Kimberley - As the illicit diamond dealing trial against 13 prominent people in the local diamond industry continued in the Northern Cape High Court on Tuesday, it was revealed that a private mining company, and not the police, had previously paid a civilian undercover agent R12 million to entrap suspects, raising questions whether De Beers might have paid millions to the agent in this case.
The 13 accused - Ashley Brooks, Patrick Mason, Manojkumar Detroya, Komilan Packirisamy, Ahmed Khorani, Antonella Florio-Poone, McDonald Visser, Willem Weenink, Sarel van Graaf, Carl van Graaf, Kevin Urry, Trevor Pikwane and Frank Perridge - were arrested by the Hawks in August 2014 following a covert police operation called "Project Darling" that took place from February 2013 to February 2014.
The accused face charges of illegal diamond dealing, possession and sale of unpolished diamonds, money laundering and racketeering.
During the operation, an undercover agent, Linton Jephta, was assigned to infiltrate identified individuals (suspects) in Kimberley and Johannesburg. His assignment was to purport that he was unlawfully selling unpolished diamonds which, in fact, belonged to the State. Numerous transactions led to the arrests of the accused.
However, Jephta, in an exclusive interview with the DFA earlier this year, said that he planned to seriously compromise the case unless the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) paid him the compensation they reportedly promised him.
During the interview, Jephta threatened to "blow the case wide open" and even "expose De Beers employees" if the Hawks did not make an "outstanding" payment of R4 million to him.
He said that he only received R1 million of the R5 million his "handler" had promised he would receive after the arrests.
These allegations by Jephta have sent defence teams into a flurry, with Advocate Terry Price, representing Brooks, Mason, Pikwane and Urry, on Tuesday questioning State witness, Lieutenant Colonel David Mahlangu, who was in the witness box for a second day, about the origins of payments made to undercover agents.
Mahlangu is a retired employee of the SAPS and was formerly attached to the South African Diamond and Precious Metal Unit.
He testified that his role was to apply for the authorisation of applications (from the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation Unit) for the test sale of unpolished diamonds belonging to the National Diamond Stock Controller and receive and hand over these diamonds which were used by the "agent" in the transactions implicating the accused.
Mahlangu earlier testified that civilians, instead of police officials, would sometimes be used as undercover agents during traps and that, during his time in the service, the most that such a civilian agent was paid for his services was R12 million.
Price on Tuesday requested more details about this instance and Mahlangu answered by saying that the agent was used during Project Phulyaka, an operation that took place in Marico in 2007 and ended in a trial.
He told the court that while the agent did not testify, he was paid R12 million, not by police but by mining company Anglo Platinum.
This led to an audible gasp from the accused and members of the public attending the trail.
When asked by Price where the money came from to pay Jephta and if De Beers had supplied it, Mahlangu said he had "no idea".
Mahlangu is expected to return to the witness stand when the trial continues on Wednesday.
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