As the three alleged burglars in the US$580,000 Phala-Phala heist applied for bail in the Bela-Bela Magistrate's Court on Friday, more questions are being raised by the role of the man central to the scandal - President Cyril Ramaphosa.
While he was not physically present at court, the spectre of Ramaphosa hung heavy as Imanuwela David, Froliana Joseph, and her sibling, David Joseph appeared in court. The trio is implicated in a daring theft at President Ramaphosa's Limpopo game farm, Phala Phala, in 2020.
This money is believed to be proceeds from the sale of buffalo herds to Sudanese businessman Hazim Mustafa. Froliana Joseph, employed as a cleaner at the lodge, is accused of discovering the concealed cash and informing her accomplices, leading to the burglary.
Last week, after months of investigations which have spanned various tiers of the State from the Public Protector to the South African Reserve Bank, the Hawks finally charged the Joseph siblings and Imanuwela David for the burglary.
The Bela-Bela Magistrate's Court on Friday reserved judgment in the trio’s bid for bail and they are set to spend the next week in custody.
The Phala Phala scandal, has however placed President Ramaphosa at the centre of a controversy that threatens to upend his presidency and the ruling ANC - less than a year from the next general election.
The scandal, which has been unfolding over several months, revolves around a significant sum of foreign currency allegedly stolen from President Ramaphosa's Phala Phala farm in Limpopo in early 2020.
The incident, which was not reported to the police at the time, came to light in June 2022 when Arthur Fraser, a former intelligence chief and Ramaphosa critic, filed a criminal complaint.
Fraser accused the president of kidnapping, bribery, and obstruction of justice, alleging that Ramaphosa concealed the theft to avoid scrutiny over the source and legality of the money.
The president, who has maintained a reputation for integrity and vowed to combat corruption within the ANC and the government, vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
A Public Protector inquiry and a year-long probe by South African Reserve Bank's (SARB) cleared President Ramaphosa of any 'technical wrongdoing' within its defined parameters.
Central to the Reserve Bank's conclusion is the concept of a "perfected transaction." The transaction in question, involving the non-delivery of a buffalo to businessman Hazim Mustafa, failed to meet legal prerequisites. This absence of a completed legal transaction led SARB to determine that there was no requirement under the 1961 exchange control regulations to declare the foreign currency.
Advocate Paul Hoffman, the director of Accountability Now said there was definitely “something funny going on there”, adding that the president, like the three accused had a criminal case to answer.
“His real legal problem comes from section 34 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities. That section says that if more than R150,000 or goods to the value of more than R150,000 is stolen, you are obliged to report it to the Hawks. Not to your bodyguard, not to your security but to the Hawks. And it's very clear that he hasn't done so. And when you don't do that, then you are guilty of a criminal offence,” he said.
Hoffman said that when this issue was dealt with by the Public Protector, she said in her report that it was a criminal matter that should be dealt with by the Hawks.
“And of course, we know that the Hawks have never gone after anybody that is politically well connected in South Africa, and you can't be more politically well connected than the President. That's why nothing has happened about that. And I don't know what his explanation is. If he thought he was doing all right, by telling his head of security about it and thought he had acquitted himself of his obligations, why is he so rough and tough with the former CEO of Eskom, Andre De Ruyter who also did not report instances to the Hawks?
“This whole thing reeks to high heaven and I don't think that the Reserve Bank has covered itself in glory either by saying that the money wasn't really his,” Hoffman said.