amaBhungane | Ramaphosa's stolen millions: The Namibian connection

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President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
  • In 2020 Namibian authorities quickly identified suspects following a break-in at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s farm. One was even arrested after crossing into Namibia illegally.
  • But Namibian sources allege SA intelligence back channels were used to get the Namibians to let the matter go, purportedly to protect Ramaphosa.
  • Now Arthur Fraser’s criminal complaint puts the president on the spot: what did he do, what did he know and why the cover-up?

Information obtained by amaBhungane points to a major cover-up of the 2020 theft of some US$4-million in cash from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm in Limpopo.

Now the criminal complaint against Ramaphosa laid by former spy boss Arthur Fraser on Wednesday has massively raised the stakes over what exactly happened in the days following the break-in on 9 February 2020.

The key questions are: what did Ramaphosa do, what did he know, and why was it hushed up?

Late on Saturday, presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya sent a message in response to detailed questions from amaBhungane, stating: “My apologies. Because of the volume of detailed questions we have received, most of which we cannot answer due to pending investigation, we are going to release a statement later to address the issue.”

What we do know is authorities in Namibian law enforcement agencies were alerted to about N$6-million (about R6 million) transferred by the suspects into Namibian accounts between February and May 2020.

One of the suspects, Imanuwela David, a Namibian-born individual who also carries a South African passport, was arrested after illegally crossing into Namibia on or about 12 June 2020.

Amabhungane on Saturday reached David via WhatsApp but he claimed we had the wrong number and he didn’t know what we were talking about, despite the number being confirmed by one of his friends. He then blocked us.

By 16 June 2020, Namibian journalists were already aware that David was allegedly linked to a “theft worth around R50-million from a farm belonging to President Cyril Ramaphosa”.

READ | DA wants SARS and SARB to probe $4m theft at Ramaphosa's farm

According to a Namibian police statement, David was in possession of a TAG Hauer watch worth N$ 28 000, a Rolex watch worth N$ 280 000 and gold chain worth N$ 163 000, plus 11 US$100 notes.

Government sources told Namibian journalist Tileni Mongudhi at the time South African authorities appeared reluctant to assist or provide information.

Mongudhi was told that a “back channel” intelligence approach between Namibian and South African officials revealed that David was being monitored as a member of a group suspected of having broken into Ramaphosa's house around February or early March this year.

The Namibian security sources said the SA government was denying the incident, allegedly because the president might find it difficult to explain the cash in his house and the security breach.

They said it was allegedly an inside job and one of the cleaners was a suspect. The gang supposedly made off with cash worth R50 million.

READ | Ramaphosa farm theft: Money stolen from game farm the earnings from private sales, transactions

This information, revealed in June 2020, is remarkably accurate when compared with the allegations contained in a statement issued by Fraser on Wednesday.

Fraser wrote, “The charges emanate from the theft of millions of US dollars. (in excess of four million US dollars) concealed within the premises of the President's Phala Phala farm in Waterberg, Limpopo, by criminals who were colluding with his domestic worker.

"They also include defeating the ends of justice, kidnapping of suspects, their interrogation on his property and bribery. The president concealed the crime from the South African Police Service and/or South African Revenue Service (SARS) and thereafter paid the culprits for their silence.”

In response, the presidency issued a statement noting “President Ramaphosa is clear there is no basis for the claims of criminal conduct that have been made against him in Mr Fraser’s statement.”

The Presidency confirmed a robbery took place at the president’s farm in Limpopo on or around 9 February 2020, in which proceeds from the sale of game were stolen while Ramaphosa was attending an African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.

On being advised of the robbery, President Ramaphosa reported the incident to the head of the Presidential Protection Unit of the South African Police Service for investigation.

That fact may hold the key to cover-up and to Fraser’s apparently intimate knowledge of what took place.

The head of the Presidential Protection Unit is Major-General Walter “Wally” Rhoode.

As amaBhungane has previously reported, Rhoode has been accused of previously receiving cash payments from the State Security Agency (SSA) or one of its covert structures, including during the time he was contracted to Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign — a time when Jacob Zuma was president and Fraser was running the SSA. 

Now an extract, purporting to be a page from Fraser’s affidavit in support of his criminal complaint, has appeared on social media, showing security camera footage of the theft was handed to Fraser “by a member of Major-General Rhoode's team”.

Fraser did not respond to questions about his relationship and interactions with Rhoode that were WhatsApped to his attorney Eric Mabuza, who also previously represented former president Jacob Zuma. He also did not respond to a request for access to his affidavit, although this found its way to controversial Independent Group reporter Mzilikazi wa Afrika.

Rhoode told amaBhungane he was precluded by police rules from responding to media queries.

Nevertheless, information pieced together by amaBhungane suggests Rhoode or his team adopted a heavy-handed approach to the investigation, which gave rise to Fraser’s allegations of kidnapping.

AmaBhungane was able to trace someone who previously worked at Phala-Phala and knows and speaks to David (the Namibian suspect) regularly. 

He told us the kidnapping story was credible.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said he was informed by one of his former colleagues that Ramaphosa's helper, whose name is Froliana, was kept locked in a room on the farm for about two to three days with her brother.

The two were apparently interrogated by a number of black, Indian and white officials who were thought to be either police or intelligence.

They did ask them so many questions like the whole day until 2am the following day. They would give them three to four hours to sleep and then the following day they would be on top of them again with questions.

The source said that according to the version he heard, the Phala-Phala domestic worker had discovered the money and took pictures and videos. She showed her brother, who was the one who shared the information with David and the other suspects.

“There are a few Namibian women who work on the farm, one of them cracked when the house manager was questioning them and implicated Froliana,” said the man.

When she was asked to explain what happened, she confessed her brother organised the break-in with guys who had come from Johannesburg.

She apparently claimed to have not been part of it but had received money from the brother afterwards, which was around R40 000. Following her confession, she was ordered to ask her brother to fetch her from the farm and that's how they got hold of him and kept them hostage.

Both earlier Namibian reports and wa Afrika’s quotation from the Fraser affidavit claim the cash “was concealed in the furniture in the main farmhouse".

Details of David’s escape add to suspicions of a high level cover-up – with or without Ramaphosa’s knowledge.

According to a Namibian police report seen by amaBhungane, David was assisted to exit South Africa and cross the border illegally by a person who works as “head of intelligence” in Durban, South Africa and was known as “Mr Jele “or “Papa J”.

This “Papa J” allegedly paid people R50 000 in Namibia and South Africa to smuggle David out.

READ | Presidency confirms robbery at Ramaphosa's farm, but there's 'no basis for claims of criminal conduct'

The police report said “Papa J” allegedly contacted a Zambian who in turn contacted "Mr Ngalangi" to assist.  

It is known that Paulus Ngalangi, who acted as chief executive officer of National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor), collected David at the Namibian border after he crossed the Orange River in a canoe.

Ngalangi was Fishcor's finance chief and was in charge of the parastatal's purse when more than N$75 million was allegedly diverted from the national fishing corporation to fund Swapo, political leaders and business people in the so-called “Fishrot scandal”.

While transporting David to Windhoek, Ngalangi was accompanied by a policeman, Hendrick Hidipo Nghede.

The trial of the two men, who have pleaded not guilty to charges involved in aiding and abetting an illegal immigrant, resumes on Monday.

What is clear is attempts by Namibian authorities to obtain assistance from South African law enforcement were met with failure.

Amabhungane understands the Namibian authorities also approached the South African embassy in Namibia with information about David and his accomplices (whose names are known to amaBhungane) and separately delivered a request for Mutual legal assistance setting out the evidence against the three men.

These initiatives yielded were unsuccessful.

Instead, amaBhungane was told by Namibian sources that high level “back channel” communications ensued with the Namibian authorities to persuade them to keep the matter quiet and that Fraser may have played a role.

As a result of this non-cooperation, David was, in November 2020, in a position to plead guilty to minor charges under the Namibian Immigration Act.

According to an official Namibian statement, he paid a fine of N$ 20 000 in respect of his sentence and was released on the same day. A 48-hour notice was issued to him by an immigration officer to leave the country and he left Namibia via Noordoewer Border Post on 14 November 2020 at about 08:00.

Amabhungane suggested to Ramaphosa’s spokesperson that the only reasonable explanation for this series of events was that there was no wish to pursue the investigation because it would reveal that either the president or Mr Rhoode – or members of their respective teams – had committed crimes in the course of or aftermath of the theft incident.

We noted, “Depending on his knowledge of these events, the President and/or Mr Rhoode has/have placed the President in a position of great vulnerability, which Mr Fraser has now chosen to exploit.”

The president has yet to answer.

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