Ramaphosa in more trouble

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa is fighting back after being politically wounded by allegations that he stashed a huge sum of foreign currency in a sofa on his game farm, and then covered up its theft.

He has rallied his governing African National Congress (ANC) to back him in parliament, while his high-powered legal team is seeking to annul the damning findings against him by a panel of legal experts in the biggest scandal to rock his presidency.

Ramaphosa’s accuser is former spy chief Arthur Fraser, whose allegations against the president appear to be straight out of a John le Carré novel – except that they are contained in statements he made to law-enforcement agencies, and have been included in the panel’s report, which parliament is set to debate next week.

Fraser alleged that a close aide of Ramaphosa, Bejani Chauke, brought “large sums” of US dollars from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, and Equatorial Guinea, and, adding to the intrigue, he alleged that the aide hid the money in a couch at his home in a plush suburb in South Africa’s main city Johannesburg, before taking the cash to Ramaphosa’s game farm with his “full knowledge and acquiescence”.

But in a nightmare for the president, robbers, allegedly working in cahoots with one of his employees, stole what is “speculated” to be somewhere between $4m and $8m.

That is small change compared to the spymaster’s other allegation – that a whopping $20m was “moved” to a South African citizen, whom he named, after he asked police to investigate the president.

While some would dismiss Fraser’s claims as nothing more than a good bed-time read, they have given Ramaphosa a huge political and legal headache, as about eight bodies – including the central bank – became involved in investigations.

Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing, and the panel – led by a former chief justice – said it could not “verify” the allegations, while “the President has rightly criticised the evidence contained in Mr Fraser’s statements as full of hearsay”.

Chauke had also denied the allegations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 11, 2021. (Reuters)

What Ramaphosa did admit was that $580 000 had been stolen from his farm in February 2020.

While Fraser alleged that this was part of the cash previously stashed in Johannesburg, the president gave a completely different version of events – that his lodge manager had sold 20 buffaloes to a Sudanese businessman on Christmas Day 2019, and this was the money stolen.

But in a blow to Ramaphosa, the panel said there was “substantial doubt” that this sale took place, noting that neither the lodge manager nor the Sudanese national had confirmed this is what happened.

“We think that the President has a case to answer on the origin of the foreign currency that was stolen, as well as the underlying transaction for it,” the panel added.

It also questioned whether only $580 000 was stolen, saying the information at its disposal suggested that an apprehended suspect had confessed to stealing $800,000, while an investigator, in an audio clip, mentioned an amount of “20 million”.

“Whether the investigator was referring to US$ or ZAR [South African rand] this amount is far more than $580 000 that was alleged to have been hidden inside the sofa [at the president’s farm],” the panel said.

The panel said that in another “troubling feature”, the theft was neither reported to local police as an “ordinary crime” nor to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), the police unit responsible for stamping out money-laundering and organised crime in South Africa.

The panel said this was despite the fact that, in its view, the president, as the farm’s owner, was required by the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act to report it to the DPCI.

It believed there were grounds for an impeachment committee of parliament to investigate whether or not Ramaphosa had committed a “serious” violation of the Act, which, the panel noted, imposes a fine or a prison sentence on anyone who fails to report a theft of more than 100 000 rand that they become aware of. (BBC)

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