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Union, officials colluded with Bosasa to pressure prisons boss

Bosasa paid officials in the department of correctional services R1-million a month to put pressure on then national prisons commissioner Vernie Petersen to get him to co-operate in the company’s business interests.

This is according to the testimony delivered by former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.

On Tuesday, Agrizzi detailed the events leading up to Petersen’s transfer to the department of sports and recreation in 2008.

Agrizzi told the commission that when Petersen was appointed national prison’s commissioner in 2007, he had tried to approach Petersen to discuss future possible ventures with Bosasa. But Petersen did not want anything to do with Bosasa, Agrizzi said.

Agrizzi recounted a meeting between Watson, former prison’s commissioner Khulekani Sithole and a Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) official identified only as “Sbu”.

READ MORE: Prison boss in soccer scam

The meeting was organised to find a way to “swing” Petersen in Bosasa’s favour, Agrizzi said.

It was agreed that the men, along with KwaZulu-Natal prison’s Mnikelwa Nxele, would be paid R1-million a month to put pressure on Petersen, Agrizzi said.

According to Agrizzi, this pressure would applied through the union. If Petersen would not co-operate, he would feel “the wrath of Popcru“, Agrizzi explained.

Bosasa had held lucrative catering tenders with the department of correctional services since 2004. During the course of his testimony, Agrizzi confirmed that these tenders were retained through Bosasa’s relationship with former prisons commissioner Linda Mti and former department of correctional services chief financial officer Patrick Gillingham.

READ MORE: Bosasa and the Moyane money

Petersen suspended Gillingham in September 2008 after receiving a preliminary Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report into the improper awarding of tenders to Bosasa.

Gillingham and Mti were allegedly rewarded handsomely by Gavin Watson, Bosasa chief executive, for their collusion in the prison’s tenders awarded to the company.

Mti’s payment allegedly included free air tickets, hotel accommodation and payment for the design of his luxury home in Midrand. According to Agrizzi’s testimony, Mti was paid R65 000 a month by Bosasa.

READ MORE: Prisons graft — Bosasa’s empire of influence

Agrizzi continued, saying Mti was still receiving monthly payments from Bosasa at the time Agrizzi resigned in December 2016. That is ten years after Mti had resigned as prisons commissioner and seven years after Bosasa and Mti were exposed in the SIU’s 2009 report.

Petersen had publicly butted heads with then correctional services Minister Ngconde Balfour, who two months before Petersen’s transfer warned him in a letter that “something must break” if they cannot “trust and work together in the department”. On Tuesday, Agrizzi told the commission that Balfour received no favours from Bosasa.

READ MORE: Balfour backed private house for prisons boss

Petersen was replaced by Xoliswa Sibeko, who was controversially fired by then correctional services minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Mapisa-Nqakula’s brother, Siviwe Mapisa, has already been implicated in Agrizzi’s testimony, after it emerged that he was lavished with gifts by Watson in return for his help with a security tender at the South African Post Office.

Sibeko had reportedly indicated that she would not defend a court challenge by a rival catering company Royal Sechaba which aimed to block the awarding of a catering contract worth almost R1-billion to Bosasa.

When Tom Moyane was appointed to replace Sibeko in 2010, he reversed this decision.

During Agrizzi’s testimony on Monday, it emerged that Bosasa had to increase the bribe money paid to the department of correctional services by R250 000 a month when Moyane was appointed.

Bosasa ended up forking out R750 000 a month to pay the department, Agrizzi said. The money was allegedly being split between department officials, but Agrizzi could not confirm whether or not Moyane himself received a share of this money.

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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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