Attorney accused of cross-border corporate espionage

After his arrest admitted attorney and former employee of the Moti Group, Clinton van Niekerk, launched an urgent application under highly questionable circumstances in the Durban High Court to secure his release. Picture: File

After his arrest admitted attorney and former employee of the Moti Group, Clinton van Niekerk, launched an urgent application under highly questionable circumstances in the Durban High Court to secure his release. Picture: File

Published Apr 28, 2023


By Philip Spies

During the latter months of 2022 the Moti Group of Companies, which encompasses South African and Zimbabwean registered companies, realised that several thousands of it and its employees’ confidential and/or sensitive documents had been leaked to the media and other third parties.

This set in motion an investigation which led to criminal charges in South Africa and Zimbabwe being filed against an admitted attorney and former employee of the group, Clinton van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk, who was employed by Mazetti Management Services, resigned under suspicious circumstances. Van Niekerk was eventually arrested while boarding a flight at the King Shaka International Airport in Durban in what appears to have been an attempt to flee South Africa in order to avoid prosecution.

Subsequent to his arrest, representatives of Van Niekerk launched an urgent application under highly questionable circumstances in the Durban High Court to secure his release on the grounds that he “fears for his life”.

Clinton van Niekerk.

Copies of the “testimony” in court read like the plot of a B-grade movie. Van Niekerk’s representatives claimed he was cooperating with Australian police, who arranged for a visa for Van Niekerk to travel to London to testify in some unspecified crime.

These representatives did not attempt to explain why the Australian or London authorities would be interested in alleged crimes committed in South Africa, nor did they explain how the Australian authorities would arrange a visa for the UK. Van Niekerk was released the next day, and is now alleged to be in a witness protection program, though his representatives could not supply any proof of this.

Strangely when various publications covered these events, none of the journalists questioned the logic behind this “Hollywood-like” sequence of events where apparently Australian and British authorities would have any input or even interest in South African crimes, when neither of these two countries could assist with the myriad of questions surrounding the Phala Phala scandal.

In an urgent application lodged on February 13, 2023, in the Durban High Court, David Willoughby of Mazetti applied to have the order securing Van Niekerk’s release set aside.

Willoughby claimed that Van Niekerk broke the confidentiality provisions of his employment contract and “inter alia, the Protection of Personal Information Act, the Cyber Crimes Act, and the Criminal Procedure Act”.

This theft is the subject of an ongoing investigation and the court proceedings are ongoing. Criminal charges were also filed in Zimbabwe due to the fact that Van Niekerk stole some of the documents while he was in Zimbabwe, and several of the stolen documents are the property of Zimbabwean companies. Confidential sources informed us that South African and Zimbabwean authorities are cooperating in a cross-border investigation, which would most likely include Interpol.

The company information, which contains confidential information, was provided to The Sentry by Van Niekerk or his accomplices and Mazetti has since taken up the matter with The Sentry and its sponsors.

Mazetti had been reliably informed that The Sentry, represented by Nick Donovan, is working with van Niekerk and was furnished with, and is utilising, the confidential documentation that Van Niekerk stole from the group. It is further alleged that Van Niekerk is manufacturing a false narrative in order to support the version of events on which he was released from custody and that he has advanced this narrative to The Sentry in an attempt to gain some support for his illegitimate claims of being a ‘whistle-blower’.

The Sentry is a non–profit organisation sponsored by several high-profile individuals and foundations. It was further co-founded by George Clooney, and reportedly received donations from NGOs and celebrities in the US.

Mazetti has requested on no less than five occasions, in writing, that The Sentry return all documentation supplied by Van Niekerk, an alleged criminal. Mazetti also requested that they be afforded the opportunity to confirm the authenticity of the documents.

Mazetti points out that any documents Van Niekerk had possession of could have been altered in a variety of ways to support his narrative. In a letter this reporter has seen, The Sentry denies acting in any way unlawfully, but still refuses to supply Mazetti with any documents they possess. This, despite the fact that any use, and even possession, of stolen documents would make them an accessory to the crime according to South African law.

In a digital age where illegal access and theft of digital information is increasingly common, the media must be held to a higher standard. One wonders why an alleged theft like this is excused when the media claims to act in the public interest, yet the same actions by an anonymous hacker would be seen as illegal in most countries.

If the allegations against The Sentry turn out to be true, their behaviour promotes the theory of a pre-determined false narrative against the group and the public’s increasing scepticism of the neutrality of the media. The phrase “fake-news” was famously used to great effect by former US president Donald Trump and has damaged the public trust in the media, and The Sentry’s actions do nothing to improve this trust.