/ 26 July 2022

Lamola denies cover-up on Namibian request on farmgate

Whatsapp Image 2022 07 26 At 11.14.26 Am
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has denied having refused a request for mutual legal assistance from Namibia on the Phala Phala theft suspects or deliberately misleading the public when he said the government had received no such request.

Last month, Lamola’s office categorically denied ever having received a request from Namibia for help in investigating Imanuwela David, the alleged mastermind of the burglary at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s farm in 2020.

On Monday, Lamola and Doctor Mashabane, the director general of justice, confirmed at a media briefing that a request was in fact received in August 2020 but said it was later deemed not to be in line with the applicable law on cooperation on criminal matters. 

The request was first sent to the specialised commercial crime unit of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to ensure it did not involve foreign bribery, and then returned to the department with a directive that it be processed. It has been alleged that the thieves used some of the forex stolen from the game farm to bribe officials.

The request was then allocated to an official within the department’s chief directorate for international legal relations. 

“The request was perused and found that it did not comply with the provisions of the International Cooperation in Criminal Matters Act, 1996 (Act No 75 of 1996) (ICCMA). The request could therefore not be processed at that stage,” according to the justice ministry.

It was sent back to Windhoek via the department of international relations in May last year, with a letter “indicating to the authorities in Namibia how the request should be amended to enable South Africa to render the necessary assistance”.

But because the matter never progressed beyond this stage and because the main suspect in the burglary at Ramaphosa’s game farm was not mentioned in the request, Lamola said he was caught unawares when asked about it.  

“I know there is an excitement to presume that there was some kind of a cover-up either by myself or by anyone on this matter.”

Lamola added that he would only learn of requests of this nature once administrative issues had been finalised and a memorandum drafted for his attention.

“It is then that it will be routed to myself to look at and approve or whatever may need to be done.

“This matter had not yet reached that stage… so I did not know that there was such a request with regard to this Phala Phala.”

Adding to the confusion was apparently the fact that the request did not mention the suspect, Imanuwela David, by name.

Lamola said after Namibia issued a statement saying they had made a request, he asked officials to check whether such a request had been received, but nothing referring to someone by that name could be found. 

“They searched everywhere and they said no.”

According to Mashabane, the request mentioned “different names altogether”.

“We found it not to be in order and we took it back from the diplomatic processes in order for them to address issues that were lacking in the request, which at the time as well was under different names. There was no Imanuwela David as part of the request.”

Mashabane stressed that national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi would also not have been aware of the request.

Lamola, Mashabane and Batohi were addressing a media briefing on various requests for mutual legal assistance, including South Africa’s bid to have two of the Gupta brothers surrendered to face state capture charges.

Mashabane said the department needed to give clarity on the matter because there was a perception that it had tried to thwart or dissimulate a request for assistance from Windhoek.

“Our counterparts in Namibia had issued a statement that they made a request to us and we never responded and that was the reason why they released the suspects and that is the information that the South African public has.”

Mashabane said the department has since written to its counterparts in Namibia to say “it is not true that the matter is sitting with us”.

“It is back in their court, and we even reminded them and said by the way, we wrote back to you seeking more information.”

David was reportedly arrested in Namibia in June 2020 for failing to declare luxury goods and five months later given 48 hours to leave the country.

Namibian media have reported that South African police tracing the suspects in the burglary received informal high-level assistance from Namibian authorities, with the blessing of President Hage Geingob. 

Namibian police chief Sebastian Ndeitunga was quoted as saying a local investigation was triggered by suspect money flows into bank accounts in Namibia but South African authorities failed to render assistance when asked.