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11 May 2007 00:00
Imran Ismail is the invisible man. Now believed to be in his early 40s, he started his working life in an unprepossessing way when his uncle secured him a job at a friend’s Fordsburg business, Roshnee Enterprises, now one of the country’s biggest importers of fireworks.
Roshnee also had its own line of car audio imports and Ismail soon learned the ropes and set out on his own.
Yet he appears nowhere as a company director. Ismail ran his operation through other people’s companies and bank accounts. A former associate says he never carried a pen and left little trace of his presence. But he did strike up friendships with some rich and powerful people, including National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi and Indian Bollywood heartthrob Sanjay Dutt. Now, he has simply disappeared.
The reason for his disappearance is not hard to fathom. At the beginning of March, the investigative magazine noseweek published dramatic new allegations of corrupt payments to Selebi involving Ismail.
The magazine quoted a businessperson, Steven Ferrer, as saying he made regular payments to Selebi as well as to the late Gauteng police boss, Sharma Maharaj, on behalf of Ismail, who was allegedly part of a syndicate involved in VAT and excise fraud via the importing of consumer electronics.
Ferrer, who ran the Mr Jewellery chain, acted as a cheque discounter for the syndicate, effectively helping to launder secret offshore payments to suppliers.
Since Selebi was only appointed national commissioner in January 2000 and Ferrer fled to the United States six months later, he knew Maharaj best. But he was quoted as saying: ‘How Selebi appeared on the scene and what he was doing in order to protect Ismail, and how much he was paid, I honestly don’t know. But there were regular payments —
‘They would be R10 000, R5 000, R7 000, those kinds of payments. That was through me. A lot of it was cash. There were occasions where Imran would say: ‘Listen, Selebi’s driver has arrived in Rosebank. Won’t you do me a favour and just go out and give him this envelope. That’s how it worked.”
But the Scorpions unit that is currently investigating Glen Agliotti and his relationship with Selebi has taken the allegations rather more seriously.
Ferrer, who now lives in Atlanta, but wants to return home, has declined to make further public comment, but the M&G has established both that the published comments accurately reflect his allegations and that the Scorpions are negotiating an offer of immunity for him in return for his testimony.
It also seems that, privately, Selebi may be taking the matter more seriously than he has in public. One source familiar with the syndicate has claimed that earlier this year Selebi met, or at least spoke to Ismail, who had returned to South Africa on a clandestine visit.
The same source claimed that Selebi had also, quite recently, had a meeting with Ferrer’s wife, whom Ferrer had sent as an emissary, but that Selebi had sent her packing with a warning not to try to threaten or blackmail him.
Responding to questions about this claim and Ferrer’s earlier allegations, Selebi’s spokesperson, Sally de Beer, told the M&G: ‘I dicussed your media enquiry with the national commissioner this morning. Commissioner Selebi rejects the information contained in your questions, describing it as rubbish. However, this office has decided to maintain its stance on this matter and declines to give comment.”
Selebi’s association with a person alleged to be a big-time customs cheat—however innocent—might be cause for concern when added to his friendship with Agliotti. There are also worrying indications that Ismail may also have had other, darker associations.
Ismail was close to Pakistani national Rehan Syed, who was suspected of involvement in smuggling drugs and other contraband and was investigated by the police for dealing in stolen cars, a case in which Selebi himself allegedly got embroiled.
At least two other sources who know Ismail also suggest he once moved in the same South African circles as Vicky Goswami, the mandrax smuggler now jailed in Dubai. Goswami was the Southern African underboss for notorious Indian gangster Dawood Ibrahim, now one of the world’s most wanted men.
Ismail’s friendship with Bollywood’s Dutt has been confirmed by a number of sources. Dutt was among those charged in relation to the 1993 Mumbai bombings, inititated by Ibrahim in retaliation for earlier killings during anti-Muslim riots. Dutt was found guilty only of illegal possession of firearms, obtained from Ibrahim’s underlings, which he claimed he had secured for the protection of his family during the unrest.
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