Bosasa CEO's 'hidden' R500K donation to Ramaphosa deconstructed

Obvious attempts made to shield the identity of the donor from the recipient

Bosasa CEO's 'hidden' R500K donation to Ramaphosa deconstructed

Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson's R500 000 "donation" to President Cyril Ramaphosa's ANC presidential campaign in October last year, was designed to be hidden from scrutiny.

Piecing together the mechanics of the payment, News24 has found obvious attempts to shield the identity of the donor from the recipient, being Ramaphosa's campaign.

At the same time, the campaign took steps to keep secret those who donated to it.

It's a transaction that was designed to fool the casual observer, and in fact on closer inspection, did not yield all the secrets.

On Thursday, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu held a press briefing.

The ANC caucus came out in support of Ramaphosa, applauding his decision to provide a corrected version of events surrounding the Bosasa donation.

Ramaphosa originally told the National Assembly, in response to a supplementary question by DA leader Mmusi Maimane, that he had spoken with his son, Andile, and had assured himself the payment was above board.

Last week however, he corrected this in a letter to Speaker Baleka Mbete, saying he didn't have all the available information at hand when he responded and that it had since emerged the funds were actually a donation to his 2017 ANC presidential campaign.

This caused opposition parties to accuse Ramaphosa of lying to Parliament. Mthembu challenged these parties to bring a substantive motion and to not make public allegations.

Maimane is expected to lead a protest at Bosasa's headquarters, now named African Global Operations, in Krugersdorp on Friday.

Here's how the October 2017 payment worked:

The front company

To hide a transaction effectively you first need a willing front company, with a nominee director, who is willing to take a risk by registering the company their name.

In the case of the Ramaphosa donation, the front company in question is Miotto Trading and Advisory Holdings whose sole director is Margaret Longworth.

The company was registered in January 2016, and is now in voluntary liquidation.

But all indications are that Miotto holds no assets, other than its highly useful bank account.

The registered business address is the same Noordheuwel, Krugersdorp home that records confirmed as Longworth's residential address.

The decoy director

Longworth confirmed to News24 that she is the sister of Peet Venter, the auditor who on Watson's instruction, made the R500 000 payment.

She has no obvious links to Bosasa, and basic due diligence searches on the company by Ramaphosa's campaign managers would not immediately reveal her sibling's close and improper relationship with Bosasa and Watson.

Venter's role, and the payment, was revealed in a sworn statement Venter signed in December 2017 while on holiday in Mossel Bay.

Venter states that Watson told him the funds were for the benefit of Ramaphosa's son, Andile.

But the president has since confirmed the R500 000 was a donation to his presidential campaign, in a complete turnaround from original responses during a question-and-answer session in the National Assembly.

His statement also reveals that Watson had instructed him to transfer the funds from Watson's personal bank account to Miotto's account, before paying it on to an attorney's trust account used by Ramaphosa's campaign managers to keep donations.

Longworth claimed she was not privy to details of the transactions conducted by Miotto, but revealed that the company had been under Venter's control from the outset.

The attorney's trust account

Venter, previously an employee of Bosasa's auditors, was instructed by Watson to pay the R500 000 to an ABSA account that belongs to Sandton-based attorneys, Edelstein Farber Grobler (EFG).

He attached the proof of payment generated from Miotto's FNB business account, as well as a screenshot of a text message from Watson to himself with the EFG account details.

We now know, thanks to Ramaphosa's letter to the speaker of the National Assembly correcting his original oral reply, that this account was used to house Ramaphosa's ANC presidential campaign funds.

In this case, what is concerning is the name of the account, "EFG2" as well as the references used by Miotto.

Miotto's own reference was "Social Development" while the reference that will appear on the EFG2 trust account statements is simply "Boag".

EFG, in a written response to queries from News24 confirmed the account belonged to the firm. The firm was previously known as Farber Sabelo Edelstein. Barry Farber, a well-known Johannesburg lawyer, started the firm.

George Sabelo of the aborted Harith/PetroSA deal was also a partner. Edelstein refers to Greg Edelstein, understood to be Farber's son-in-law.

Watson read but did not respond to text messages seeking to gain his views on the matter.

Pay back

Meanwhile Ramaphosa's former campaign managers have vowed to pay the money back to Watson and/or Bosasa.

This is on the grounds that Watson and his company have been under investigation by the Hawks and the NPA over bribes paid to former prisons boss Linda Mti and the Department of Correctional Services chief financial officer Patrick Gillingham since 2009.

Bosasa scored several multibillion-rand tenders in exchange for its largesse, and has over the years won business from the Department of Home Affairs, Airports Company South Africa and correctional services, among others.