Deconstructing Angelo Agrizzi, Bosasa kingpin turned State Capture canary

LONDON — For nine days at the end of January, on a live televised broadcast of South Africa’s Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Angelo Agrizzi unburdened himself of 19 years of nefarious deeds. His testimony had the nation riveted. Here was a self-admitted criminal kingpin providing the proof, naming the names of those who had been robbing the state in broad daylight. Each day he delivered yet more names from a little black book where the bribes, and those who received them, had been meticulously recorded. Agrizzi carried the title of chief operating officer of Bosasa, a company whose business model was the bribing of state officials to guarantee it was awarded massively inflated government contracts. Over the years Agrizzi estimated that he paid over R432m to Bosasa’s crooked associates, with the volume of cash required to feed the corrupt network eventually reaching R6m a month. Getting his hands on so many notes forced Agrizzi to strike deals with cash generative operations like Jumbo Liquor wholesalers who collaborated by paying fictitious invoices – after first extracting a 5% handling fee. Last week Agrizzi broke cover for the first time since his marathon testimony, when he was interviewed by Chad Thomas, a forensic investigator who presents the Confidential Brief show on Johannesburg radio station Chai FM (101.9FM). Here are the highlights of those riveting 45 minutes – with my own context added where appropriate. – Alec Hogg

This is The Rational Perspective, I’m Alec Hogg, and in this episode Angelo Agrizzi, the State Capture canary. For nine days in January South Africans were riveted by the live testimony of one Angelo Agrizzi, a corpulent canary who sang more sweetly than any other to the Zondo Commission of Enquiry into State Capture. Agrizzi, who decided to spill the beans after a near death experience, lived the high-life for decades as paymaster in chief, or supposed chief operating officer of Bosasa, a criminal organisation, which secured massively over-priced taxpayer funded contracts by bribing State Officials right up to former president, Jacob Zuma. Bosasa cut its teeth in the mining industry starting off by corrupting trade union leaders who then strong-armed mine managers into accepting the companies bloated tenders to run canteens and security services.

After conquering the mining sector, the company’s founder, Gavin Watson, used the identical template to reap far juicier profit margins in the State sector. Regular cash payments to crooked officials ensured inflated government tenders got awarded to Bosasa with packets of cash going to those employed in law enforcement agencies to ensure there was no threat of prosecution.

The central character in the unfolding saga lives in the appropriately named Palazzo Agrizzi, a mansion which would not be out of place if featured in the television series on the homes of the rich and famous. Three Ferraris occupy a climate-controlled garage with a customised golden BMW and Porsche Cayenne parked outside between two golf-carts that had been costumed made from Ferrari and Maserati parts, each worth about R250k. Agrizzi owns tens of millions Rands worth of art, an efficient way to launder dirty cash.

Last week Agrizzi was interviewed on Johannesburg’s Chai FM by Chad Thomas, a professional forensic investigator who presents the stations ‘Confidential Brief’ program. Here, with permission of Chai FM’s station manager, Kathy Kaler, are the highlights of that gripping 45-minute interview with some context from my side, where appropriate.

How is your health?

I am in perfect health. My health couldn’t have been better and I think with all the stress that I’ve been through in the last 19-years taken away, I think that my health is phenomenal.

I remember you discussing what had happened with your heart and that you had an operation where you had actually died on the table.

I’m pretty healthy. I’m active and yes, I’m doing well now.

Angelo, let’s dive right in. How long did you work for Bosasa and its associated companies?

I worked for Bosasa for close on 19-years.

What took you so long to come forward and to make these incredible allegations during your testimony at the State Capture Enquiry?

Well, it’s been a long time coming and I think it’s the same question I ask women that are in abusive relationships, ‘why do you stick it out so long?’ Well, because you hope it’s going to get better. You can only make recommendations. You can only try and speak to people to try and change their ways. It took me quite a considerable amount of time, years, to get out of it and to be quite honest with you, Chad, it was like living and working in a cult environment. I think using religion and using prayer meetings for instance, every single morning, to be able to communicate to people to kind of cover up the bad stuff makes it a cult. We’ve seen it all over the world.

You’ve appeared before the State Capture Enquiry and shortly thereafter you and others, who are allegedly indicated in corruption were arrested. The obviously question that everybody wants to know – why was Gavin Watson not arrested?

I’d love to answer that question for you but quite simply, Gavin Watson was very clever in how he does things. His name doesn’t appear anywhere and he always pushes other people to the front.

Gavin Watson is the founder and owner Bosasa, the eldest of four-sons of a preacher from the Eastern Cape. The Watsons grew-up on a farm near Somerset East and enjoyed impeccable anti-apartheid credentials through Gavin’s brother Daniel, better known by his nickname of Cheeky, who was a talented rugby player four-decades ago. In 1976, then 21-year-old Cheeky Watson was selected on the wing for the Junior Springboks. He was subsequently invited to trials for the senior team to take on the New Zealand All Blacks that toured SA that year. That would have been the pinnacle of any Springbok’s career. Cheeky Watson though incurred the wrath of the rugby establishment by spurning the invitation deciding instead to play with his brother Valence, for the otherwise all black Spring Rose Club from Port Elizabeth’s New Brighton Township. The brothers subsequently represented their Province in the Multiracial KWARU Union and that evoked threats from the establishment and included them being shot at. After democracy in SA in 1994, the Watsons were honoured for their contribution to the creation of non-racial rugby in the country.

Tell us about your heritage?

Well, my heritage is very simple. My father came to SA in the 1950s, and he stayed. He married a South African girl and he enjoyed the way she was cooking and he stayed, and that’s my heritage. I am South African born. I lived in Germiston for a good part of 20 years of my life and then moved around the country.

What is your background? What is it that you did before Bosasa?

Well, before Bosasa I was very involved in food so, I started my life out in a little bakery that a lot your community will know, in the Germiston area, called Roxana Bakery. It was a favourite hangout of all the Jewish people as well and I started learning how to bake bread there at the age of 14-years-old. I then got into the food business and I’m actually a qualified chef by trade.

Are you now afraid based on what’s come out for the safety of your family and for yourself?

I’m not afraid at all. I do believe that God has my back and I’m doing the right things for the right reasons and for that reason I’m not worried about it at all.

Jeff has just sent a message in and his message is quite simple and to the point. He says, ‘Angelo, how do you hold a prayer meeting and then reconcile with the committing corrupt practices thereafter?’

Well, that’s exactly why they hold the prayer meetings is to try and negate the perception that it was corruption and once in a while donate money to a charitable organisation, a Christian based organisation. I even remember sponsoring a whole team of people to go to Israel on a tour ad that’s the way you would negate corruption. Well, that’s the way that Gavin Watson would negate corruption out there, by actually going out there and saying, we’re doing all this good and that is from money that we made out of the business, and to make the business successful unfortunately we have to do in Africa, as Africans would want to do.

For his part, Agrizzi was clearly comfortable with this ‘when in Africa thought process.’ Subsequent his testimony a conversation recorded by two of the younger Watsons exposed a liberal use of deeply derogatory terms when he described indigenous Africans. When confronted with the recording Agrizzi admitted to being a racist but said that this should not detract from the credibility of information that he provided to the Zondo Commission.

Tell us more about the primary business of Bosasa and its associated companies, specifically in the time that you spent there?

Well, when I started off initially, they had the Lindela Repatriation Facility in one or two youth centres and then one mine that did facilities management. So, the whole group was geared around doing facilities management for the mining industry and that then branched out to doing youth development centres and then also to look at managing a fleet vehicle services for government as well, and then there was the security aspect, which they did as well.

In testimony to the Zondo Commission Agrizzi explained that Bosasa’s business model was to bribe those who did the awarding of contracts for the various outsourced services that he mentions here. He joins the criminal enterprise ironically, from a straight-laced company that competed with it that was chaired by the now SA President Cyril Ramaphosa. Agrizzi was drawn there like a magnet after discovering Watson’s operation won inflated contracts on the mines by paying off National Union of MineWorkers leaders, who threaten to call strikes unless the mine management appointed Bosasa. This model was expanded into the State sector to the point that Agrizzi said, he packaged cash totalling R6m a month into grey security bags that were handed over to those in this network of corruption, among them, former president, Jacob Zuma, and senior officials at the NPA, including the Deputy Director Nomgcobo Jiba, who received an apparent R100k monthly in cash to keep the law off Bosasa’s back.

Please, explain to us what exactly is the Lindela Facility?

Well, the Lindela Facility has been running since 1995, and it’s a facility that’s used to house undocumented or illegal migrants. So, we have a big influx of unidentified migrants in SA, and Lindela is a holding place. The word actually means, ‘Lindela Place of Holding.’ That is basically the context of it is to hold people that are illegal in our country and they are then deported from Lindela to their various countries of origin.

Rumours have circulated for years about Lindela. There’s been allegations of assaults, rapes, and even murders. Is this true?

I don’t want to go into the murders, but yes, I can agree that Lindela has been very infamous.

Who was responsible for the actual security at Lindela?

The Department of Home Affairs was responsible for the deportation and the arresting of the undocumented migrants. The people responsible for their housing, accommodation and catering, that would have been Bosasa at that stage, or Leading Prospect Trading – the company’s trading name.

Who investigated complaints against the Bosasa guards at a place like Lindela?

Well, you see, you’ve hit the nail on the head there. Who does…? Has IPID got the responsibility for investigating? All that you can actually do is get the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to investigate that. So, you have got a fundamental point there, which means that Government needs to look into that? Is there a need for a place like Lindela? I don’t know anymore. I honestly believe that it should be decentralised to the actual border post. Chad, to give you an idea, I think we spent in access of R20m per year just on deporting these undocumented migrants to all over the world. Surely, if we’ve got them right at the borders, we can then handle it more effectively and the majority of them are Zimbabweans and Mozambicans.

Would Krugersdorp SA Police Services have been involved in the investigation of complaints against staff at Lindela?

Most definitely.

Is it true that Krugersdorp SAPS members were on the Bosasa payroll as well?

I cannot confirm that but the rumours are true.

You say, your client there was Home Affairs. What would you charge Home Affairs, on average, for the service to run Lindela?

Well, the service, you’ve got to remember is a fixed service and the average cost, if recall correctly, was between R8m – R9m per month.

I don’t know what other term to use but for how many inmates?

Well, the right term would be for undocumented migrants or detainees – we would have between 350, 500, 600, or 700.

For context, SA’s monthly social grant to pensioners is R1,700, or one-fourteenth of what Bosasa was being paid for each inmate. In his testimony Agrizzi calculated that he had paid cash bribes of over R432m in his career with Bosasa to secure their inflated contracts. Calculating a direct cost, he did to the fiscus of more than R100m in foregone tax.

With respect, they must have lived like kings with the amount of money that was being paid to hold them there?

Well, sure at that kind of rate you can put them up in The Hilton, can’t you.

That is really shocking. Let’s move on. Let’s talk about the Watson family. They seem to have been at the centre of Bosasa for years. A family not without controversy. They have a history of being involved in the struggle for the liberation of SA. It’s something that they’ve used to their advantage for all and sundry to know how they’ve hosted certain people that were in exile to certain functions, etc. Who is the Watson family that you grew to know over 19-years?

Well, Gavin Watson is the eldest brother of the Watsons. Then you’ve got Valence Watson, you’ve got Cheeky Watson, Ronnie Watson, and then their sister, Sharon, but she’s more in the background.

Are they all involved in the business?

No, not at all. Valence Watson is running a wildlife estate in the Port Elizabeth area, and Ronnie Watson has been trying to get a wind farm off the ground in the PE area, and Gavin is Bosasa.

According to his Zondo Commission testimony Agrizzi said that while not all the Watsons worked at Bosasa the entire family received regular payments from the company.

So, who is the patriarch of the Bosasa family as a whole?

It used to be, remember they’ve been liquidated now so, it used to be Gavin Watson.

Andy here says, ‘Do you feel genuine remorse for the role that you played in corruption?’

Most definitely otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here today. I wouldn’t have spent nine-days in State Capture and actually putting it out there.

Another one, Mr Greasy, ‘Do you believe that we are all corruptible and that we all have a price?’

Unfortunately, I have to say yes to that because even, and I said this in the Commission, even the Pope would get corrupted because it is just so enticing. It’s actually such a sickness. It’s a disease that takes over. It starts small and it just grows and grows.

Gavin Watson was the leader, was he a micromanager? Did he try and get involved in all aspects of the business?

Yes, he was a micromanager. He would interfere in absolutely everything that people were busy with.

Was it because of his political connections made during the struggle years that he was able to elevate himself and his company to such a point?

Most definitely.

Tell us more about the company and its political links?

For instance, if you’re entertaining the ‘ruling party’ or whatever party you’re entertaining on a regular basis. You have them at your offices. They run election campaigns from there. You’re making sure that every whim that they have is catered for. Obviously, you only do that if you’re going to get benefit from the ‘ruling party’ and unfortunately, that is something that crept into the company quite early on, I’d say in the 2001 period, and it just perpetuated and perpetuated and actually got out of hand.

Bosasa Gavin Watson
Flame-grilled (Gavin Watson). More of Zaoiro’s magic available at www.zapiro.com.

SA Minister of Environmental Affairs, Nomvula Mokonyane, provides an excellent example of how the capture process work. In his Zondo Commission testimony Agrizzi said he was tasked by Gavin Watson to, “See to her family’s Christmas needs,” which he did every year since 2002. Agrizzi said he provided Christmas provisions to Mokonyane’s household, that included 120 cases of cold drinks, 4 cases of high-quality whiskey, 40 cases of beer, 8 lambs, 12 cases of frozen chicken pieces, 200kg beef, and what he describes as numerous cases of premium brandy and specialty alcohol – quite a party every year. The goods were fraudulently processed through the Bosasa’s books so, partly paid for by taxpayers. This Captured Cabinet Minister’s benefits, Agrizzi said, extended to the maintenance of her house, payment for family funerals, and the catering on Mokonyane’s instruction, for ANC rallies, Luthuli House bashes, and the former president, Jacob Zuma’s birthday parties. It even included paying for the hire of an Audi A3 in China, where the politician’s daughter was studying. Mokonyane was brought into the network, Agrizzi says, 17-years ago while she was serving as the MEC for Safety and Security in the ANC run government of the Gauteng Province. Despite Agrizzi’s disclosures, Mokonyane still serves as a member of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s National Cabinet.

So, he was as politically connected as one imagines him to be?

Yes, most definitely.

Did you ever get to meet any senior politicians as a result of his relationship with them?

From the president right the way through.

Do you believe that they may have necessarily been corrupted or that they were just friends because of the struggle?

Well, I can tell you now that a lot of them were corrupted – it’s as simple as that, as I said in State Capture, and I read out and I went through all the names and a lot of them were corrupted.

The biggest name of all being ANC leader and SA President Jacob Zuma, Agrizzi says he packaged R300k in cash every month for delivery to Zuma through Dudu Myeni, SAA chairperson and head of the Jacob Zuma Foundation.

Gavin Watson received some international recognition. In fact, he got an award called The Trailblazer Award. Tell me a bit about that award.

Well, I think that the award – I was critically involved in that. Or let me rather say, I was called into doing it. Martin Sweet from the Foundation that does training for children at Matric level, maths and that. Their sponsor moved out at the last time and suddenly they needed a sponsor so, they approached myself. I can’t remember how they got hold of my name and they asked me, can we step in and sponsor R2m. Obviously, it’s corruption in itself. You get R2m as a sponsorship and you get an award and it really looks good on the foyer when you walk into the company.

Would you say that Gavin needs a boost to his ego? Why would he involve himself in an award of this nature if he’s undeserving?

I don’t want to go into the personal things and I really don’t want to get into a personal discussion about Gavin Watson or the Watson family. It doesn’t concern me and what they do doesn’t concern me. But I think what is important is sometimes you come across people that have a narcissistic type of approach in a business environment and it’s how do you manage that? How do people manage that? I, for one, did not know how to manage that so, I fell into the trap. But yes, there’s an image issue and the Watsons have always been beyond approach.

Did you benefit from this corruption and if you did, do you plan on paying back the money?

Yes, I did benefit and as a matter of fact, there was a claim that I had outstanding to the Watsons and that money will all go to charity.

That’s his opinion but the Asset Forfeiture Unit may well take the approach a little future. Agrizzi was paid handsomely during almost two-decades of criminal activity with the Watsons. Ending up with an eye-popping R27m for his services in 2017. By his own admission, all of this is the proceeds of crime.

What do think the message is being sent when a whistleblower, somebody who has acknowledged their role, etc., is arrested so soon after giving testimony at an enquiry?

Well, it was a bit shocking for us and I think what’s important to note is that there’s a team of whistleblowers and they’re committed, just so you know, for the next eight-months to a year, to helping wherever we can to uncover the scourge. We’ve been working on it for two-years and it was a bit sad for us to be arrested. We know that perhaps there was some reasoning behind it, I’m not too sure, unfortunately that kind of sends out a message to the general whistleblowers, which we didn’t, rather don’t say anything because you’re going to get locked up.

On the other hand, Agrizzi played a key role in a criminal enterprise for almost two-decades. He decided to come clean only after a near death experience so, for most rationale minds that poses serious questions around Agrizzi’s apparent status today as a whistleblower.

I must say though that the arrest was done very professionally. It was the gentlemen that were involved with it were extremely helpful and they were accommodating at all times so, well done to them. I must say, the NPA, in my opinion, is doing a great job there. Even with us, I think that unfortunately, whoever gave the instruction they made a bit of a mess-up there so, it’s going to be a job to try and get whistleblowers to come out of their shells again.

The obvious question for the average South African is whether this Commission is going to make any difference?

I think from what I can gather and what people are telling me, I believe that we’re going through an historically, total game changing process in SA, at the moment. You must remember, for so long people have just accepted corruption and life has carried on. People have now become aware to it. I believe the State Capture Commission has done phenomenal work with some other cases. I think the team that they’ve got at State Capture is brilliant, from the investigation’s team, who I worked very closely with, right the way through to the evidence leaders, their legal team, and I think Judge Zondo has got his heart in the right place. He’s there to try and help the government and help the country heal itself. If there’s one thing that we’ve achieved and that’s making people aware of the extent of corruption, and I’m happy with that. I’m happy with the fact that that as our testimony at State Capture has now sparked off these Tribunals. I honestly believe the Tribunals will make a difference.

Kulani, I hope I’ve pronounced your name right – thank you for the message. He says, ‘How did they pay Jacob Zuma?’

Well, it was facilitated through Dudu Myeni and she was given the money every month. It was R300k.

Paul asks the question, ‘Dudu Myeni was paid R300k per month. How does Agrizzi know that this ended up with JZ?’

In my testimony, and I don’t want to go too much into it but in my testimony, if you look at it in State Capture, I very clearly state that Gavin Watson went to Nkandla. He had a meeting with Zuma, and asked Zuma directly, had a bag with him, gave it to Zuma and said, “Are you getting this on a monthly basis?”

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Kathy asks the question, ‘Why did you instruct somebody to secretly film what was going on at Bosasa?’

Well, it just wasn’t somebody. It was actually Andries van Tonder and the reason why we did that, and it was not an instruction but more a mutual agreement that we thought long and hard about was because Gavin Watson’s signature appears nowhere and we needed to prove that he was well aware of everything.

When is something a gift? When is something a bribe, and what actually constitutes gratification?

The line should be drawn as Judge Preller put it in a judgement that he once put. He said, ‘You know, the occasional brandy and coke at the Bar Council – that’s kind of okay. But once you start pushing the limits and you start giving a bottle of brandy out – that’s actually a bribe.’

Oupa says, ‘Hi, Angelo, do you think the Watsons are still in the country?’

That’s a good question, a very good question, Oupa. I wouldn’t know – I don’t track them.

You’ve testified, you’ve opened up. You’ve made some startling revelations and you were then arrested. What advice do you give other people that were in your position, who are now nervous to come forward because they may be afraid that they are arrested, following their testimony?

Still do it. Do it, even if you’re going to be arrested – so what. If they arrest you, you’re going to spend an hour or so in front of the Magistrate and you’re going to tell your story and the truth will always come out. Quite simply, I’ve got 110-pages to go back to. My supplementaries, so I still haven’t completed my testimony, in theory, and I need to go back and give more evidence. So, don’t stop. Go out there. Do it and work with the authorities because if you don’t, what’s going to happen to the children, going forward?

That was South African criminal-pin turned whistleblower, Angelo Agrizzi, who was interviewed by forensic investor Chad Thomas, on the Johannesburg radio station, Chai FM. If you’re in Johannesburg you can get the station at 101.9FM. This has been The Rational Perspective. Until the next time, cheerio.