Zondo report pans former chief spy who laid charges against president

The situation at the SSA ‘became a free for all and Mr Fraser was a law unto himself’: Chief Justice.
Raymond Zondo. Image: The Citizen

South Africa’s former chief spy, who sparked a furore when he laid criminal charges against President Cyril Ramaphosa for allegedly concealing a robbery at his game farm, abused his position as head of the State Security Agency and failed to follow due process, a judicial inquiry into state graft has found.

An investigation into Arthur Fraser’s conduct was derailed by Jacob Zuma, who led the country for nine scandal-marred years before he was forced to quit in 2018 in favour of Ramaphosa, on the grounds that it could compromise national security, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said in his final report released on Wednesday. He also found that the spy agency involved itself in political battles, handed out vast sums of cash for which it failed to properly account and that it made a series of irregular appointments.

Read: Cattle sale that dragged Ramaphosa into political storm is back

The situation at the SSA “became a free for all and Mr Fraser was a law unto himself,” Zondo said. He recommended that law enforcement agencies should conduct further investigations into the ex-spy chief as well as David Mahlobo, the former intelligence minister, and other officials to determine whether they should be prosecuted.

Fraser failed to appear before Zondo to respond to allegations levelled against him during public hearings and the chief justice dismissed the former spy boss’s applications to cross-examine several witnesses who implicated him. Mahlobo, now the deputy housing minister, denied any wrongdoing when he testified.

Fraser this month alleged that Ramaphosa sought to cover up the theft of more than $4 million that was hidden inside furniture in a house on his farm in the northern Limpopo province in 2020, that the crime wasn’t reported and the suspects were illegally detained and intimidated. Ramaphosa confirmed that money he made from selling animals was stolen, although far less than Fraser claimed, and denied any wrongdoing.

The findings against Fraser call his credibility into question and add credence to Ramaphosa’s assertion that the allegations against him are politically motivated, but the president’s reticence to provide details about what transpired at his farm have spurred accusations from opposition parties that he broke foreign exchange rules or other laws.

While prosecutors haven’t said whether they will pursue charges against Ramaphosa, the scandal may undermine his chances of winning another term as head of the ruling African National Congress in six months’ time and as president in 2024, and some of his allies have even expressed fears that he may not be able to complete his current term. A lawyer and one of the richest Black South Africans, Ramaphosa first won control of the ANC in 2017 after campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket.

Fraser was appointed as head of the State Security Agency in 2016. Ramaphosa reassigned him to head the prisons department in 2018, a questionable decision given that an investigation was under way into the spy boss’s conduct. Just weeks before he retired last year from his new post, Fraser ordered Zuma’s release from prison on medical parole after he’d served two months of a 15-month sentence he was given for refusing to testify before Zondo — a decision that’s still being challenged in court.

In Zondo’s previous reports, drafted after more than three years of public hearings, he implicated Zuma, his allies and several senior ruling party officials in looting billions of dollars from government coffers — a process known locally as state capture. Zume denies any wrongdoing.

With the panel having completed his work, Ramaphosa said he will evaluate its recommendations and findings, and formulate a response within four months that he will present to parliament.

“State capture was an assault on our democracy and violated the rights of every man, woman and child in this country,” the president said at a handover ceremony in Pretoria, the capital. “The report is far more than a record of widespread corruption, fraud and abuse. It is also an instrument through which the country can work to ensure that such events are never allowed to happen again.”

© 2022 Bloomberg

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