In the most high-profile arrest into allegations of state capture yet, former state security minister Bongani Bongo appeared in court on Thursday on corruption charges, just hours after his early morning arrest.
The charges relate to him allegedly attempting to bribe a parliamentary employee, Ntuthuzelo Vanara, in 2017 — by offering him “an unlawful gratification,” said the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) Eric Ntabazalila in a statement on Thursday.
At the time, Vanara was leading evidence in Parliament’s probe into state capture at state-owned enterprises. Vanara complained to Parliament’s ethics committee that Bongo had approached him on October 10 and offered him a “blank cheque” to make the parliamentary probe go away.
This was while Bongo was state security minister in former president Jacob Zuma’s cabinet.
Bongo was released on bail on Thursday. The NPA said that the investigation in the matter was finalised and that Western Cape director of public prosecution (DPP), Rodney de Kock, had decided to try Bongo in the Western Cape high court.
However, he said that the defence “indicated that they wish to make representations to the DPP for a review of the decision to prosecute”.
In a statement, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) detailed the allegations against the former minister: “Bongo who was the minister of state security at the time he allegedly approached an advocate within the commission who was an evidence leader to take sick leave on the day of the commencement of the commission with a view to derail the proceedings. The advocate was offered an open cheque bribe and he consequently alerted his seniors, which culminated in the Hawks investigation.”
Parliament’s ethics committee is still to finalise its investigation. It took almost a year before Vanara was called to give evidence before the portfolio committee in the alleged bribery attempt. Then, as the fifth Parliament came to a close, the ethics probe went into hibernation. After elections, new ethics committee members had to be elected and the probe resuscitated.
Bongo has said that the allegations were a “plot” to tarnish his name and that Parliament and the Hawks are deliberately dragging their feet in concluding their respective investigations.
In June, after the 2019 general elections, the ANC’s chief whip Pemmy Majodina came out in Bongo’s defence and said the case is still with Parliament’s ethics committee and the former minister has approached the courts to expedite the matter.
Majodina called on the new ethics committee to release the report into Bongo’s matter so that there could be clarity.
Bongo was then appointed as Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee chairperson by ANC MPs — a surprising move as the serious allegations of bribery still lingered over him.
Earlier, in February this year, Bongo launched a case in the Western Cape high court to review and set aside the ethics committee’s investigation. Alternatively, he asked the court to order Parliament to comply with its rules and conclude its inquiry because of the “reputational damage” he was suffering as a result of the delay.
However, in June, his application was dismissed by Judge Ashley Binns-Ward, who said it was “rather ironic” as the delay was partially caused by Bongo’s application to court.
Ntabazalila, the NPA’s spokesperson, said stringent bail conditions have been set for Bongo — who has been warned to appear in the Western Cape high court in January next year.
“Bongo was released on bail of R5 000 with conditions not to interfere with any state witnesses and to inform the investigating officer two weeks prior to his planned travel outside of the country either through a telephone call, email or WhatsApp. The investigating officer must respond within 24 hours to acknowledge receipt of the request.”
In a terse statement, the ANC in Parliament said it had noted Bongo’s arrest and the charges against him. “As the ANC, we will not comment on the allegations labelled against Cde Bongo as we want to allow the law to take its course.”
The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance has welcome Bongo’s arrest. Party chief whip Natasha Mazzone laid corruption charges against Bongo in November 2017.
She said on Thursday that: “The DA welcomes this action by the Hawks as we have always maintained that Bongo had a case to answer for…We have always held the view that the then Minister’s actions were a gross violation of the law and his oath as a Member of the Executive.”