CAPE TOWN - James-Brent Styan, the author of “Steinhoff inside SA’s Biggest Corporate Crash” is at it again, this time with an offering entitled “The Bosasa Billions”.
With South Africans still reeling from the revelations of state capture, the next bombshell hit the country: Bosasa grand-scale corruption that had cost taxpayers billions.
Styan and co-author Paul Vecchiatto give an all-inclusive account of how whistle-blower Angelo Agrizzi and Bosasa boss Gavin Watson soon became household names while gripping testimony before the Zondo commission held the public in thrall: little black books, elaborate bribes and walk-in vaults.
Styan, who describes this as some of his best work yet, tells how President Cyril Ramaphosa - the man tasked with reforming the country- became entangled in the web himself, and how it sparked a political firestorm that has threatened to engulf his presidency.
Styan is a former financial and parliamentary journalist, and Vecchiatto is a parliamentary correspondent for several publications and wire services.
Peter-Louis Myburgh, the author of “Gangster State” describes “The Bosasa Billions” as a timely thorough account of the Bosasa saga. “The chronicle of the transition from freedom fighters to unscrupulous state capture is astonishing.”
This is the story of how one company hijacked the state to establish an extensive tender network stretching right to the top of the ANC government.
The late Watson’s employees likened the workings of his company to that of a cult. Ultimately, however, Bosasa was not in the business of saving souls. It was selling them.
An extract from the book:
Angelo Agrizzi is playing a video on his laptop.
It is being projected onto bigger screens for the audience at the Zondo Commission to see what he sees. The footage is a shot inside a vault, but the only thing you can really see is a row of empty steel shelves. The angle is bad.
A voice can be heard talking about Monopoly money and there is laughter. For a while the sounds are indistinct. Then a voice is heard clearly again: “Got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…”
Judge Raymond Zondo interrupts: “Who is counting there?”
Agrizzi replies: “Andries van Tonder is counting. He is a very nervous type of person, so he knows what he is doing is wrong, and he is trying to count it.”
“Okay,” says Zondo.
“He is making mistakes,” Agrizzi says.
The video rolls. Some more comments are heard in the background.
Adv. Paul Pretorius chips in: “Stop there. That reference to Monopoly money . . .” Agrizzi lifts his left hand sideways, palm up and shrugs. He grins: “It was a frequent reference by Mr Watson. Cash was nothing in the company. It was just money. It was paper.”
He is sitting slouched to his left.
Zondo wants to know more. “Is there any special meaning to be given? Why is he referring to it as Monopoly money?”
Agrizzi shrugs: “I once asked him [Watson] what does Monopoly money mean, and he said to me: One, it is just Monopoly money, so we can get the monopoly. Two, because it is just playing money. You are playing with people.”
Judging by the stacks of cash in the vault, the counting of the money appears to be a major operation. “When you handle large amounts of cash like that, one bundle is 100, so if you hear the knocking on the table, that is a pack of a hundred being put down.”
Zondo: “One hundred thousand . . . So, you are able to tell that that stack of . . . R100 notes is actually a million?”
“It is a million,” Agrizzi confirms.
The secret video continues rolling.
Pretorius stops it again: “We then hear someone say, ‘All right, okay, I will just – now we just get that six thousand that they still owe us.’ Do you know factually what was being spoken about here?”
Agrizzi nods: “What happened was that there was no time to check money in the open on the street. It was a very dangerous process.” He is referring to the massive money-laundering operation Bosasa was running to keep its vaults full. “Somebody would have to meet up with the supplier of the cash on the side of the road, normally it was at Lanseria. There is a petrol station there; they would meet up and the box of money would be transferred from a nondescript car into, say, for instance, Andries’s car. There was no time to count it on the side of the road.” It would be counted in the secretary’s vault and then the person who delivered would be phoned and told he had been short on his previous delivery and be expected to fix it with the following delivery.
Agrizzi says Van Tonder normally did the collections. “I did occasionally, but very seldom.”
He testified earlier that all his records of the bribes had been handed over to the commission. This included his infamous “little black book” and several handwritten pages of codes and numbers.
Agrizzi now says that he and Van Tonder were paid bribes too.
During the interview with Business Report, Styan sent his condolences to the Watson family.
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE