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NPA kept the Phala Phala robbery a ‘top secret’

President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking at the Opening Ceremony of the 5th Global Conference on Elimination of Child Labour at Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in eThekwini. Photo: GCIS/Kopano Tlape

President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking at the Opening Ceremony of the 5th Global Conference on Elimination of Child Labour at Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in eThekwini. Photo: GCIS/Kopano Tlape

Published Jun 19, 2022

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Johannesburg - South African authorities allegedly gave the Namibian police the silent treatment to frustrate their investigation into suspects linked to the robbery at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm.

It has been established that at least two official letters and numerous phone calls from their Namibian counterparts who sought assistance to put the robbery of American dollars, estimated to be between $4 million and $8 million at Ramaphosa’s farm to bed, went unanswered.

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This week, at least three sources indicated that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) received communication in 2020 regarding the robbery and assistance was sought from them, but nothing materialised.

On Friday, a senior former NPA official who asked not to be named to protect his identity confirmed that he had seen two letters from Namibia seeking legal assistance from South African authorities.

“We were caught in a catch-22 situation. It was either we confirm to our Namibian counterparts that our president was robbed and expose the robbery that we were told to keep as a top-secret or ignore the Namibians hoping the matter would eventually disappear. But little did we know that it would come back and haunt us.

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"I received a phone call from a senior official from the Namibian government who complained that we, South Africa, were frustrating their investigation and pleaded with me to speed up the processes. They wanted simple things, a case number and the name of the investigation officer, but no case was opened as the matter was supposed to remain under the radar and kept secret from the public.

“I tried my level best to assist the Namibians, but I was sent from pillar to post. Eventually, the Namibians had to cancel the preservation order after they seized some of the assets that the robbers bought with the proceeds of their crime,” the official said.

He confirmed that the first letter from Namibia came around June 2020 and that the second letter in July was a reminder that “we hadn't responded to their June letter”.

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“We were trying to protect information about this robbery at all costs. The Namibians were trying to solve the case by any means necessary,” he said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa engages media in parliament about current issues including the break in at his farm and the foreign currency that was found. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

However, the NPA spokesperson, Mthunzi Mhaga, denied that the Namibians had contacted the NPA regarding the robbery at President Ramaphosa’s farm.

Mhanga said the current leadership was unaware of this matter until it was made public “and is not aware of any contact made by Namibian authorities on the matter”.

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The Sunday Independent was told by at least three sources with intimate knowledge that Namibian authorities sent two letters to the South African government. One of them, dated July 23, 2020, was sent to the Department of Justice, which is the central authority for co-ordinating all international mutual legal assistance, asking for a case number and the name of the investigating officer probing the robbery of the president’s farm but all was in vain.

All the five men who robbed Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm in Bela-Bela, Limpopo, on February 9, 2020, are Namibian nationals. They allegedly fled back home shortly after the robbery. But their first stop was Cape Town, where they allegedly exchanged some of the dollars for South African rands before they went on a shopping spree buying cars, including a Lamborghini and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon.

Namibian prosecutor-general Martha Imalwa confirmed to the Sunday Independent this week that she is the one who advised the local police to seek mutual legal assistance from South Africa.

“They wanted my office to prepare a preservation order, but there was some outstanding information missing from South Africa, and I advised them to contact their South African counterparts for these missing details, but in the end, nothing came out of it,” Imalwa said.

She confirmed that Namibian police told her office that their investigation was triggered by suspicious bank transactions of certain individuals who were transferring a large amount of money into their bank accounts from South Africa.

“We looked into the evidence from police and advised them that the offence seems to have been committed in South Africa and that they should seek legal assistance there.”

Inspector General of the Namibian Police, Sebastian Ndeitunga, confirmed this week in a press statement that their investigation was triggered on suspicion of banking transactions from South Africa to Namibia and denied that they did “dirty work” for Ramaphosa.

“The Namibian police force identified individuals, bank accounts and various properties including lodges, houses and vehicles suspected to have been purchased with proceeds of crime and consulted the prosecutor general’s office to consider a preservation order of the assets,” the statement said.

The statement added that South African authorities failed to help them.

“A preservation order was issued, and a formal request was made through the ministry of justice to South Africa to confirm whether or not a crime was registered in South Africa. However, no response was received from South African authorities, resulting in the cancellation of the preservation order and release of assets,” the statement added.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola’s spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, yesterday said: “We have noted reports about the request for information from the Namibian authorities. We can confirm ongoing engagements through the diplomatic channels to establish if there is a record of the request.”

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola

Two weeks ago, the robbery came to light when former state security Director-General, Arthur Fraser, opened a criminal case against Ramaphosa and the head of the Presidential Protection Unit, Wally Rhoode, at Rosebank Police Station in Johannesburg.

In his affidavit, Fraser accused Ramaphosa of failing to report the robbery at any police station and instead asked Rhoode to trace the robbers and retrieve their loot. Fraser claims the five robbers were tracked and apprehended and allegedly tortured to reveal where they had stashed the stolen money.

It is further claimed that some of the stolen money was recovered and retrieved. The robbers, including Ramaphosa’s domestic worker, who was allegedly the instigator of the robbery, were paid R150 000 each to buy their silence and not to reveal any information about the theft.

Fraser met with members of the directorate for priority crime investigation, who are investigating this case, this week and “furnished the Hawks with additional information and details to enable them to do their work”.

Ramaphosa has confirmed a robbery at his farm. He, however, has not given any further information regarding how much was stolen or in the house.

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