Malaw­ian busi­ness­man Simbi Phiri says an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his un­de­clared money reeks of pet­ti­ness and spite

CityPress - - News - SIZWE SAMA YENDE sizwe.yende@city­

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.

Simbi Phiri

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