his] Samsung tablet,” he stated.
Mogoelelwa was suspended on September 3. In February, Prasa brought charges of misconduct against him. The company not only accused him of deleting data from Montana’s devices, but also claimed that he had attempted to get rid of information and documents while Montana was still at the company, and while the Public Protector was still investigating Prasa.
“During March and April 2015, you were seen in the executive area working on the computers of executive management of Prasa with the intention to delete information necessary for the ongoing Prasa forensic investigation,” reads the charge letter Prasa sent to Mogoelelwa.
“Upon inspection of your office, we noted that there were various forensic tools that were allegedly used to delete certain information from Prasa computers,” Prasa claimed.
When Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released her long-awaited report on Prasa in August, she mentioned the difficulty her team had experienced in locating documents needed for the probe. The problem was, in fact, such a big obstacle that she decided to launch a second probe, which is still ongoing.
Mogoelelwa was eventually dismissed in April after a series of arbitration hearings.
Advocate Feroze Boda, who chaired the disciplinary proceedings, ruled that Mogoelelwa was guilty of the charges Prasa had brought against him.
“He deleted the information without authority, in a clandestine manner and in a situation where there was a cloud hanging over the organisation [Prasa], which required investigation,” Boda found.
Boda also found that Mogoelelwa had “ensured that it [the information on the devices] was irrecoverable” and that, in doing so, he “was protecting the former CEO [Montana]”.
Just days after Mogoelelwa’s dismissal, Prasa filed an urgent application in the North Gauteng High Court in which it sought to retrieve an external hard drive belonging to Mogoelelwa.
During the arbitration process, the IT boffin and part-time rapper said that Montana’s documents were also stored on the hard drive in question.
At one point during the arbitration process, Mogoelelwa even agreed that the contents of the hard drive could be copied by Prasa, but he then changed his mind and dramatically left Prasa’s premises with the device.
“I am not even sure if some of the sensitive information that is in there is supposed to just be disclosed like that,” Mogoelelwa said at the arbitration procedure in February, before leaving with the hard drive.
“Prasa has received allegations of tender rigging and corruption that may involve the former group CEO of Prasa [Montana] in relation to some of the multibillion-rand tenders awarded by Prasa,” the troubled rail giant stated in the court application.
“Prasa does not know what those documents are. However, bearing in mind that they were copied from Prasa’s former CEO’s computer, Prasa has reason to believe that these documents include board minutes, internal memoranda between various departments within Prasa, discussions relating to the awarding of contracts and general communication between the former group CEO and Prasa’s business partners and contractors,” reads the urgent application.
The court ruled in Prasa’s favour and Mogoelelwa finally handed over the hard drive on April 19. It is not clear whether any information could be retrieved from the device.
Mogoelelwa on Thursday said the arbitration findings were incorrect. He denied purposefully destroying documents on Montana’s instruction.
“Please stop sending me your rubbish. I am not interested. You are a criminal in my eyes,” Montana wrote in a WhatsApp message. He did not respond to our detailed queries about Mogoelelwa’s claims.
“The damage is unknown at this stage. He has effectively robbed Prasa of information that belonged to Prasa and from devices used by a person in a strategic position and who occupied that position for about 10 years,” said Victor Dlamini, Prasa’s spokesperson.