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The mystery letter that saved the ‘Dollar Thief’

A letter said to have been sent by Namibian authorities to their South African counterparts has become a central piece of evidence in determining whether South African authorities participated in a cover-up relating to the theft of $4 million (R60 million) from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm in Limpopo in February 2020.

Information coming from Namibia is that, after the main suspect, Imanuwela David, and others had been arrested in Namibia on June 13 2020, authorities in that country were ready to freeze the luxury assets belonging to the men, as these were allegedly proceeds of crime.

DEAFENING SILENCE FROM SA

The Namibian authorities then sent a formal letter to the justice department in South Africa, requesting confirmation of the alleged theft. Dated July 23 2020, the letter was allegedly marked for the attention of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Namibian authorities have stated on record that there had been interactions with their South African counterparts regarding the matter on two occasions.

The first interaction was with the SA Police Service (SAPS) in an area termed no-man’s land (border territory belonging to neither country) near Noordoewer in the Karas Region. The second interaction was through an approach to the justice department in South Africa.

The Namibian, that country’s most credible newspaper, reported on June 6 that Namibian prosecutor-general Martha Imalwa had said she had information that “certain money” had entered Namibia, but “the case did not go far because Namibian officials did not get assistance from South Africa”.

Last week, City Press sent questions to the office of the prosecutor-general in Namibia regarding details of the requested mutual legal assistance, but, by the time of going to print, no response had been received.

However, security insiders in that country this week referred to a formal request made to the South African authorities at that time, which was just over a month after David was arrested for violating immigration laws and Covid-19 regulations.

The South African authorities’ failure to cooperate with their Namibian counterparts saw David escape with a fine, and his assets were released. In around November 2020, he was ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.

In an interview last week, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola told City Press that he had never seen the alleged request for mutual legal assistance, which would have been dispatched to his department.

Yet a South African government official said that, in terms of diplomatic protocol, it was “unusual” that the Namibians’ request was sent to the justice department.

The official said: In terms of the process and international law, the request should have gone through diplomatic channels via the office of the South African high commissioner in Namibia, then dispatched to the minister via the department with a note to inform the NPA.

On Friday, NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said the NPA had not been contacted by the Namibian authorities about the matter.

According to a media statement released on Thursday by the office of the Namibian inspector-general, Namibian police had arrested David on June 13 2020 on charges of violating that country’s immigration laws and Covid-19 regulations.

He was also found to be in possession of $1 100, 300 Namibian dollars (almost R300) and expensive jewellery totalling more than 400 000 Namibian dollars.

In addition, the Namibians identified individuals’ bank accounts and various properties (including lodges, houses and vehicles) suspected to have been purchased with the proceeds of crime. They then requested the office of the prosecutor-general to consider issuing a preservation order of the assets.

The statement read: “A preservation order was issued and a formal request was made through the ministry of justice to South Africa to confirm whether a crime had been registered in South Africa.However, no response was received from the South Africa authorities, resulting in the cancellation of the preservation order and the release of [David’s] assets.

This week, Lamola’s spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, said: “We’ve noted reports about the request for information from the Namibian authorities. We can confirm that there are ongoing engagements through diplomatic channels to establish whether there’s a record of the request.”

NO RECORD OF CRIMINAL CASE OPENED

City Press has established that neither Ramaphosa nor the head of the Presidential Protection Unit, Major General Wally Rhoode, opened a criminal case in 2020 in connection with the robbery.

PUBLIC PROTECTOR’S QUESTIONS FOR POLICE CHIEF

On June 7, National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola also received a list of questions from the office of the Public Protector regarding Rhoode’s role in the alleged crime.

The letter, signed by suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, requests a detailed statement from Masemola explaining whether the alleged theft had been reported to the SAPS.

If it had, Mkhwebane asked for details of the report, including the case number, the place and name of the police station where the case was opened, the name of the complainant, the date and the current status of the case.Mkhwebane also asked Masemola to ensure that Rhoode provide a detailed affidavit, with supporting documents where necessary, to clarify the following:

. Whether the president had instructed Rhoode to investigate the alleged theft of cash from his farm, Phala Phala in the Waterberg, without reporting it to any police station;

. Whether Rhoode had in any way involved or engaged the services of a local farmer who is a neighbour of Phala Phala farm in Bela-Bela, a former police officer and current members of the SAPS to help him trace the culprits. If he had, Mkhwebane wanted the names and details of the neighbouring farmer and the relevant police officials, as well as details about the extent of their involvement;

. Whether Rhoode’s scope of duties included conducting such investigations. If it did, Mkhwebane wanted to see the signed performance agreement document, highlighting his key performance areas and daily functions at the time of this incident;

. Whether the scope of duties of the Presidential Protection Unit included being allocated matters or case dockets for investigation of crimes such as theft. If it did, Mkhwebane wanted to see supporting documents to that effect;

. Whether Rhoode and/or any persons who assisted him had ever undertaken any official trip to Namibia in connection with the alleged theft of cash from the president’s residence on Phala Phala. If so, Mkhwebane asked for all the official documentation indicating the purpose of the trip, the dates, the costs involved, the means of travel and other details;

. Whether Rhoode and/or any persons who assisted him had ever interrogated the president’s domestic workers on the farm or other persons in connection with the alleged theft. If they had, Mkhwebane wanted their names and contact details, as well as the names, official roles and contact details of those who had helped Rhoode interrogate such individuals;

. Whether any money or items later derived from the proceeds of the cash stolen from the farm had ever been recovered or identified by Rhoode and/or other persons assisting him. If so, Mkhwebane wanted to know whether such items had been booked into the SAP 13 property register, disposed of or returned to their lawful owner. She also wanted documents recording these details; and

. Whether any other referrals had been made to the Asset Forfeiture Unit in connection with the matter and the details thereof, including:

1. Whether Rhoode and/or any other persons who had helped him investigate the alleged theft had kidnapped, tortured and subsequently paid a bribe of a certain amount of money to the culprits to buy their silence in the matter;

2. Why Rhoode had not officially reported the theft to a police station for an independent and impartial investigation. If he had, Mkhwebane wanted evidence to that effect from both Rhoode and the relevant police station; and

3. Whether any specific instructions had been given to Rhoode by Ramaphosa or any of Rhoode’s superiors regarding how this matter should be dealt with. If so, Mkhwebane wanted to know what those instructions had been and who had issued them.

–City Press

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