New light on Lacote link

New details have emerged concerning documents that allegedly link Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi to fugitive Belgian fraudster Jean Claude Lacote.

And, in a separate development, a top Belgian ambassador was forced to resign after Belgian investigators formally declared him suspected of involvement in money-laundering for Lacote.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the police investigation of Lacote, two sets of documents that allegedly mentioned Selebi were found when police conducted a search last year at the home of Lacote’s security consultant, Willie Hall.

According to the source, one set of documents allegedly related to Lacote opening a bank account for Selebi.

The other set of documents related to Duty Calls, the reality television show based on access to the SAPS emergency response teams that Lacote initiated soon after his arrival in South Africa in July 1999.

This file was allegedly marked with Selebi’s name, although Selebi has previously denied having anything to do with Duty Calls.

The same source also alleged that Lacote once claimed Selebi was a guest on Lacote’s farm.

SAPS spokesperson Sally de Beer declined to respond to questions about Selebi’s possible interactions with Lacote. Selebi has previously denied any association with Lacote, saying: ‘I don’t know Mr Lacote.”

So far the SAPS has refused to confirm or deny the existence of evidence linking Lacote and Selebi and at least one police investigator has privately expressed concern that items relating to the Lacote inquiry have gone missing.

Asked whether any of the Lacote documentation seized last year mentioned Selebi, De Beer said: ‘Unfortunately, I will not be able to respond to your questions, which relate to ongoing investigations into the actions of a fugitive from justice.”

Lacote, wanted by Interpol for fraud and murder since before he entered South Africa, was finally arrested in February last year in relation to a South African case—a R10-million swindle involving Absa Bank and Irish businessman Noel Hanley.

But he was sprung from prison while awaiting trial in early April this year by a man and woman posing as police officers and there is no indication of any progress in tracing him.

Even though police have not been able to identify the two individuals who helped Lacote escape, police and prisons officials have refused to release the footage from the prison security camera which might help identify the suspects.

However, the Mail & Guardian has obtained a picture captured from the video footage which shows a man who looks like an off-duty policeman and a woman who bears a resemblance to Lacote’s wife, Hilde van Acker, who has also disappeared.

A friend in high places?
Two weeks ago Belgian politician Pierre Chevalier resigned as his country’s special representative to the United Nations security council.

The move came as two disclosures emerged in the Belgian media concerning the controversial lawyer turned politician. In the first Belgian investigators confirmed that Chevalier was being investigated for money-laundering and forgery on behalf of Jean-Claude Lacote.

The accusations concern events that took place in the 1990s, when Chevalier was Lacote’s lawyer.

In the second it emerged that Chevalier had, despite his sensitive role at the UN, taken the reins as chief executive of the George Forrest Group, a resource extraction company with deep and controversial roots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a former Belgian colony.

Chevalier previously had a long association with the company as a legal adviser.

He has denied wrongdoing, but Belgian investigators believe Chevalier played an active role in Lacote’s bank dealings, creating an account through which flowed millions of Belgian francs believed to be the proceeds of Lacote’s swindles.

Chevalier also took his fees from this account.

According to Belgian media the judicial inquiry into Chevalier began in 2001 and ended in December last year after years of tracing financial flows in a maze of foreign accounts linked to Lacote.

One Belgian investigator told the M&G that he believed Chevalier had good reason not to want to see Lacote extradited after his arrest in South Africa last year.

Chevalier was forced to resign as Belgian secretary of state in 2000 because of another investigation involving Lacote.

The case concerned the fake sale of an aircraft to a Swedish businessman, but Chevalier was later exonerated.

Lacote allegedly repeated his aircraft swindle soon after arriving in South Africa, this time drawing in Irish businessman Noel Hanley.

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.
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