Ghosts come back to haunt the 'Iron Duke'

The “Ghost”, as the near fanatical following of Orlando Pirates is known, is club boss Irvin Khoza’s greatest source of strength. But now he is being crowded by ghosts from the past his contact with drug traffickers and a disappeared Mandrax dealer presumably murdered.

Khoza, the “Iron Duke”, is facing one of his toughest challenges as the South African Revenue Service continues probing his business affairs.

The service has provisionally estimated his tax liability arising from allegedly undeclared income at a whopping R66-million. But it is an open secret that Khoza has attracted the attention of criminal investigators since at least the late 1970s, and that the investigators’ interest has often related to Khoza’s contact with known participants in the narcotics trade.

Khoza’s involvement with two of those Soweto socialite and drug dealer Rocks Dlamini, who disappeared without trace on the evening of April 6 1995, and international drug baron Vijay “Vicky” Goswami, who was jailed some two years later in Dubai has haunted him in recent years.

Last year, in a carefully worded statement for a television documentary yet to be broadcast, a member of the prosecuting authority conceded: “Most people with an interest in the disappearance of Mr Dlamini would know that the name of Mr Khoza has been mentioned in the discussion around the investigation and we have taken the allegations that have been made in that regard as seriously as any other allegations ... We’ve looked at it very seriously in a very in-depth manner indeed.”

Dlamini was part of a consortium of Soweto drug dealers who, by several accounts, placed an order for about R1,5-million worth of Mandrax tablets from India. Dlamini and two associates travelled to Mumbai, only to be told that contacts in South Africa would supply the consignment. Back in South Africa they started knocking at the doors of Vicky Goswami and Irvin Khoza, demanding to be compensated in cash or in kind.

Goswami by then had a firm reputation as international drug trafficker. Originally from India, he first moved to Zambia in the 1970s, where he later rose to prominence as a businessman well connected in political and football circles. He was arrested on suspicion of Mandrax dealing in 1989 but later released. In November 1993 he was slapped with a deportation order from Zambia, again under a cloud of suspicion on drug dealing.

Goswami soon re-emerged in South Africa, where he had interests in various businesses, including an aviation company. But after Dlamini’s disappearance, he hotfooted it to Dubai, where he seems to have owned or co-owned a hotel. In 1997 Dubai authorities arrested him for drug trafficking and he was handed a life sentence.

It is not known when Khoza’s association with Goswami started, but when Dlamini and his associates started demanding compensation from both, they were clearly known to each other. A series of meetings followed in Sandton where Khoza, Goswami and others discussed the demand. A final meeting at the Sandton Towers hotel was attended by Dlamini, weeks before his disappearance.

Siwi Meela, a family friend present at that meeting, recalls that Dlamini threatened to expose Goswami and argued with Khoza. But in the end “it was said that Khoza is the person who is going to be again in the middle of Goswami and Rocks [Dlamini]. He is going to be the person who takes whatever he takes from Goswami to Rocks.”

In an interview with the Sunday Times a year after Dlamini’s disappearance, Khoza reportedly confirmed knowing Dlamini and that “a Sandton businessman” apparently a reference to Goswami had asked him to deliver money to Dlamini but he denied knowing at the time that it was related to a drug deal.

Be that as it may, Dlamini believed the bill had not been settled in full. On the day of his disappearance, he told his family that he was off to a meeting with Khoza to collect the outstanding amount. He was never heard of again, and is presumed dead.

In a letter to then president Nelson Mandela in December 1995, Dlamini’s nephew Doctor Ruoele decried the quality of the police investigation. He wrote: “I am bitter, frustrated, angry and I also feel very much betrayed into believing that my voice [would be] heard after our new government [was elected] ... My uncle ... was kidnapped ... after he told the whole family that, I quote, ‘I want you to know that Irvin Khoza of Orlando Pirates owes me R1,5-million.’”

But that was not the end of the saga. In August 1996 Meela’s husband, Chris Meela, was taken to Johannesburg hospital with a respiratory disease. Before that, he reportedly started giving police information on Dlamini’s disappearance.

When Siwi Meela visited her husband in hospital the day after he was admitted, he was not in his hospital bed. She recalls: “They [the hospital staff] said they don’t see him; they looked for him the whole night and he’s not in hospital. And then I decided to search the hospital with my children and we found him. In five minutes’ time we discovered he was on the fire escape. He was seated there and late [deceased].”

Meela’s death remains unexplained and has remained of interest to police. The narcotics trade often claims victims. Two months before Meela’s death the body of Cape drug lord Bheki Tshabalala, another contact of Khoza, was found at Cape Town International Airport, stuffed in the boot of his car with two bullet wounds. Police were quoted at the time as saying they were investigating a possible link to Dlamini’s disappearance. Khoza reportedly attended Tshabalala’s funeral service.

Another drug dealer whose alleged contacts with Khoza has interested police is one Amos Nkomeni, who is in jail in Mozambique. Nkomeni was arrested in South Africa last year and extradited after South African and Mozambican police jointly bust a large Mandrax factory in Maputo. The South African contingent was led in person by police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi.

Khoza’s attorney, Danil Erasmus, this week declined to comment, saying: “Mr Khoza is very busy working with us on his tax matters ... From my point of view we really have nothing to say about those allegations [about Khoza’s past].”

Police records show that Khoza was twice convicted in Johannesburg for insurance fraud two decades ago. The records show that he was sentenced to R3 000 or 12 months’ imprisonment in 1979 for “fraud: fictitious life insurance policy [value] R50 000”. In 1981 he was sentenced to R2 000 or nine months’ imprisonment for “fictitious person insured R42 918”.

These convictions are reflected in older police print-outs, but intriguingly are no longer reflected on the police database suggesting interference with the records. Khoza is a regular traveller to foreign countries. Many countries do not allow entry to convicted criminals.

Stefaans Brümmer

Stefaans Brümmer

Stefaans is an old hand at investigations. A politics and journalism graduate, he cut his reporting teeth at the Cape Argus in the tumultuous early 1990s; then joined the Mail & Guardian as democracy dawned in April 1994. For the next 16 years (a late-1990s diversion into television and freelancing apart), the M&G was his journalistic home and launch pad for award-winning investigations focusing on the nexus between politics and money. Stefaans has co-authored exposés including Oilgate, the Selebi affair, Chancellor House and significant breaks in the arms deal scandal. Stefaans and Sam Sole co-founded amaBhungane in 2010. He divides his time between the demands of media bureaucracy (which he detests), coaching members of the amaBhungane team, and his first love, digging for dung. Read more from Stefaans Brümmer

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