After a five-month stint in a German jail, controversial businessperson Zunaid Moti has returned to South Africa.
The Moti Group chairperson’s release was confirmed by his family who say he landed at OR Tambo International airport on Sunday. His release follows the cancellation of an arrest warrant issued in Russia in December 2018.
In August 2018, Moti was detained in relation to an Interpol red notice, which was issued against him for the alleged theft of a rare R500-million pink diamond linked to a Russian businessman in Lebanon.
The red notice was issued as Moti and his associates were accused of allegedly defrauding Russian citizen Alibek Issaev — a former partner in their South African FerroChrome smelter business — out of R6.6-million in a bogus mining deal. The alleged fraud took place in Lebanon in 2013. All four men denied the charges, saying their arrest warrants were obtained on falsified information.They accused Issaev of stealing the diamond from them on the pretext of having a buyer for it in Russia. International diamond dealer Sylla Moussa, in turn, has accused the four of stealing the diamond from him in 2013.In August 2017, the four attempted to interdict then president Jacob Zuma to hold off on the international arrest warrant.
Though Interpol had exonerated Moti in November last year, he remained in custody until his release on Sunday.
Moti’s spokesperson Jerome Hasler said the full exoneration makes Moti’s detention all the more unacceptable and called for a thorough investigation into “how this failure of justice was perpetuated in a so-called ‘first world democracy’ ”.
In South Africa, Moti has been stalked by scandal. In 2008, his company FinFuture was denied a licence to provide financial services because it failed to meet the “fit and proper” requirements.
The following year, Moti’s Abalengi group paid R1.5-billion to Investec to settle a bad debt. Investec was accused of fraudulently liquidating another firm to protect Abalengi’s investments.
In 2010, the City of Johannesburg filed a civil suit for the restitution of 33 properties it claimed had been fraudulently sold and then resold to two companies in which Moti was a director. Then, in 2011, Moti and several associates were charged in relation to a violent attack on businessperson Naeem Cassim. The charges were later dropped.
More recently, the Moti Group’s operations in Zimbabwe have drawn intense media scrutiny. Moti himself is said to be especially close to former army boss and current deputy president Constantine Chiwenga, according to several sources. He also enjoys good relations with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a fact Moti himself confirmed to the Mail & Guardian in March last year.
“We went into Zimbabwe [about three years ago] when Mr Mnangagwa was still in charge of a province. And we went in there looking for investment in the darkest hour. And that’s when we met Emmerson, His Excellency, and he really had a very very inviting approach to us,” he said at the time.
Moti added: “There was not a lot of red tape involved with investing in Zimbabwe at that stage because nobody really wanted to invest…We started to understand Zimbabwe as a Mnangagwa investment, because he was there guiding us in the investment and policies.”
In July 2018, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited an exhibition in London that marked Nelson Mandela’s centennial birthday. The exhibition was sponsored by the Moti Group. There is no suggestion the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were aware of or intended to endorse the Moti Group’s controversial business practises; or the group’s links to senior Zimbabwean officials that have been implicated in serious human rights violations.These links were explored in a joint investigation by the Mail & Guardian and amaBhungane in March 2018.