The NPA advocate and the 'grabber'
The controversy over the appointment of Shaun Abrahams as national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) has deepened with the revelation that Abrahams was previously sucked into dealing with a number of dubious “investigators” or “intelligence sources”.
These individuals – now dismissed by Abrahams as “information peddlers” – appear to have succeeded in persuading him to help initiate investigations that have fed into factional battles in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in the one case, and, in the other, the squabble over access to billions of dollars in assets supposedly hidden somewhere in South Africa by former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
One of the “investigators”, Willie Lotter, was arrested on August 1 for alleged illegal possession of a “grabber”, a large mobile bugging device.
Abrahams told amaBhungane he cut ties with Lotter and other individuals in 2013 “when he established that the persons are in fact information peddlers with ulterior motives”.
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However, he appears to have treated their allegations seriously at the time of their first approach in 2010, and his strange involvement raises questions about his judgment – an implication Abrahams denies.
This comes at a time when his sudden elevation from senior state advocate to national director is under scrutiny following his decision to place advocate Nomgcobo Jiba at the helm of the prosecution service, despite unresolved questions over her fitness.
No NDPP has completed their term since 1998 and the office has been the site of intense political and factional battles in which leaks and smears have played a major role.
AmaBhungane first encountered questions about Abrahams’s contact with “information peddlers” following the arrest of Lotter for allegedly being in illegal possession of a grabber – a cellphone tapping, tracking and locator machine, in this case, reportedly worth over R25-million.
Lotter, a farmer in Mpumalanga who has been rumoured to move on the fringes of the intelligence world since the apartheid era, was arrested in a police sting operation while allegedly in the process of trying to sell the machine to undercover agents.
Lotter’s attorney had not responded to questions at the time of going to press. He is due to appear in court again in October.
In 1995, Lotter was implicated in a gold smuggling racket that also allegedly involved persons working at a high level with the ANC.
Charges were provisionally withdrawn against Lotter and the case died.
More recently, in July 2013, Lotter became codirector in a company with former ANC and National Intelligence Agency spy, Thabo Kubu, who, the Mail & Guardian reported last year, had been drafted in by the ANC to help with a party-vetting programme called Project Veritas.
According to a senior source in the NPA, the prosecutor in the grabber case has already received indirect warnings about Lotter’s reach and influence.
Details of the police investigation were leaked to the Sunday Independent, which reported that an unnamed official from the department of public service and administration wrote a letter confirming the device was wanted by the South African government.
Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi was quoted as saying: “This official wrote a letter on a government letterhead and claimed that the South African government wanted to buy the device.”
AmaBhungane independently established the identity of this official as Joseph Pooe, an MK veteran, who is described variously as head of “information security management” at the department of public service and administration and the head of investigation in the public service anti-corruption unit.
AmaBhungane has seen another document marked “Top Secret” and apparently signed by Pooe. It purports to confer official government recognition to a company called Poviwize to partner with the department of public service and administration “in the investigation, identification and the resolution of the alleged assets held in South Africa belonging to the government of Libya”.
Directors of Poviwize include Erik Goaied, a Tunisian middleman and the leader of one of the business factions claiming to have the authority of the dysfunctional and fractured Libyan government to find and recover Libyan assets.
According to a detailed report in The Daily Beast in May this year, Libyan officials, as well as the United Nations, have accused Goaied of peddling fake documents to at least three different governments in an effort to stake a claim to the missing billions.
In South Africa, amaBhungane has established, Goaied was able to set up a face-to-face meeting with the state security agency head of operations, Enzo Ismail.
Goaied also includes Lotter and Pooe in his Google+ circle of contacts. Other company directors of Poviwize include one Pieter Willem Becker.
AmaBhungane inquiries about those associated with Poviwize were met with claims that Lotter, but more particularly Becker, had a previous association with Abrahams.
Last week, the M&G asked the new NDPP whether he knew them.
The NPA issued an intriguing reply, stating: “During his career, Abrahams always entertained an open-door policy in delivering justice to society by rendering legal advice pro bono to both indigent and wealthy.
“During 2010, Becker was introduced to Abrahams as a person who required urgent legal advice on a matter that could potentially negatively impact on the security of the country, the financial stability of the country and issues around alleged fraud and corruption in the liquidation industry and related areas.
“After being briefed by Becker, the latter introduced Lotter to Abrahams on the premise that Lotter was working with him and could shed more light on the matter.
“The reason why Abrahams was approached for [advice] was specifically because they needed to engage with someone who was highly experienced, respected and trusted within the legal fraternity. The legal representatives of the relevant persons in the Apex matter also met with Abrahams and sought his advice on more than one occasion. (Shortly after meeting Lotter, Abrahams informed Becker that he does not ever want to have anything to do with Lotter again).”
The Apex case
In December 1999 the registrar of banks announced that charges would be laid against CA “Abrie” Lottering and that his codirector, Beatrix Johann Lottering, would be charged for illegally taking deposits through their company, Apex Forex Trading, without a banking licence, while promising huge returns.
In 2009, the Lotterings were convicted on fraud charges involving more than R30-million, but they remained on bail, pending an appeal, which was finally struck from the roll this week.
In 2010, acting on instructions from the Lotterings, Becker and Lotter approached Abrahams with allegations to the effect that Apex was the victim of liquidation fraud.
Becker drew up a report, seen by amaBhungane, that suggested the allegations against Apex and the Lotterings were manufactured to place the company in liquidation.
Apex assets, he alleged, were then sold at a knock-down price to others who were part of a syndicate, who then made enormous profits.
Becker alleged there was a “system” involving a conspiracy between liquidators, lawyers, police and prosecutors that was used in this and other cases to access assets at rock- bottom prices.
Becker provided scant evidence for his claims, but he labelled senior specialised commercial crimes court prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach as the mastermind behind this system.
Breytenbach would later emerge as a key adversary of Jiba in the NPA.
The prosecutor, who resigned her post to join the Democratic Alliance in early 2014, told amaBhungane she was unaware of the Becker claims.
Despite the lack of evidence, Abrahams referred Becker to the then NDPP and to the NPA’s integrity management unit, which investigates allegations against prosecutors internally, because of the seriousness of the claims, the NPA told amaBhungane.
“In addition, Abrahams also referred them to the former head of the commercial crime unit, General Hans Meiring, and insisted that Meiring appoint a suitable investigating officer … Abrahams is not sure whether the commercial crime unit is investigating the serious allegations levelled by Becker and has not been privy to the matter since the matter was referred to that unit.”
The Libyan caper
Abrahams maintained his contact with Becker, with the two occasionally having lunch together.
Then the NPA says: “Abrahams cut off all ties with Becker and any person(s) associated with Becker during 2013 when he established that the persons are in fact information peddlers with ulterior motives.
In fact, Abrahams categorically informed Becker not to ever contact him again. This was communicated to Becker’s legal representatives too.” Abrahams declined to explain why he came to the view that “Becker and company were information peddlers”, but it appears to have followed a new set of claims about the Libyan billions. Jaco Verster, the former share holder of the troubled Pinnacle Point property company, is also listed as a director of Poviwize, the Libyan asset recovery vehicle.
He told amaBhungane: “Some information came to the attention of Becker and company. I was asked, in a legal capacity, to advise them how to proceed to ensure compliance with the law. I suggested they draft an affidavit detailing the information at hand and present it to the NPA for further investigation.
“I assisted them in drafting such an affidavit and it was submitted to advocate Abrahams. My role was therefore limited to putting the affidavit together and attending one meeting at the offices of the NPA to talk through the content of the affidavit.” Verster said that, as previously, Abrahams was “very professional in his dealings”.
“How far the NPA actually proceeded in investigating the information provided I honestly cannot say, but I am sure advocate Abrahams would have taken it seriously,” he said. “I cannot comment on statements of information peddling since it was never mentioned to me in any forum and I last spoke to advocate Abrahams on this matter in 2013.”
The NPA only said: “Abrahams was not involved in any search for any Libyan assets. During 2013, information was brought to Abrahams’s attention, which information he passed on to the DPCI [the Hawks] for investigation.
“Abrahams appointed a senior deputy director of public prosecutions to engage with the purported informants, their lawyer and the police on the matter. Nothing however came of this information, as investigations proved it unreliable.”
The Poviwize director would not comment on the content of their affidavit, but Pooe was more forthcoming in suggesting there was some kind of official sanction.
In an email to amaBhungane he said: “Please be aware that the project on Poviwise was closed some time ago. I wrote my report and recommended possible remedies to Libyan Assets and money laundering … Unfortunately it seems as if there was not a follow-up from those who mandated me to verify and investigate the allegations mentioned above. To discuss the matter further, I need the mandate from those who authorised my initial participation. Since you are in investigation, I think you understand my position and in particular that of international relations.”
Pooe declined to comment on the grabber, but said he was not aware of being under any investigation.
The NPA rejects any suggestion that Abrahams’s engagement with Becker was misjudged.
“Abrahams was attached to the priority crimes litigation unit whose mandate included the management of investigations and prosecutions of crimes impacting on the security of the country. The unit generally worked in close proximity with the DPCI, Crime Intelligence and State Security. It is in any event incumbent [on] any prosecutor who learns of any alleged offence to report same to the authorities. It is for this bona fide reason that Abrahams entertained Becker.”
Becker was this week dealing with a family funeral and said he was not able to respond to questions.
*In an earlier version of the story we incorrectly referred to Jaco Verster as a former chief executive of Pinnacle Point. He was, in fact, a share holder. We apologise for the error.
* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email [email protected]
The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.