Kimberley – Further allegations that mining giant De Beers not only orchestrated Project Darling, the undercover illicit diamond dealing operation that led to the arrest of several prominent names in the local diamond industry, but that the company also paid police officials involved in the project, came to light in the Northern Cape High Court on Thursday.
Project Darling was a covert police operation that took place from February 2013 to February 2014.
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 arrest of the accused, who now face charges of illegal diamond dealing, possession and sale of unpolished diamonds, money laundering and racketeering.
However, defence witness Marius Korff, a former SAPS employee who went into the “private investigations sector”, this week dropped a bombshell when he testified that De Beers, together with a “front company”, Africa Ulwazi Management (AUM), orchestrated and funded Project Darling, as it was having “huge problems” with internal theft and the unlawful buying and selling of diamonds, especially in the Kimberley area.
Korff implicated Mike Brown, the then Chief Operations Officer of De Beers, Deon du Toit, the Head of Interventions at De Beers, and Frans Volschenk, the Global Chief Security Advisor of De Beers and the owner of AUM, in making several payments to not only Jephta but also to the case’s investigating officer, Warrant Officer Louis Potgieter, and his commander, Lieutenant-Colonel De Witt Botha.
Korff testified about several payments, averaging tens of thousands of rands, that were made through AUM to Potgieter and De Witt for “expenses”.
During cross-examination by the accused’s defence team, Korff stated that the code “blou man” was used when De Beers (through AUM) made “donations” or purchases for police officials.
He presented several invoices detailing these alleged payments but added that there were “several more” (payments) made to police officials.
After Korff was confronted with affidavits made by Du Toit and Volschenk, denying that he (Korff) had ever been involved with De Beers and denying his claims, Korff said that documentation, which included statements, invoices, car rental agreements and copies of mail correspondence from De Beers, contradicted their claims.
He also referred to a document on a De Beers letterhead, where he registered as an informer, and said that De Beers had issued him with UIF and PAYE forms after his employment with them ended.
“These affidavits are misrepresentations and fraud. Everything in there is false and the documents in my possession reflect that,” Korff said
The affidavit also apparently indicates that Korff had signed a “confidentiality clause” with De Beers regarding any work done for and with AUM.
“This confidentiality agreement related to trade secrets, which I never shared. You can’t hide a crime under the protection of a confidentiality clause. De Beers funded crimes and was involved in unlawful activities,” he added.
When asked why he had decided to testify on behalf of the accused, Korff said that “the truth had to come out”.
“The accused are sitting here today as a result of the illegal actions by De Beers. It was wrong to entrap them illegally. Now they are sitting with the trouble, while De Beers smells like roses,” Korff said.
Korff also stated that he had to appoint a bodyguard, who was sitting in court, following numerous threats and being followed and watched.
He further testified that Volschenk offered De Witt 2 000 carats worth of (illegal) De Beers diamonds to be used as ‘bait” during undercover operations. However, he stated that the diamonds were never used, and that diamonds from the police diamond registry were used instead.
“These De Beers diamonds were not supposed to be in their possession but were also never handed over to police,” Korff said.
Korff then described the operations of Jephta, stating that while he undertook contractual obligations with, and was paid by De Beers, he did his operations through the SAPS.
“This could never be in the interests of justice,” Korff said.
Korff then alleged that Jephta had complained to him that he “was sick” of Potgieter taking half his incentive money when he got paid by De Beers after successful operations and that he (Jephta) had allegedly travelled to Taiwan to sell diamonds he had “taken” during Project Darling.
Korff added that technical surveillance, in the form of video recordings taken by Jephta during operations with a concealed camera, was “a flop” as Jephta “could not follow instructions on how to operate the equipment”.
Korff also stated that the entrapment process was not followed and that the section 252 authorisation for entrapment was not obtained from both the SAPS and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
After being asked why there was no mention of De Beers in the docket, Korff said that he made several statements against the accused with regard to the transactions he was involved in. The defence made an application to have the statement made available, which was done by the State, shortly before the case adjourned.
The State prosecutor, Johan Roothman, is expected to continue the cross-examination of Korff when the trial against the thirteen 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 – continues in the Northern Cape High Court on Friday.