🔒 Arthur Fraser: A ‘Zuma man’ for all seasons

By Michael Appel

Arthur Fraser is in the headlines a lot these days – for two reasons specifically – he’s the former spy boss who granted former President Jacob Zuma his medical parole, and also the man who laid charges against Cyril Ramaphosa over the February 2020 Phala Phala theft saga.

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But Fraser is alleged to have done a whole lot more nefarious stuff – most of it in the shadows – as one would expect in the intelligence world. Also, don’t forget Fraser is the man accused of leaking the so-called spy tapes to Zuma’s legal team which initially saw the NPA dropping corruption charges against Zuma in 2009. Those tapes revealed recorded conversations between then Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and former NPA head Bulelani Ncguka about when the most politically damaging time would be to charge Zuma with corruption. 

The emergence of these spy tapes was used as proof that there was a political conspiracy being waged against Zuma to scupper his presidential ambitions. Ultimately,  Thabo Mbeki was defeated by Zuma at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in December 2007 – where Mbeki, worryingly, was seeking a third term in office.

SOUTH AFRICA – MAY 07: Arthur Fraser, Director-General of Correctional Services on May 07, 2019 in South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Die Burger/Sarel van der Walt)

So those are at least three examples of how significant Fraser has been in the broader political context of South Africa. Had the NPA never dropped the corruption charges against Zuma – as a result of Fraser’s sleight of hand with those tapes – who knows? Zuma could have been successfully prosecuted and jailed. South Africa would have been spared nine disastrous, ruinous years in which the state was repurposed for the benefit of a select few, including, of course, Zuma’s mates the Guptas. 

If the surname Fraser sounds slightly familiar that’s because Arthur is the brother of former Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi. Her husband Jabu Moleketi was the former deputy finance minister in Thabo Mbeki’s presidency. So this is a family never far from power and politics.

As for Fraser’s earlier years – unsurprisingly there isn’t much on the internet but the Correctional Services Department website says he was involved in student politics and joined the ANC early in his life. Upon his return to South Africa, Fraser joined the newly-formed National Intelligence Agency (NIA) – where he was seconded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as an investigator. He would go on to serve as the head of national intelligence in the Western Cape, as well as doing a stint at the Department of Home Affairs as the Deputy Director General (DDG) for the National Immigration Branch. Thereafter, he returned to the NIA as the DDGl in charge of offensive and counter-intelligence operations. 

As for his qualifications, he initially claimed – quite bizarrely – to hold a BA Honours degree in Film and Video Production from the rather prestigious University of London. Only problem is he never studied there and that degree doesn’t exist at that institution. After probing questions from the media he relented and said there’d been a misunderstanding and he’d instead graduated from The London Institute.

As for his time in the private sector, he co-founded a company called Resurgent Risk Managers along with former NIA boss Manala Manzini. Never far from controversy, in 2014 this particular company would dubiously score R14.3m from the South African Social Security Agency for “consultancy services”. A year later the company won a R90m contract from the Passenger Rail Agency (Prasa) on consignment. That means without a tender on the basis of urgency or a lack of competitors. They were to provide security and risk advisory services to Prasa – not exactly niche areas of work in South Africa. 

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – APRIL 19: New Correctional Services Commissioner Arthur Fraser during his appearance in Parliament on April 19, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. Fraser, a former director general of the State Security Agency, has accused the Inspector General of Intelligence Setlhomamaru Dintwe of misleading the public. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Fraser claimed to have resigned from Resurgent Risk Managers before he took office as the Director General (DG) at the State Security Agency (SSa) in September 2016. A National Treasury investigation found Fraser had quite possibly submitted a fake tax certificate for the work at Prasa. Law enforcement was supposed to investigate but it went nowhere – as always seems to be the case when it comes to Fraser.

The fifth instalment of the State Capture Inquiry’s report deals with the State Security Agency. I’m going to curtail what happened there insofar as it relates to Fraser and a few other characters.

Zondo’s report gives us an indication of just how critical an arm of government the intelligence service is when the state is repurposed to serve narrow party-political and financial interests. The report states: “One of the reasons why intelligence services are susceptible to politicisation is that they are valuable tools, the use and control of which can help cement political power”.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – NOVEMBER 15: The launch of investigative journalist Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keepers at Kelvin Grove on November 15, 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa. The book, which has been widely shared on social media, investigates damning allegations against President Jacob Zuma and the capture of state owned entities. (Photo by Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Between 2008 and 2010 at least, Fraser ran something called the Principal Agent Network (PAN). I’ll let investigative journalist and author Jacques Pauw describe what exactly PAN was, taken from his book The President’s Keepers:

“A Principal Agent Network is intelligence jargon for spy handlers (the principals) who engage, manage and deploy spies (or agents) to perform specific services or functions on behalf of the agency.”

So, it’s not rocket science – you employ people to spy for you and you provide them with resources to do that. Internal SSA investigators would uncover there were 72 agents in the PAN programme. Among other things, the PAN slush fund was used to buy 293 cars which they stored in leased warehouses across the country at a cost of R24m.

Pauw continues in his book: “It was known as the Principal Agent Network and had a limitless budget. Millions of rands in cash were transported in suitcases from a state money depot in Pretoria central to ‘the Farm’ – the nickname for the agency’s headquarters, otherwise known as Musanda, on the shores of the Rietvlei Dam, south of Pretoria. Much of the money in the PAN slush fund was squandered.”

Extract from State Capture Commission Report V Vol 1

According to Zondo’s report, an internal team of the SSA conducted an investigation into the PAN project.

The Zondo Report states: “The investigations involved Mr Fraser: The crimes investigated were fraud and corruption; properties had been bought with ulterior motives which ended up with private individuals; people were employed without security clearance; 300 cars and computers were bought and not used. The number of houses bought was substantial, all over Gauteng; they were registered in the names of some private people including children. All in all, an amount of R600 million had been spent in that way.”

Testifying before the commission, the former DG of the SSA, Ambassador Jeff Maqetuka, explained his concerns around Fraser’s PAN project. It wasn’t linked to any SSA structure, reports didn’t go to headquarters, the database was kept at Fraser’s house in violation of security protocol. These actions were detrimental to the information, the informants, and undermined trust in the system that Maqetuka said “could be treasonable in other countries”. He says Fraser was a law unto himself, acted with the authority of a DG, and it became a free-for-all with large sums of cash being carried out of the SSA with no accountability.

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – MAY 25: Siyabonga Cwele takes an oath during the swearing-in ceremony on May 25, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. New ministers were sworn in yesterday at the Presidential Guest House. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Brendan Croft)

In 2010 the Hawks concluded their investigation into PAN and the NPA was ready to prosecute. But then, in stepped former State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, halting the whole process “apparently on the instructions of President Zuma, on the basis that prosecuting Mr Fraser would compromise national security.”

Just as an aside – Minister Cwele’s wife Sheryl was convicted of drug smuggling in May 2011 and sentenced to 20 years in jail. After her conviction, the couple divorced. It doesn’t instil much confidence when the State Security Minister’s wife is a drug lord. Intelligence operatives were even providing protection to her while she was being ferried to and from the courthouse.

PIETERMARITZBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – 6 May 2011: Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele’s wife, Sheryl Cwele at the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on 6 May 2011. (Photo by Gallo Images/Beeld/Dries Liebenberg)

But back to Fraser. After a damning internal investigation of the PAN project, in 2010 Fraser resigned. Of course he’d be back. In May 2014 David Mahlobo was appointed as the new State Security Minister by Zuma. Fun fact: Mahlobo would be caught on camera in an Al Jazeera documentary chatting with a self-confessed criminal and rhino horn smuggler in a “spa” in Nelspruit in 2016. The rhino horn smuggler says in the video that he and the minister are friends and Mahlobo had even visited his private home. These allegations were rubbished by the Minister and nothing ever came of police investigations.

Despite the cloud of allegations surrounding Fraser when he left the NIA – Mahlobo announced his appointment as the head of the SSA in September 2016. According to testimony at the State Capture Inquiry, Mahlobo stands accused of withdrawing R2.5m a month, allegedly for Zuma’s use. That figure later escalated to R4.5m a month in cash. This is based on the evidence of two eyewitnesses. Mahlobo denies any wrongdoing.

Jacob Zuma David Mahlobo
File Photo: Former State Security Minister David Mahlobo is seen in conversation with former president Jacob Zuma.

Something else Mahlobo did when Fraser came into office as the DG was increase the SSA’s budget by 621% from R42m in 2016/2017 to R303m the following financial year. Almost 75% of that budget would be used for covert operations directly out of Fraser’s office. He too is implicated in withdrawing huge amounts of cash  – R125m of which remains unaccounted for personally by Fraser.

The report found there was also evidence of the most glaring abuse of the vetting system by Fraser when he headed up the SSA.

Zondo said: “After the Inspector General of Intelligence [IGI], Dr [Setlhomamaru] Dintwe, told Fraser that he was investigating him as the result of a complaint levelled against him with the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence, Fraser revoked Dr Dintwe’s security clearance. Dr Dintwe had to go to court to have his certificate restored.”

The IGI is supposed to oversee the entire intelligence structure including the work of the DG – Fraser. His removal of Dintwe’s security clearance is akin to going to your boss and revoking his or her access to the building, or blocking your boss from conducting a performance appraisal of you.

Zondo recommends that the Hawks resume their 2010 investigations into the PAN programme, that monies withdrawn and squandered be recouped, and that Fraser, among others, be investigated by law enforcement.

The Chief Justice makes the point that our intelligence structures operate or operated as a law unto themselves ,void of any meaningful scrutiny or oversight. What illustrates this is the country hasn’t had a permanent IGI – the person tasked with Parliamentary oversight – for over 22 months.

Extract from State Capture Commission Report V Vol I

Over the decades one gets the sense that there was a lot of mutually beneficial back scratching between Zuma and Fraser.

Zondo sums it up as follows: “The picture that emerges is that Mr Zuma put a stop to an investigation that could well have led to Mr Fraser’s arrest, prosecution, and maybe imprisonment and Mr Fraser put a stop to Mr Zuma’s continued incarceration.” 

There’s a pattern that keeps going about in my head. 

Fraser gets his hands on the spy tapes and leaks them to Zuma’s legal team; NPA drops corruption charges against Zuma and he becomes President. Zuma stops charges being brought against Fraser for mass illegality in the PAN programme. Fraser is then free to become DG of the SSA. Finally, Fraser – as Correctional Services Commissioner – grants Zuma his medical parole and lays charges against Ramaphosa. Those charges continue to hang around the President’s neck like an albatross with no public explanation yet forthcoming.

Requests for comment were put to Fraser’s attorney Eric Mabuza with no response.

To read the high-level panel review on the SSA, click here.

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