/ 20 November 2009

Agliotti ‘was quite a salesman’

Billy Rautenbach felt used. On Thursday morning, as the state neared the end of its case in the corruption trial of former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi, the controversial Zimbabwean businessman told the court how former prosecutions boss Bulelani Ngcuka allegedly exploited him for ”intelligence-gathering purposes” regarding mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Rautenbach was called to testify after drug lord Glenn Agliotti earlier testified that he bribed Selebi with $30 000 he received from Rautenbach.

Rautenbach said he asked his lawyer, James Ramsay, to ”make contact with the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority]” after he had fled to Zimbabwe in November 1999, following a police raid on the Germiston premises of his company, Hyundai, which was being investigated for customs fraud.

Ramsay then allegedly met with Ngcuka ”quite a few times”. Rautenbach felt that the state had no case against him for the alleged fraud and he needed his arrest warrant quashed. ”I wanted to come to South Africa to face whatever there was to face.”

Following correspondence between Ramsay and Ngcuka, Rautenbach agreed to a meeting with ”Ngcuka’s people” in Maputo. He says he met with the National Intelligence Agency’s Jeff Maqetuka, and Pete Richer of the NPA. Maqetuka was recently appointed head of the State Security Agency by President Jacob Zuma.

Rautenbach had been under the impression that the meeting would include discussions on the charges against him.

But that was not to happen. ”My issue was put on the back burner,” he said. A short while later, after Rautenbach had set up a meeting with ”some officials from the DRC”, as Maqetuka and Richer had allegedly asked of him, he received a letter from Richer in 2000, saying that all communication between Rautenbach and the NPA had been suspended.

But even though he felt that he had been taken advantage of, he adamantly refuted the claim that Ngcuka had tried to bribe him, as Selebi alleged in his plea explanation at the beginning of the trial. When defence counsel Jaap Cilliers told Rautenbach that Agliotti, too, had told the court that Rautenbach had given him the impression that Ngcuka had attempted to bribe Rautenbach, his response was: ”Impossible. There was no bribe whatsoever. I don’t know where Agliotti gets that from.”

But it was Agliotti to whom he next turned for help, after the ”NPA had shut its doors”. Rautenbach was introduced to Agliotti in 2003 by fellow Zimbabwean and tobacco trader Brian Baxter. ”Basically Brian [Baxter] introduced [Agliotti] to me, saying he would be able to assist in improving my matter in South Africa,” said Rautenbach. ”Agliotti also said that he had various contacts in South Africa, knew influential people … He mentioned a lot of names … the [national] commissioner of police, Ngcuka, and a few others … He was quite a salesman,” said Rautenbach.

Rautenbach then told the court that Agliotti arranged a meeting between Selebi and James Tidmarsh, an attorney and business partner of Rautenbach. Tidmarsh came to South Africa for the meeting, which Rautenbach says took place ”in a hotel in Johannesburg” in April 2005.

A few days after the meeting ”Tidmarsh came to the Democratic Republic [of the Congo] where I was during that week … he said he’d met with the commissioner of police, and they’ve discussed my case … Obviously Agliotti had the contacts. Maybe this was a way of taking this forward … We agreed to pay him $100 000.”

Rautenbach denies any knowledge of $30 000 allegedly going to Selebi.

Rautenbach said that Agliotti met them a few days later in the car park of the Lubumbashi airport, where they handed him the money in United States dollars cash. ”Agliotti at least managed to raise my issue with the commissioner,” said Rautenbach.