State se­cu­rity min­is­ter ap­pears to have hung out with the wrong crowd as an Al Jazeera in­ves­ti­ga­tion places him in the com­pany of a Chi­nese gang­ster

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State Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter David Mahlobo has al­legedly been hang­ing out with a Chi­nese or­gan­ised crime fig­ure who traf­fics rhino horns and openly brags about brib­ing South African jus­tice and im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials. These claims are con­tained in a new doc­u­men­tary by Al Jazeera In­ves­ti­gates, which airs on the in­ter­na­tional news chan­nel at 2pm to­day.

Video se­cretly recorded by an un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tor shows Guan Jiang Guang – a “busi­ness­man” and mas­sage par­lour owner in Mbombela – swip­ing through pho­to­graphs on his phone that ap­pear to show him and Mahlobo. “He came to my mas­sage par­lour ev­ery week, or at least twice a month,” Guan says. “I know him well … [He was] a guest at my home.”

One of the pho­to­graphs ap­pears to show Mahlobo with a young woman, de­scribed by Guan as “one of my man­i­cure girls”.

Mahlobo, how­ever, de­nies the claims. His spokesper­son Brian Dube told Al Jazeera: “The min­is­ter has in­di­cated that he does not have any re­la­tion­ship with the gentle­man and he has never been to his house or re­ceived any of his ser­vices at his house as claimed.”

On Fri­day, Dube told City Press: “In or­der for us to com­ment, we want the de­tails of the pho­to­graphs and video ma­te­rial pur­port­ing to show these al­le­ga­tions, as well as the de­tails of the un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tor. Fail­ing which, we will not be in a po­si­tion to com­ment and we will re­serve our rights in this re­gard.”

Mahlobo’s al­leged re­la­tion­ship with Guan is sig­nif­i­cant given the man­date of the State Se­cu­rity Agency, which he over­sees, to pro­vide gov­ern­ment with crit­i­cal in­tel­li­gence on na­tional se­cu­rity threats, in­clud­ing or­gan­ised crime. In a speech to del­e­gates at­tend­ing the re­cent meet­ing of par­ties at the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species (Cites) in Jo­han­nes­burg, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma de­scribed wildlife traf­fick­ing for the first time as a “sig­nif­i­cant threat … to this coun­try’s na­tional se­cu­rity”.

Guan claimed that he met Mahlobo dur­ing the lat­ter’s ten­ure as head of the depart­ment of co­op­er­a­tive gover­nance and tra­di­tional af­fairs in Mpumalanga. In 2014, Mahlobo re­placed Siyabonga Cwele as min­is­ter of state se­cu­rity.

Recorded with a hid­den cam­era, Guan claims that he em­ploys il­le­gal im­mi­grants in his mas­sage par­lour and eas­ily cir­cum­vents im­mi­gra­tion laws.

“Ev­ery­thing in Africa is based on money. I give … two guys at the im­mi­gra­tion depart­ment … about $70 (R1 005) each a month. They don’t even in­ves­ti­gate.”

Guan said that shortly af­ter he first came to South Africa, he was ar­rested and con­victed of run­ning an il­le­gal “gam­bling den”. But that too was quickly dealt with by pay­ing “un­der-the-ta­ble money” to of­fi­cials in the depart­ment of jus­tice. The bribe was “very cheap, a few thou­sand,” he says on tape.

In the footage, Guan of­fers to help the un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tor ob­tain rhino horn, but warns him to “be care­ful”.

“If a black guy comes to you and says he has horn, af­ter you pay, they de­liver and the po­lice will ar­rest you. You will lose the horn and have to pay at least a R1 mil­lion fine.”

In a sub­se­quent meet­ing, Guan boasts that he has an “un­touch­able” source at Bei­jing Cap­i­tal In­ter­na­tional Air­port who has “ab­so­lutely no prob­lem” smug­gling rhino horn into China. “He spe­cialises in this busi­ness.”

Guan proves true to his word. Weeks later, the Al Jazeera in­ves­ti­ga­tor meets Guan’s con­tact in China’s Fu­jian province. In a parked car at the side of a road, the con­tact shows him a 2.25kg rhino horn. The price: $27 000 a kilo­gram. In to­tal, the horn would have cost nearly R900 000.

The role of Chi­nese na­tion­als in the il­licit rhino horn trade has grown markedly in re­cent years. Even of­fi­cials in the high­est ech­e­lons of gov­ern­ment are im­pli­cated. Per­haps most dis­turbingly, the doc­u­men­tary al­leges that mem­bers of a high-level del­e­ga­tion ac­com­pa­ny­ing Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to South Africa last year for the Jo­han­nes­burg sum­mit of the Fo­rum on China-Africa Co­op­er­a­tion bought rhino horn and “a lot of” ivory. A num­ber of cooks and guides who catered for the sum­mit told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that del­e­gates pressed them to find ivory and that de­mand for ivory chop­sticks, or­na­ments, bracelets, pen hold­ers and per­son­alised seals was so great the sup­plier “sold out in two days”.

The del­e­gates had diplo­matic im­mu­nity, which or­di­nar­ily would pre­vent cus­toms and po­lice of­fi­cials from search­ing their lug­gage as they left the coun­try.

Usu­ally, in terms of the 1961 Vi­enna Con­ven­tion on Diplo­matic Re­la­tions, the “diplo­matic bag” – a blan­ket term that refers to any­thing from an en­ve­lope to a ship­ping con­tainer – can­not “be opened or de­tained” by cus­toms, po­lice or gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. A diplo­matic bag can only be searched “if there are se­ri­ous grounds for pre­sum­ing that it con­tains ar­ti­cles not cov­ered by the [diplo­matic] ex­emp­tions”.

The Viet­namese em­bassy in Pre­to­ria has been im­pli­cated on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in the smug­gling of rhino horn. The Al Jazeera doc­u­men­tary ex­am­ines ev­i­dence that high-rank­ing Viet­namese of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the coun­try’s am­bas­sador to South Africa, Le Huy Hoang, have vis­ited or have ties to a game farm in North West that is owned by a prom­i­nent Viet­namese busi­ness­man and al­leged rhino horn king­pin, Michael Chu. The Viet­namese em­bassy has not de­nied the claims.

Diplo­matic in­volve­ment in the rhino horn trade also ex­tends to North Korea’s em­bassy in Pre­to­ria. In De­cem­ber last year, News24 re­ported that the depart­ment of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions had asked a se­nior diplo­mat to leave South Africa af­ter he and a taek­wondo mas­ter were ar­rested in Mozam­bique with 4.5kg of rhino horn and close to $100 000 in cash. ’n Rademeyer is a se­nior re­search fel­low at the Global Ini­tia­tive Against Transna­tional Or­gan­ised Crime and

author of Killing for Profit (2012)


OUT OF AFRICA Guan Jiang Guang’s con­tact in China in his car with a 2.25kg rhino horn val­ued at R900 000

CHINAS Guan Jiang Guang, who claims to be a friend of State Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter David Mahlobo, shows an un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tor from Al Jazeera a pic­ture of him­self with a man who ap­pears to be the min­is­ter

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