The former South African president Jacob Zuma was getting a monthly cash bribe of 300,000 rand (about $29,000) from private company Bosasa during his presidency, a whistleblower has testified at South Africa’s inquiry into state corruption.
Angelo Agrizzi, the former chief operations officer at Bosasa, says the cash bribes helped to ensure that Bosasa “wielded the whip” over the distribution of state contracts – and to ensure that the company would not face criminal charges from state prosecutors.
Mr. Agrizzi made the revelations on Monday during the eighth day of his testimony to the inquiry on state corruption. The inquiry’s hearings, televised on national television channels, have mesmerized the country and provoked huge debate.
His testimony, backed up with video recordings, photos and documents, has portrayed Mr. Zuma’s government as a place where bribery and fraud were routine and normal, at huge cost to the country.
Mr. Zuma, who resigned under pressure last February, has used legal manoeuvres for more than a decade to stave off corruption charges in a separate case involving a South African arms deal. His successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, has promised a cleanup of corruption – but has admitted that his own campaign for the leadership of the ruling party received a donation of 500,000 rand from Bosasa in 2017.
Bosasa, which recently changed its name to African Global Operations, is a South African company that made enormous profits from lucrative contracts at government departments and state-owned companies. Corruption allegations have swirled around it for more than a decade, and police investigators gathered dockets of evidence, but it has never faced prosecution.
Bosasa’s chief executive officer, Gavin Watson, often boasted of his frequent personal conversations with Mr. Zuma and claimed that Bosasa was “totally bulletproof” because of his friendship with the president, Mr. Agrizzi testified on Monday. The company was even shown confidential police case files to help it avoid charges, he said.
Mr. Agrizzi has already testified that Bosasa paid monthly bribes, in cash and luxury gifts, to about 80 officials in the government and state companies. But this is the first time that the inquiry has heard testimony of cash bribes being paid directly to Mr. Zuma.
In most cases, according to Mr. Agrizzi’s testimony, the bribes were funnelled through Mr. Zuma’s close friend, Dudu Myeni, chairwoman of South Africa’s state airline at the time and the head of the Jacob Zuma Foundation, a supposed charity.
Mr. Agrizzi said he helped to count and package the bribe cash and witnessed some of the payments to Ms. Myeni. In one case, he said, Bosasa wanted to “impress” Ms. Myeni with a gift, so it purchased an expensive Louis Vuitton handbag, stuffed it with the regular monthly cash and gave it to her. She was pleased with the handbag and thanked him personally afterward, he said.
The payments were supposed to be donations to the Zuma charitable foundation, but they must have been illicit because they were paid in cash, rather than a standard bank transfer, he said.
Bosasa’s CEO, Mr. Watson, wanted to ensure that Mr. Zuma was getting the entire amount of the monthly bribe, so he once visited Mr. Zuma’s palatial village compound, handed him the cash directly and asked him if he was receiving the full cash amount every month, Mr. Agrizzi testified, citing a conversation he had with Mr. Watson. He said the president confirmed to Mr. Watson that he was getting the full amount.
He said Ms. Myeni and other senior officials would often ask Bosasa for free services, including lavish dinners and home security systems. In his submission to the inquiry, he included a written letter from Ms. Myeni thanking Bosasa for providing a “splendid birthday dinner” for Mr. Zuma and his guests.
In a meeting with Bosasa executives in a Pretoria hotel near Mr. Zuma’s office in 2015, he said, Ms. Myeni provided a stack of confidential documents from a police investigation into corruption allegations at Bosasa.
“Listen, this must get shut down now,” Mr. Watson told Ms. Myeni at the meeting, referring to the police investigation, according to Mr. Agrizzi’s testimony.
“I’ll work on it,” she allegedly replied.
Mr. Agrizzi said he secretly photographed some of the police documents and later provided them to the state inquiry. In the background, the photos showed a carpet pattern that exactly matched the hotel’s carpet, which verified his account of the meeting, according to the inquiry’s investigators.
Ms. Myeni denied the bribery allegations. In a statement quoted by local media on Monday, she denounced Mr. Agrizzi as a “racist, bitter man.”