Monday, October 18, 2021

Chinese Mafia in Botswana politics

Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), the Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA) and the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) have stumbled upon information suggesting that a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) presidential candidate is being sponsored by an investor linked to the “Chinese Mafia”.

The sobering find emerged last week after the three graft busters launched a joint money laundering investigation against a Chinese investor with ties to influential BDP leaders.

BURS last Thursday raided a restaurant in Sebele Mall, an office at Fairgrounds Mall and a house in Phakalane Estates belonging to the alleged Chinese Mafia boss, seizing files which they hope will help the investigation.

The money laundering investigation against the Chinese investor was initiated by FIA and DCEC following revelations that he has repatriated more than P45 million in cash in about 24 months.

BURS was then roped in after it emerged that the Chinese investor was also evading tax.

The Chinese Mafia’s feared foray into Botswana’s politics comes in the wake of a recent post by Intelligence Protection International Limited (IPIL) warning of the Russian Mafia and Chinese Triads in Botswana.

The British intelligence outfit with widespread international reach warned that “Botswana is in the forefront of international criminal activity, such organisations as the Russian Mafia and the Chinese Triads are attracted to Botswana due to its natural resources, wildlife and drugs.”

Contacted for comment BDP Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane stated clearly that “political funding is a tricky issue”. He told Sunday Standard that “as the official party we are able to vet donors who contribute to our coffers and turn down dubious ones”.

Ntuane stated that when it comes to individuals (in the party) there is no way of “policing it because transactions tend to occur between two individuals and they don’t have to get permission from us in which  there is no way of knowing if any of our people are being used as conduits for money laundering”.

He further stated that if there were any such cases, then it’s a matter for law enforcement to investigate. 

Information passed to the Sunday Standard suggests that the DCEC, BURS the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) and the Labour and Immigration departments have all become coveted targets for Chinese Mafia take-over.

In the three years between 2013 and 2015, the DCEC has worked on 35 investigation files suggesting that Chinese crime syndicates may have infiltrated the government enclave.

During the period the DCEC recorded 12 “Further Reports” on Chinese criminal activity in Botswana. In DCEC parlance, Further Reports are “cases that beef up the initial report/s that were classified for investigation as they contain the same allegations but may have different sources and additional information that can assist to lead the investigation further.”

The information has been confirmed by Phakamile Kraai, DCEC spokesperson. Kraai further revealed that “the most prevailing corruption cases that involve Chinese nationals” entail paying bribes for award of tenders across government departments and parastatals; paying resident engineers bribes so as to by-pass set standards, paying bribes to acquire work and residential permits; money laundering and paying BURS officials for clearance of goods.

An insider explained that the DCEC has become a major player in the fight against Chinese organised crime in Botswana because “corruption plays an important role in facilitating the activities of all organised criminal groups”.

“Chinese are involved with corruption at the Department of Immigration and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime in order to facilitate illegal immigration while officials at BURS are being targeted for the purpose of clearing illicitly imported counterfeit goods.”

The DCEC, FIA and BURS are understood to be also investigating suspicions that the Chinese investor may be running underground work and resident permit shadow operation with the assistance of some DISS and Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs insiders.

Botswana has been grappling with the problem of illegal Chinese immigration for close to a decade now. About eight years ago, the then Botswana Ambassador to China, Walter Dube, presented facts and figures to the Botswana government, suggesting that Botswana may find itself facing a serious problem of Chinese illegal immigrants.

Sunday Standard investigations have pieced together court records, confidential documents and anonymous interviews revealing a disturbing picture that Chinese criminals may have infiltrated some of the highest offices at the government enclave.

Among documents passed to Sunday Standard are court records of Chinese corruption accused who have been allowed to get away. In one of the cases, the DCEC has decided not to pursue two Chinese nationals who were caught in a sting operation trying to bribe Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure Science, and Technology and Itumeleng Phuthego then Project Manager in the Department of Buildings and Engineering.

The corruption case was expected to open a can of worms and expose the murky relationships between government officials and Chinese criminals. The case, however, collapsed after the two Chinese nationals skipped bail under curious circumstances.

Among bits of information that may have worried state prosecutors was the alleged P20 000 gift that Phuthego had previously accepted from one of the Chinese corruption accused and passed it on to Morupisi.

While Phuthego omitted to mention the P20 000 gift in his sworn statement, Morupisi stated that “sometime around March 2011 Mr Phuthego approached me with a gift alleged to have been obtained from” the Chinese crime accused.

“The gift was P20 000 00 cash (twenty Thousand Pula). As a result of this declaration I then asked Mr Phuthego to have an affidavit administered by the Commissioner of Police where after I took the money and attached the affidavit for safe keeping.” Morupisi kept the money “safe” for three months.

Some insiders pushed that both Phuthego and Morupisi be charged alongside the Chinese nationals, but the DPP, however, drafted a charge sheet with two counts citing Phuthego and Morupisi as state witnesses.

 Curiously, five months later DPP amended the charge sheet, dropping the count in which the Chinese investor was accused of trying to bribe Phuthego with the “P20 000 gift”.

Morupisi was later promoted to Permanent Secretary to the President while Phuthego surfaced as a senior manager at the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC).

Sources claim that the investigating team is no match for the Chinese crime syndicate that is not only wealthy but has a strict code of silence and strong political connections.

The problem is not helped by the low trust crisis among investigating agencies making information sharing difficult. Investigators are reported to be wary of revealing too much information especially to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) which is suspected have been infiltrated by the Chinese crime syndicate.

Authourities have been aware of the Chinese organised crime gangs’ operations in Botswana for more than six years now. In 2010 DISS Director General, Isaac kgosi revealed that they had uncovered Chinese organised crime syndicates that had been operating in Botswana for some time.

He said the syndicates were mainly based in Gaborone and Francistown while others were from South Africa. As far back as 2007 a number of investigative researches on organised crime in southern Africa revealed that Botswana was in the snare of international crime syndicates, among them Russian Mafia and the Chinese Triads.

Indications are that the Russian Mafia has been operating in Botswana from as far back as 1998. A report by Mark Shaw, Safety and Governance Programme, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) put together in 1998 revealed that “available information indicates that Russian citizens are involved in the activities of a number of criminal groups in several southern African states, particularly Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa.

The Russian Mafia groups concentrate mainly on diamond and weapon smuggling, corruption, fraud and money laundering schemes, as well as investment in legitimate business.

The report further revealed that Botswana is part of the SADC’s expanding “common criminal market” that involves bank heists, armed robberies and drug trafficking.

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