Bosasa used death benefits scheme for bribe money

Bosasa laundered large amounts of money through an employee death benefits scheme, the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Friday.

Former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi detailed to the commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the complex operation the company undertook to obtain the cash it would allegedly use to bribe officials it was doing business with.

Agrizzi previously said these cash bribes would have amounted to up to R6-million a month.

On Friday Agrizzi told the commission that one way Bosasa would get hold of the cash was through an employee death benefits scheme, ostensibly set up to provide support to workers who had lost family members.

Because the issuing of death certificates was often delayed, Bosasa would issue an advance cheque to bereaved employees, Agrizzi said. When life insurance company Metropolitan would eventually pay out, that money would be cashed and added to Bosasa’s coffers and used as bribe money, he explained.

These two payments would appear regular on the fund’s books, Agrizzi said. Agrizzi told the commission that in one month the money generated this way reached R300 000, adding that during that period many people were losing family members.

Agrizzi had previously testified that Bosasa, under the leadership of its chief executive Gavin Watson, kept vaults that were regularly restocked with cash that would be used for bribes.

On the second day of his testimony, the commission screened a video showing senior Bosasa executives in a company vault counting out large wads of money.

Bosasa chief financial officer Andries van Tonder, the company’s spokesperson Papa Leshabane, Watson and Bosasa chairperson Joe Gumede are seen inside the vault. The money was used to bribe officials or as hush money for Bosasa employees, Agrizzi told the commission.

In the video Watson can be heard calling the cash “monopoly money”.

Agrizzi confirmed that the cash Van Tonder was counting would have amounted to R1-million.

Bosasa and Watson have fielded a litany of allegations of corrupt dealings with state departments for more than a decade. In 2007 the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) began investigating Bosasa for alleged improper conduct relating to tenders the company was awarded.

The SIU’s 2009 report on the company found that Bosasa officials had paid bribes to former prisons boss Linda Mti and the department of correctional services’ then chief financial officer, Patrick Gillingham, to secure tenders from the department. The report was handed to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

On Thursday, Agrizzi confirmed that Gillingham was paid bribes by Bosasa. “Most definitely money was paid to Patrick Gillingham. I was involved,” he said.

Agrizzi, whose testimony had been kept under wraps because of alleged threats to his life, announced last year that he was prepared to testify about the extent of corruption at Bosasa.

According to an affidavit by the commission’s lead investigator, Frank Dutton, read out before Agrizzi’s testimony, Watson’s former “right-hand man” will implicate 38 individuals during the course of his evidence.

The hearing continues.

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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