Adv Erin Richards on Bain’s involvement in bizarre SAPS/Beretta meeting

Adv. Erin Richards dissects what inferences can be drawn from a bizarre chain of emails Bain’s SA partner Vittoria Massone wrote to Italian arms manufacturer Beretta in September 2015. It details Bain’s involvement in preparations for a meeting between then police minister Nathi Nhleko, Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza, a host of Italian police officials, Interpol and Beretta executives. Whether or not the meeting took place is unclear but it begs the question why the tainted consultancy firm was operating in the shadows on what appears to have been planned procurement talks. – Michael Appel


Adv. Erin Richards on what informed her op-ed article

It wasn’t a comfortable piece for me to write. While I was reading Athol Williams’ testimony, I came across evidence of an email chain dated 2015 that was setting up a meeting between senior South African police officials, Interpol, senior Italian police officials, our minister of police, and representatives from Beretta, the firearms company. Bain was the one organising that meeting and it really grabbed my attention; it’s got me asking what I think are some very serious and important questions. I always found it curious that when Bain was consulting to SARS, one of the hallmarks of that period was the wholesale destruction of SARS’ enforcement units. Why was it? Why was there this necessity, this extreme pursuit of destroying SARS’ enforcement units? When I read those emails, I wondered if there might have been a connection between illicit trade and organised crime being pursued by Bain and the destruction of SARS’ enforcement units.

On worrying information contained in the emails

There are many worrying things about this meeting and the email chains. Firstly, this reference to wiretapping is suspect. If you’re not doing anything illegal, or anything shady, why are you worried about wiretapping? Second, this reference to the commissioner at the time [Riah Phiyega] who was subsequently suspended. That indicates Bain has inside knowledge that it shouldn’t have. The fact that this entire discussion was even happening is highly irregular and raises many questions.

On Bain’s possible reference to Zuma

I’m not sure which other president they could be referring to [in the emails]. This is very concerning because essentially what is being discussed here is some kind of procurement. It looks like, at some point, a policy decision was taken to move away from lethal weapons to possibly less lethal or non-lethal weapons. And that is why there is this phrase by Vittoria Massone that Beretta should position itself around non-lethal firearms. It looks like the minister of police at the time was also supposed to be at this meeting about a procurement issue. Now that is highly irregular, ministers don’t get involved in procurement.

On Lord Peter Hain’s call to boycott Bain

I think it is extremely necessary and I wish that there was more similar action happening in South Africa. What Lord Hain is doing is he’s applying significant public and international pressure to Bain, and South Africa as the place where all of this malfeasance happened in the first place. One would think that with the amount of evidence that has been brought forward by Bain’s obfuscatory conduct, their clear non-compliance with our laws, and with our Constitution, we would have seen a mass boycott. We would have seen people who had contracts with Bain finding lawful ways to withdraw from those contracts. We would have hoped to have seen people resigning from Bain South Africa, but instead we haven’t.

On where Bain continues to work

This is a serious bone of contention for me. It is why I always advocate for transparency, transparency, transparency. This is one of those moments where there should be full and frank disclosure about where Bain has worked. From 1994 onwards, where they are working now? Why is this information not forthcoming? Why is no one pushing for this? Why is Parliament not asking the questions? Why are the opposition parties not asking? I mean, it’s an obvious question. This is why I’m so concerned about this email because what we’re seeing here is not the full picture. It is a microcosm of a macro situation.

On the legal options available

The first is what the state can do in terms of South African law. You can prosecute a company and employees criminally. Technically, we could go after Bain, we could go after Massone, we could go after whoever else is implicated through these investigations. If you’re going to go after individuals like Vittoria Massone, you’re going to have to use the Extradition Act to extradite him and bring him back to South Africa to face trial. But all of that would happen only after an extensive investigation. We don’t even know at this point if such an investigation is going to happen. It is a recommendation in the Zondo report but we’ll see what the president’s response to that is.

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