Farmgate: A scandal with spies, a luxury farm and a millionaire robbery surround the president of South Africa | International

An isolated luxurious farm in the plains of the northeastern province of Limpopo, an obfuscated former spy, some unskillful thieves and, most importantly, four million dollars missing. At the center of the story, the president of a country. These are the ingredients of the scandal that has engulfed the top leader of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, since information related to a robbery perpetrated in one of his rural properties two years ago came to light in early June. The reason for the uproar is that the victim, Ramaphosa, did not report the crime to the police or make it public. And now he has not quite offered a convincing explanation to his political rivals who, outraged, have called for his resignation and have even asked the US FBI for help.

The details of this plot, typical of a Hollywood blockbuster, were revealed by Arthur Fraser, former head of the country’s intelligence service, on June 1, when he went to a Johannesburg police station and denounced the Prime Minister for laundering of money, bribery and kidnapping.

The events date back to the night of February 9, 2020, when a gang of five thieves crossed the security gate of the farm Phala Phala Wildlife, a Ramaphosa property of about 4,500 hectares in the province of Limpopo, in the north of the country, and destined to the raising of game animals such as impalas, wildebeests and antelopes. The bandits entered the house through a window and there they seized loot hidden in various pieces of furniture: between four and eight million dollars (3.8 to 7.8 million euros), according to the calculations of the former head of the security service. intelligence.

The entrance to Cyril Ramaphosa's wildlife ranch, Phala Phala Wildlife Farm, in Bela Bela, South Africa, on June 3.
The entrance to Cyril Ramaphosa’s wildlife ranch, Phala Phala Wildlife Farm, in Bela Bela, South Africa, on June 3.AP

In a sworn declaration 11 pages, Fraser explained that it was the housekeeper who discovered the money and told her brother, who knew a gang in the same neighborhood who could accept the commission. The thieves, allegedly four Namibians and one South African, were recorded by a security camera and can be seen on a tape attached to the complaint with various photos and documents.

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Rampahosa was attending an African Union summit in Ethiopia at the time, and when he was informed of the incident he decided not to speak out. Instead, he ordered the Presidential Protection Unit to find the perpetrators of the robbery. A team of retired police officers and members of the criminal intelligence unit recovered some of the loot, but they also held the criminals, questioned them and finally paid them. $10,000 to keep quiet.

It so happens that Fraser is an ally of the previous president, Jacob Zuma, who had to resign in 2018, cornered by accusations of corruption. The former spy himself is also linked to similar crimes during his time as head of security.

unconvincing explanations

A few days after the complaint was made public, Ramaphosa finally gave explanations about his behavior, although without clarifying most of the questions, such as the reason why he did not use the legal and usual channels when he is a victim of a crime, that is, report it to the police. He acknowledged that he did suffer the robbery and that he left it in the hands of the presidential protection unit. He insisted that he has not broken any law and assured that the amount stolen is much less, although he did not clarify how much. Likewise, he downplayed the fact that having so much cash stashed away, remembering that he is a businessman and that money was the product of the game sold from his farm.

Far from removing the problem, admitting the facts has given Fraser more credibility, according to Karam Singh, executive director of the organization. Corruption Watch. “The Presidency has recognized it, so we know that the core of the story is true. There are elements that could be false, but in the absence of a clear statement from the president, we have to wait and see”, he opines.

The rival political formations mention, above all, a possible crime of money laundering, because they wonder where such an amount of cash came from, if it was brought into South Africa legitimately and if it was declared to the authorities. In fact, the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, has asked the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in writing to investigate the allegations and has also asked Parliament to create a commission before August ad hoc to find out the facts. “These are serious accusations that will continue to cause enormous damage to our economy and our prospects for attracting investment and creating jobs, as well as the credibility of the Presidency, the Police and the judicial system,” the formation said in a statement.

Ramaphosa’s political rivals question where the four million dollars came from, whether it was brought into South Africa legitimately and whether it was declared to the authorities

Ramaphosa, 69, was a union leader before the end of the apartheid, and in the 1990s, as leader of the African National Congress (ANC), he negotiated the establishment of democracy in South Africa. Although it is said that he was the preferred successor of Nelson Mandela, in 1997 he lost his party’s primaries and he changed the third: he dedicated himself to business and has become one of the 50 richest men in Africa, with a fortune valued at 425 million euros, according to Forbes. In 2012 he returned to the political sphere as vice president of the ANC, the party in power since the end of the racist regime.

That there are now doubts about his reputation, and precisely because of corruption, is very convenient for his opponents, because when he succeeded Zuma at the end of 2017, he promised that he would carry out an exhaustive clean-up to rid public institutions of corruption. “Those who want to see him removed will try to take advantage of this; it is a political issue, although that does not absolve him from giving a full explanation, ”says Singh. Upon his appointment, he launched the Zondo Commission to investigate allegations of corruption and fraud in the public sector.

Former head of the State Security Agency Arthur Fraser at the Pietermaritzburg High Court, during the fraud and corruption trial against former President Jacob Zuma and the Thales company, in September 2021.
Former head of the State Security Agency Arthur Fraser at the Pietermaritzburg High Court, during the fraud and corruption trial against former President Jacob Zuma and the Thales company, in September 2021. AP

In addition, these accusations are not only useful for the opposition parties, but are also very succulent for the opponents within the ANC, since the elections to preside over the party are going to be held, predictably, in December. “The consequence of all this could be that he lost the Presidency and that this was used against him by the internal forces of his party, or that he was charged after the police investigation. The damage could be serious,” says Singh.

the namibian connection

Two weeks after the start of the scandal, which is known as farm gate, the explanations of the president have not been enough and the spirits have not calmed down. He has even intervened in the Namibian police to refute accusations against them. One of the alleged criminals, Imanuwela David, accused agents of the Corps of detaining and torturing him, something that they have denied from that country. “We refute the accusations of torture and kidnapping of the suspect, Mr. Imanuwela David,” Police Chief Sebastian Ndeitunga reported in a statement, and in which he also denied having done “the dirty work on behalf of President Ramaphosa.”

The Police also confirmed that a meeting with their South African counterparts took place in June 2020 to share information about the robbery and that they agreed to investigate it, each in their jurisdictions, but ended up closing the case after receiving no answers from the Ministry of Justice of South Africa.

In recent days, attention to this case has been slightly diverted due to the latest problems of national interest that shake South Africa, such as the serious power cuts that the entire country is suffering and the recent publication of the last and definitive report on the capture of the State, as the massive corruption plot orchestrated by two businessmen of Indian origin, the Gupta brothers, with the collaboration of then President Jacob Zuma, between 2009 and 2018, is known. In fact, Judge Zondo, at the head of that investigation , has criticized Ramaphosa for not having done more to prevent corruption in that period, in which he served as vice president of the country.

Meanwhile, the president continues without giving a convincing justification. “Maybe he doesn’t have a good story to tell and wants to keep it a secret for as long as he can…” Singh wonders. What Ramaphosa has stated is that he is willing to appear before his party’s accountability committee. When he is asked, he hides behind a statement that he has repeated like a mantra inside and outside Parliament: “I am willing to cooperate with any investigation into this matter and I will answer any question put to me by the investigators. You have to let the law take its course and you have to follow due process,” he insists.

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