Spy plot against SAA boss

South African Airways aircraft. (Bloomberg)

South African Airways aircraft. (Bloomberg)

Foreign spies were allegedly hired to help hunt down proof that the combative chair of SAA, Dudu Myeni, was on the take last year – evidence that subsequently turned out to be fake.

New information surfaced this week that shows how some of those involved went to extraordinary lengths to locate evidence that President Jacob Zuma’s close friend had some R250-million stashed in bank accounts abroad.

  The Mail & Guardian can reveal how a senior official from Uganda’s intelligence agency allegedly agreed to commission sources in Rwanda to dig up Myeni’s bank accounts in France.

Captain Warren Baguma Tukahirwa of the Internal Security Office is named in a sworn statement made by a Ugandan information technology specialist who claims to have been approached for help by a senior South African municipal official.

An amount of R150 000 was paid in South Africa and disbursed through Western Union and MTN Uganda mobile accounts.

Following the courier trail

The tale of this elaborate hoax begins in February last year, when an order was placed for someone to dig up details about Myeni’s alleged offshore bank accounts. On February 21 the parcel of supposed evidence was sent from DHL in Kampala, Uganda.

By 2am the next morning, the sealed envelope was processed for dispatch again, this time in Nairobi, Kenya, and then on to Johannesburg, where people are said to have secretly relished having what they believed to be the ammunition required to take out the untouchable Myeni.

The “bank statements”, printed on textured paper and even bearing what appeared to be an official stamp of BNP Paribas and another from Bank Austria, had landed.

But the “evidence” that Myeni had scored millions of rands in kickbacks off SAA deals turned out to be fake. The account listed as Myeni’s belonged to a haematology laboratory registered in the United States.

(Un)usual suspects

On Monday, about a year later, three unlikely characters appeared in the Kempton Park magistrate’s court.
They face charges of fraud, forgery, uttering (the use of forged documents) and extortion for allegedly conspiring to frame Myeni. They are:

• Monwabisi Kalawe, the airline’s former chief executive, allegedly paid R150 000 for the “unredacted” bank statements which seemingly proved the existence of large sums of money held offshore;

• Abe Mbulawa, the chief operating officer of Mogale City municipality, allegedly called an old business contact in Uganda to help source the bank statements; while

• Forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan became embroiled after he sent emails announcing that Myeni had been caught out with ill-gotten gains and demanded that she step down.

The three have yet to plead and have each provided his own account of how they got caught up in the mess.

DHL tracking information shows the documents were sent from Kampala and delivered to Mbulawa’s office.

  The M&G has seen an affidavit from the Ugandan IT specialist. Patrick Male said he met Mbulawa in 2008 when a company Mbulawa was associated with, Valor IT, had pitched to do work for the Ugandan spy agency.

Documents ‘at a price’

Male said Mbulawa had asked him if he could help get the banking information. Male suggested they seek the help of Tukahirwa.

“Tukahirwa came back to me and said he could find people who can help. However, the release of this information would come at a price from his connections,” Male stated.

The deal was successfully facilitated, he claims. “Baguma [Tukahirwa] came back to me and told me that persons who sourced the documents were based in Rwanda, with contacts in France.”

  Male states that Mbulawa made a cheque payment to a woman who had been given instructions to disburse it to “various contacts through Western Union and MTN Uganda mobile money numbers”. The M&G knows the name of this woman but was unable to locate her for comment.

The office of advocate Daudi Balondemu, who drafted Male’s affidavit, confirmed that it was made on May 9 this year.

Riddle wrapped up in an enigma

That the bank statements turned out to be fake is as baffling as why spies in Uganda and Rwanda would agree to help pull off such an elaborate scam.

Male, it has been established, has made the sworn statement knowing that he may be called to testify during a trial in South Africa.

But Tukahirwa is unlikely to do so as he “got a drop of blood in his brain around 11 months ago and he suffered a stroke which left his speech impaired, not able to recognise people, nor speak”, according to Male’s affidavit.

Mbulawa declined to comment, referring only to complaints he has lodged against Myeni and the police in connection with this case.

Mbulawa’s lawyer, Sandile Lokwe said his client maintains his innocence and has ample evidence to show that he was a mere middleman for Kalawe. “So far, we have not been given sight of the docket, nor of a copy of Dudu Myeni’s statement. We will see what happens at the next court appearance.”

He said payment of the R150 000 for disbursement was not done in a clandestine manner by his client as there was nothing untoward about his actions in the course of him having assisted Kalawe.

Kalawe’s attorney, Lee Binneman of Schindlers Attorneys, said his client maintained his innocence. “We have to be given access to the content of the docket before or on June 7 and we will assess the allegations against my client once that is in hand,” he said.

Said O’Sullivan: “They’ve charged the wrong people. I’ve opened a docket against the SAA leadership. If this matter goes to trial, I will subpoena bank records of Dudu Myeni, the Jacob Zuma Foundation and I will subpoena Zuma himself.”

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said neither the airline nor Myeni could comment on the ongoing court case.

SAA has yet to table its 2014-2015 financial statements in Parliament and is operating with a lean board following the exodus of board members and senior executives fed up with Myeni’s antics.

Cast of characters

Monwabisi Kalawe
  The former SAA chief executive left the airline after reaching a settlement following a Labour Court case last year. Ironically, Kalawe was once at the receiving end of a bid to scrutinise his personal bank records – allegedly at the behest of Dudu Myeni.

Abe Mbulawa
  He apparently agreed to help Kalawe at the request of a mutual friend. He is a qualified mathematician. Mbulawa is chief operating officer of the Mogale City municipality and is doing his PhD in financial economics with a focus on improving the productivity of municipalities.

He reported Myeni for abuse of state resources after police raided his home and office in connection with the fake bank accounts, and has a case lodged with the IPID, the police’s internal investigating arm.

Paul O’Sullivan
  O’Sullivan appears to be an unfortunate casualty in this criminal case. He was in Geneva when the alleged fake bank accounts surfaced, but couldn’t contain himself when, on receiving copies, he fired off emails to Myeni telling her to step down while sending copies of the fake bank statements to the police to investigate.

  He opened a criminal case against “main suspect” Myeni and every SAA board member for reckless conduct in their management of the airline in January. In a sworn statement, O’Sullivan said he did this in his capacity as a “long-standing SAA Life-Platinum Voyager card holder and regular passenger, spending about R500 000 per annum”. – Jessica Bezuidenhout

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