MADE THEM DO IT
Malawian businessman Simbi Phiri says an investigation into his undeclared money reeks of pettiness and spite
AMalawian businessman has blamed family rivalry and jealousy for his woes, which has led to the government of Botswana investigating him for money laundering Simbi Phiri, the owner of civil engineering company Khato Civils – based in South Africa – accused a senior anti-corruption official in Botswana of abusing her office to intimidate him because he had turned down her husband’s request for a stake in his company.
He said he had refused to give shares in Khato Civils’ subsidiary in Botwana to Kagiso Makgekgenene – the husband of Botlhale Makgekgenene, deputy directorgeneral of Botswana’s directorate on corruption and economic crime (DCEC). Kagiso is his cousin. Makgekgenene did not return City Press calls or reply to emailed questions. The spokesperson for the DCEC denied that she had any role in the investigation of Phiri.
“Kagiso asked to be a shareholder of Khato Civils Botswana in May last year,” Phiri said.
“When I refused, the investigation started,” he said, adding that Kagiso had allegedly told his associates that “he would deal with me”. He made this allegation following a Botswana court of appeal judgment that gave the DCEC a court order to freeze his accounts, pending an investigation into his finances.
The DCEC accuses Phiri of underhand dealings after finding out that he had underdeclared an amount of US dollars when crossing the Tlokweng border post, near Gaborone, from South Africa. He then allegedly deposited an amount larger than he had declared into Khato Civils’ Stanbic bank account in Botswana.
Phiri has machines worth R60 million in Gaborone where he is bidding for a P6 million (R7.6 million) water contract. “I was surprised that the DCEC told the court that they did not know me and they would have to advertise in South African papers to find me. This when [Botlhale] has slept in my house [in Johannesburg] no fewer than five times in 2015 and attended my brother’s wedding,” Phiri said.
Phiri said tender wars sparked the DCEC investigation. According to the court order – DCEC investigators took notice when Phiri deposited $886 000 (R11.8 million) into the bank on April 27 last year, while he had only declared $800 000 at the border.
He denied that he had deposited a whole US$886 000, but said this was the total amount he had in the bank after making several deposits over time.
The investigators also allege that Phiri entered Botswana on July 26 2015 and declared $300 000, but deposited $500 000.
Phiri is Malawian, but also grew up in Botswana where his mother hails from. Khato Civils is a huge civil engineering company that has delivered multimillionrand water projects in South Africa, Malawi and Botswana and donated schools and other infrastructure in these countries. It is now expanding to Accra, Ghana.
“Officials are blocking us because they’re sh*t scared when they look at our equipment. [Botlhale] Makgekgenene has joined contractors and officials that are hellbent on ensuring that we don’t get [the tender],” he charged.
The Botswana High Court ruled in Phiri’s favour until the director of public prosecutions appealed the ruling last year. Phiri said all the cash he imported to Botswana had been obtained through registered forex exchange agents.
“It has been alleged that police found me with money in the boot of my car. Police had never found me with any money. The DCEC investigated money already deposited in the bank”, Phiri said.
(Last week, City Press reported that the money was found in the boot of Phiri’s car. This was incorrect and we apologise for the inconvenience caused.)
“I changed the money into dollars because when I do an electronic transfer, it is converted into pula. This would mean that when the pula depreciates, my money would lose value and I would be unable to operate my business,” he said. “Yes, I underdeclared $200 000 when I deposited $500 000, because I was not aware that my wife had added money, which I took without counting. It was an oversight. “My money is not proceeds of crime.”
Phiri said the court order allowed him to have access to his money through an agreement with the DCEC. He was confident that the DCEC would find nothing against him.
“Why are they not confiscating my machines in Gaborone if they believe I’ve done something wrong? I took all the money through registered forex companies.
“Cash payments are allowed and the fact that it is higher amounts doesn’t matter,” he said.
DCEC spokesperson, Nlayidzi Gambule, said that Makgekgenene was a deputy director-general responsible for policy and “as such, she has no role whatsoever in investigations”.
Gambule said the DCEC would not comment on Makgekgenene’s personal relationship with Phiri and her husband’s business dealings. The DCEC received a suspicious transaction report from another law enforcement agency. It then instituted an investigation based on this referral. Furthermore, the court action decision was taken by a committee that assesses all reports coming to the DCEC, of which Makgekgenene is not part, he said. “Therefore, the derogatory allegations by Phiri implicating Botlhale Makgekgenene are baseless, malicious and unfounded. They are meant to tarnish her image and that of the DCEC,” he said.