Johannesburg – President Cyril Ramaphosa faces an additional 31 questions on the Phala Phala theft case. This time, it is based on his version to the Parliamentary panel led by retired chief justice Sandile Ngcobo.
The panel's queries, recorded in the panel report released on Wednesday, come as deputy public protector Kholeka Gqaleka has kept Ramaphosa's answer to the office's initial 31 questions a closely guarded secret. In Ramaphosa's version to the panel, a Sudanese businessman, Hazim Mustafa, walked into the Phala Phala game farm in Bela Bela, Limpopo, on Christmas Day of 2019. He carried at least $580 000 in cash. The purpose of this visit was to view animals.
On Hazim's arrival at the farm and whether it was pre-arranged:
1. How did Mr. Hazim know that there were buffaloes for sale on the farm?
2. Was the sale advertised?
3. There are further difficulties with the large amount of cash he was carrying. And if he came to the farm without prior arrangement, how did he know that the purchase price would be US$580 000, unless he was carrying more than US$580 000 in cash?"
4. How did he get this huge amount of cash into South Africa?
5. When he entered the country, did he declare to the South African authorities at the point of entry that he was carrying this amount of cash?
6. What is the source of this cash he had in his possession?
7. Did he produce any document indicating that he had authority from his country to take out of his country this amount of money?"
8. How did Mr. Hazim carry this money into South Africa?
9. We find the behaviour of Mr Hazim in carrying more than half a million US [dollars] in cash into South Africa and thereafter transporting it to the farm to be un-businessmen-like. We understand that customers pay cash or use money transfers for transactions. Why did Mr Hazim not pay by money transfer?"
Regarding the storage or concealment of the money in the sofa, the panel asked:
10. Was the money stored in the sofa with the knowledge of the President?
11. We assume that Phala Phala Wildlife has a safe to keep cash safe until it can be banked. Indeed, the money was first stored in the safe. Why is it that “several staff members” have access to the safe which increases the risk of the safety of cash?
12. Does this mean that “several staff members” have keys to the safe or access to code for the safe?
13. The money was kept in the safe on 25 December 2019, and it was still in the safe on 26 December 2019. When did Mr. Sylvestor Ndlovu’s [an employee at the farm who allegedly received the cash] concerns about keeping the money in the safe arise?
14. Perhaps it was because he was going away on holiday on 30 December 2019. On his return, why did he not take it out of the sofa?
15. At what stage was he going to give Hendrik von Wielligh [the farm manager] a report about the sale and the cash in the sofa?
16. Why was the money not taken to the bank before Mr Ndlovu left for the holiday on 30 December 2019?
17. Why did the President not take the money to the bank in light of the concerns expressed by Mr Ndlovu and the fact that Mr Ndlovu was going away on holiday?
18. Perhaps, the decision to “store” the money in the sofa was taken after the President had left the farm. But why did he not give Mr Ndlovu instructions to have the money banked pending the return of Mr. von Wielligh?
19. The money was kept in the sofa for him to return from holiday and process the transactions and thereafter bank the money. But did he?
20. Or did he know that among the herd of buffaloes on the farm, at least 20 were no longer for sale?
21. Did Mr von Wielligh eventually return to the farm, and if so, when?
22. We know that Mr von Wielligh was at the farm by 10 February 2020, because he reported the “security breach” to the President. Yet he did not report the stolen money, only Mr Ndlovu did. Why not?
23. Does this mean that as of 10 February 2020, Mr von Wielligh, the general Manager, had not yet been told about the sale of buffaloes and the cash in the sofa that was awaiting his return, for it to be processed and banked?
24. If Mr von Wielligh had not yet been told about the money by 10 February 2020, what was the cause of the delay?
25. Did he know anything about the alleged sale?
26. Did he know about the money that was hidden inside the sofa?
27. If he did know, why was he not told about the money?
The panel concluded that the cash would have been visible had it just been stored under a couch pillow, and it is likely that the sofa would have been opened underneath:
28. But why go through the process of turning the sofa upside down, opening it up and stuffing the inside a sofa to store money that was destined for the bank shortly? This was a leather sofa, one suspect said.
On why the allegedly bought buffaloes were still in Phala Phala:
29. Why would anyone pay such a huge sum of money in cash and thereafter leave the goods without indicating when he would come back to collect the buffaloes or leave an address for the delivery of the animals?
30. We would have expected Mr Hazim to have carried sufficient cash to pay for the costs of administration and facilitation of the export of these animals. Who was to be responsible for these costs, Mr Hazim or the farm?
On the audio clip of a suspect or suspects being interrogated about the theft:
31. If what the suspect and the investigator were saying is true about the money stolen, then there was more than US$ 580 000 hidden in the sofa. The question is where did this additional foreign currency come from?
SELECTED QUOTES FROM THE PHALA PHALA PANEL REPORT
“It is common cause that there was foreign currency that was “stored below the cushion” (according to the President) or “concealed” in a leather sofa (according to one of the suspects who was interviewed by the investigators)”.
“The information presented by the President on the storage of the money is vague and leaves unsettling gaps”.
“It is not clear whether the money was stored below the cushions or inside the sofa. If a sum of US$ 580 000 in cash money was “stored below the cushions” it would have been visible to anyone passing by”.
“In these circumstances, we find, as a matter of probability, that the money was in fact concealed inside a leather sofa, as the suspect who was interviewed stated in the audio clip provided to us”.
“And the President did not express surprise at being told that the money had not been kept in the safe".
“We are raising these questions because it is not uncommon for such a huge sum of money in cash to be stuffed inside a sofa and to remain there for more than 40 days without being banked”.
“We are left with the impression that [the alleged buyer] decided to come to the farm on Christmas day in 2019 to view buffaloes carrying more than half a million US$ in cash. After paying $580 000 for the buffaloes, [the alleged buyer] left with no indication when he would return to collect his buffaloes. In fact, there is no indication that he returned at all”.
“Regrettably, the acknowledgement of receipt is silent on whether the purchase price included other costs associated with the export of the animals or who was to be responsible for those costs”.
“The leaving of animals on the farm for over two years after paying more than half a million US$ for them, the absence of particulars of [the alleged buyer] in the acknowledgement of receipt, the lack of explanation as to what was to become of these animals, raise substantial doubt about the sale transaction itself”.
“On the version of the President, the only foreign currency that was in the sofa was a sum of US$ 580 000 in cash. There are, in our view two possibilities, either the whole amount that was inside the sofa was stolen, or a portion of it was stolen”.
“We are left to speculate about how much was stolen. Given the lapse of time since the theft occurred, by now it should have been established whether the whole amount was stolen or whether some of it was stolen”.
“Furthermore, the Presidency was reported to have said that reconciliation was being performed for money or transactions that occurred over the weekend of the theft. Yet to date, the exact amount that was stolen has not been made known”.