/ 26 March 2019

Agrizzi forced me to blow the whistle — Venter

Former Bosasa auditor Peet Venter.
Former Bosasa auditor Peet Venter. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

Former chief operating officer Bosasa Angelo Agrizzi tried to strongarm the firm’s then auditor to join a group of whistle-blowers hoping to take down Bosasa chief executive Gavin Watson, the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Tuesday.

During his testimony before the commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, former Bosasa auditor Peet Venter revealed that Agrizzi threatened to expose his role in the writing up of fraudulent invoices if he did not side with him against Watson.

Venter was detailing the events which led up to him signing an affidavit implicating Watson in allegations of tax fraud and racketeering. Venter told the commission that the affidavit, signed in December 2017, was written in part by Agrizzi and that elements of it are untrue.

According to Venter, in November 2017 he was called to a meeting at Agrizzi’s home in Fourways. The meeting was also attended by Bosasa’s former chief financial officer Andries van Tonder.

At the meeting, Agrizzi asked Venter to join a group of over 20 Bosasa whistle-blowers by writing an affidavit implicating Watson. Venter conceded that Agrizzi did not ask him to fabricate any of the information contained in his affidavit.

“Chair I can state that I didn’t want to do it. That is when Mr Agrizzi came and showed me how serious this thing is … He said to me: ‘You now have got a choice’,” Venter told the commission.

Earlier in his testimony, Venter revealed that he had helped cover up payments from Bosasa to consulting firm Tax Risk Management Services (TRM) through a front company. The front company, Miotto Trading and Advisory Holdings, would pay TRM and invoice Bosasa for the money at an inflated price, Venter said.

According to Venter, the value of invoices was inflated to secure a commission for Agrizzi, Van Tonder and himself.

“They [Agrizzi and Van Tonder] told me not to worry because they were signing off on the invoices,” Venter added.

But at the November 2017 meeting Agrizzi used this information to threaten him, Venter said. “He [Agrizzi] actually threw that in front of me and said you don’t have a choice: You either go down with Watson or you do this,” he told the commission.

Venter said he reluctantly agreed to compiling the affidavit. “After seeing everything that the gentlemen had on the table … I felt uncomfortable but I did agree to do it”

“I didn’t finalise the statement and it was later forwarded to me by Mr Agrizzi. I only signed it later after other threats were made,” Venter added.

During his own bombshell testimony before the commission in January, Agrizzi denied coercing Venter into signing the affidavit.

“I cannot agree to the statement that I would have forced him to make an affidavit. He did the affidavit of his own, six or seven other people were there to see him write the affidavit himself … So I take exception to the fact that they would say that I would coerce him to do this. I would not even know this information,” Agrizzi said.