Leaked emails from the heart of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s successful 2017 ANC presidential campaign reveal the names of some of his potential donors and undermine the defence that Ramaphosa was kept at arm's length of his funders.
News24 is in possession of several emails from inside the Ramaphosa campaign that have been circulated among his political opponents and by anti-Ramaphosa accounts on Twitter in recent days.
We have verified the accuracy of these emails and understand that Ramaphosa's campaign managers believe their communication may have been illegally intercepted.
The emails were referenced in Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s report on a R500 000 donation to the CR17 campaign from controversial Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson.
Mkhwebane used a complaint of suspected money laundering with the Watson donation to obtain the CR17 campaign's bank statements and warns in her report that Ramaphosa may have been captured by his private donors. She identified donations totalling almost R200m that went into the campaign, including three large amounts from the same donor.
Mkhwebane found that Ramaphosa breached his oath of office by misleading Parliament about the source of the R500 000 and has referred that money laundering allegations to the National Prosecuting Authority, and she relied on the emails to find that Ramaphosa was involved in the fundraising efforts of the campaign.
The emails in our possession show:
- Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan was central in raising funds for Ramaphosa;
- The president was consulted by the managers of his campaign about plans to approach several donors, including a Greek shipping tycoon with links to the arms deal and a politically connected "socialite" previously suspected of smuggling millions of rands of gold out of the country, and
- Despite efforts by the CR17 campaign to keep its communications secure, the emails were seemingly obtained through clandestine methods.
Two emails from Ramaphosa's long-time assistant and CR17 campaign manager Donné Nicol to Ramaphosa and an email from Nicol’s personal assistant to another manager of the CR17 campaign, Marion Sparg, are included in the leak.
A typed note by Ramaphosa himself, to what is believed to be his banker, instructs the transfer of R20m from a Money Market account (believed to be Ramaphosa’s) to an account belonging to the Ria Tenda Trust, a trust used as part of the campaign’s financial machinery.
It is understood this relates to a loan Ramaphosa made to the campaign.
Members of the CR17 campaign expressed concerns that the emails were obtained illegally, but they have not disputed their authenticity.
It is unclear how Mkhwebane obtained the emails, and her office refused to respond to questions over their provenance this week, or whether Mkhwebane had satisfied herself the emails were not obtained illegally before including them in her report.
Citing the impending court challenge to the report, Mkhwebane’s spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said the Public Protector could not comment.
In her Bosasa report, reference is made directly to emails only once, while she refers to the content of the emails five times, in vague terms, such as:
"I have evidence which confirm regular updates to President Ramaphosa in the operations of the CR17 campaign by the campaign managers, his directives to them about payments if the money into the CR Foundation as well as being asked by the campaign managers for him to speak to certain donors," Mkhwebane’s report reads.
Not a personal pursuit
In her report, Mkhwebane relies on these emails to show that Ramaphosa was involved in fundraising for the campaign and had knowledge of who donated. It has been a key defence of the Ramaphosa team that he was kept away from the identities of the donors to avoid a potential conflict in future.
Ramaphosa has consistently maintained he was not involved in the fundraising efforts, including in his submission to Mkhwebane.
"The funds were raised by the fundraising committee; the president also contributed financially to the campaign, and party supporters as well as sympathisers, as well as South Africans generally who are invested in the democratic project were also approached for donations," his submission reads.
"This was certainly not a personal project or pursuit."
The emails dispute this explanation.
'People I need you to call, please'
On November 17, 2017, just a month before the Nasrec elective conference was held and towards the final days of the campaign, Nicol sent an email to Ramaphosa, in which she makes several requests and statements.
"Mick Davis to co-ordinate a group from London including Martin Moshal – ask for a collective R20m," she writes, and provides a UK cellphone number, which turned out to be Davis' personal phone.
She also requests that Ramaphosa call Macsteel founder, Eric Samson to "thank him for the money and ask for another R10m".
News24 attempted to reach Samson this week, to no avail.
Sir Mick Davis, who was until last week the CEO of the Conservative Party in the UK, told News24 he was never approached by Ramaphosa or any member of the campaign.
"I was not contacted by Mr Ramaphosa or by any other person in this regard, neither did I do any fundraising or contribute any funds myself. I had no contact with Mr Moshal in this regard and I am personally unaware of any fundraising activities in the UK," Davis said.
The tycoon and the alleged gold smuggler
Nicol’s email then requests Ramaphosa’s permission to approach four individuals to ask for money.
This includes Greek shipping tycoon, Tony Georgiades, who has been linked to the arms deal as a lobbyist and fixer, and whose company was a key apartheid era sanctions buster, shipping oil to South Africa at the height of the National Party regime.
Georgiades reportedly had the ear of former president Thabo Mbeki and was mentioned in court papers as having been a lobbyist that pushed for some companies to win parts of the ill-fated arms deal.
Also mentioned is Paul Ekon, a millionaire miner with close ties to former ANC party leaders such as Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, who was once accused (but never charged) of smuggling millions of rands of gold out of the country.
Ekon has had long-standing ties to the ANC, and is well known for having funded the party in the 1990s.
Ekon, who has previously denied the allegations that he was involved in a multi-million rand gold smuggling syndicate, read but did not respond to texts seeking his comment on Tuesday.
The Mail & Guardian reported that Ekon hosted Mbeki’s 50th birthday party at his Houghton home.
David Ngobeni, the former Ramaphosa-owned Shanduka CEO, is also mentioned in the emails.
Ngobeni, through his personal assistant, on Wednesday said he was "never involved in the CR17 campaign" and referred queries to the campaign managers.
Kojo Mills, co-founder of Shanduka and now based in the US, rounds out Nicol’s wish-list.
It is not clear if any of the individuals were actually approached for donations, but the email is clear that Ramaphosa was asked permission for them to be approached.
News24 could not reach Mills or Georgiades immediately.
‘I have tasked PG’
"I have tasked PG to raise about R15m," Nicol wrote in her email to Ramaphosa. "He has got Johnny Copelyn on board and is meeting a few other people."
Copelyn, the CEO of Hosken Consolidated Investments, is a former unionist turned business magnate. HCI has stakes in several business, including e-Media Holdings (e.TV and eNCA) as well as hotel and casino group, Tsogo Sun.
Copelyn declined to comment when approached by News24 on Tuesday, but reiterated his support for Ramaphosa, saying his election was a "God send".
Gordhan, through his spokesperson Adrian Lackay, said he "met several business leaders and other constituencies, addressed public gatherings and conducted regular media interviews in order to instill confidence in the candidature of Mr Ramaphosa".
He had supported the CR17 campaign to "advance the prospects for good, ethical, rational and moral leadership under a Ramaphosa presidency".
An email from Nicol's personal assistant to Sparg and a travel agent shows that accommodation was paid for by the campaign for Gordhan around December 4, 2017. It is not clear where Gordhan was staying.
Lackay said that the accommodation was necessary as Gordhan at that time was an ordinary MP, and "did not have the benefit of an executive office, equipped with the attendant resources for travel, accommodation and protection services".
"It is a matter of public record that Mr Gordhan actively participated in the political campaign to assemble support for Mr Ramaphosa and the CR17 campaign," he said.
Gordhan was tasked to garner political support, but he never prescribed to or requested any person on how they could make financial contributions, Lackay said. Gordhan ensured that "business leaders and other crucial constituencies understood the importance, for our country and economy, to have Mr Ramaphosa elected president of [both] the ANC and the country".
"Mr Gordhan approached this duty as part of his responsibilities as a disciplined and dedicated member of the ANC who puts the interests of our country above his own," Lackay said.
Gordhan further denied that he derived any financial benefit or gratification from his political work to support the CR17 campaign and referred specific questions over donations to the campaign managers.
The Greek connection
The final leaked email, dated November 7, 2017, is from Stavros Nicolaou, who has been described as a long-time supporter of the ANC.
He is a senior executive at listed pharmaceutical giant Aspen.
Nicolaou is also the head of the Hellenic section of the Hellenic, Italian and Portuguese Alliance (HIP Alliance). His email, also to Nicol, was forwarded to Ramaphosa's encrypted email address on November 12, 2017.
"Stavros says the following would fund if we had a small cocktail party. I need to discuss diary with you," Nicol writes to Ramaphosa.
A list of names is provided as possible guests for a cocktail party, which News24 established was subsequently held at a private residence on December 1, 2017.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the HIP Alliance said it met regularly with the ANC led government as concerned citizens and "at times raises funds for political, charitable and other causes".
"We can confirm that a cocktail party took place with the assistance of Ms Nicol in December 2017, and the attendees were vastly different to that of the list of 7 November. At the cocktail, members from the Hellenic and other communities met with the now president and briefly discussed their concerns with him," the HIP Alliance said.
"The president limited his discussions to the issues of the day and made no mention of funding whatsoever."
The HIP Alliance further reiterated its support for Ramaphosa and expressed concern that the emails may have been illegally obtained.
The leaked emails contain no reference to or communication from Gavin Watson.
News24 sent written questions to the presidency on July 27. The questions were forwarded to two members of the CR17 campaign this week, with repeated follow up requests, to which they have not responded.
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