Fresh information has emerged detailing how former Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS) Director General Isaac Kgosi operated a massive “straw owner” scheme to carry out a series of shady and covert “off the books” transactions running into hundreds of millions of Pula.
A straw owner is a person who owns a business or property on someone else’s behalf by portraying legal ownership of the property or business to hide the true owner of the property or business.
The DIS under Kgosi, with the approval of its statutory oversight bodies, The Central Intelligence Committee, National Intelligence Community and the Intelligence and Security Council engaged in purchases of assets and equipment without following the required statutory procedures.
It has also emerged that the publicly listed Botswana Telecommunications Corporations (BTC) colluded with the DIS to set up a PRISM-esque system which would enable the spy outfit to monitor all telecommunications communication and internet traffic with or without a warrant. Investigations have further revealed that BTC may be caught in the fall out of Kgosi’s “off the books” accounting practices.
Concerns within BTC were raised during the installation of the massive DIS data collection project that is estimated to have cost over three hundred and fifty million pula (P350 000 000.00).
The project which involved various companies providing specialised services each working individually and separately under the guidance of DIS and BTC ran into difficulties when service providers failed to meet the IT specifications demanded by the project sponsors (DIS and BTC.)
Information obtained by the Sunday Standard reveals that the DIS instructed the service providers to use specific locally authorised software agents for eastern European IT providers.
In at least one instance the Kgosi designated local software agent was not authorised by the software designer and copyright owner to install the software and modify it for compatibility with local systems. The failure of the single software component cost an estimated twenty million Pula (P20 000 000. 00) which BTC refused to pay due to its reporting obligations as a publicly listed company.
Records obtained by the Sunday Standard reveal a series of concerns raised by BTC to the DIS over the lack of compliance with procedure and PPADB legislations.
The BTC/ DIS project seeks to establish a central data capture base for all internet traffic in Botswana. The installation of both the hardware and software at BTC was authorised as a communication hub for “inter government information sharing.” The project was however expanded at the instruction of the DIS to copy the more robust US “PRISM” data capture programme.
Established in 2007 the US “PRISM” programme was revealed to the public in 2013 by Edward Snowden. According to testimony presented at Congressional hearings initiated by the Snowden revelations, the United States National Security Agency (NSA) uses “PRISM” to monitor all telecommunications communication and internet traffic with or without a warrant.
Investigations have also revealed how the DIS put together a straw owner scheme to circumvented Botswana Housing Corporation regulations and procedures and purchased properties to a value in excess of One Hundred and Thirty million Pula (P130 000 000.00). BHC has received payment for the property but has been unable to transfer the property to the spy agency as the former Director General was removed from office before providing the housing corporation with the details of the shelf companies into which the properties were to be held.
Internal documents in possession of the Sunday Standard reveal that subsequent to receiving payment, questions were raised by BHC into the authority of the DIS to own property under its own name as its governing legislation has no provision for the spy agency to own property.
According to information obtained by this publication, BHC demanded that the former Director General provide proof of authority to transfer the property into the organisations name or into the name of private companies that did not appear to have government shareholding.
Government entities and organs are required to be authorised by legislation to own property in their own name to enable registration of a title deed at Deeds Registry.
Unable to provide the authority, Kgosi had undertaken to provide the housing corporation with various privately owned shelf companies into which he claimed the property could be transferred.
The scheme involved a series of “off the books” private companies that would have either fictitious persons as shareholders and directors or real persons acting as fronts for the DIS under the guise of “national security.”
Documents reveal that despite some property having been paid for over three years ago, they remain on the BHC asset list which has raised audit concerns for the parastatal.
In 2014 Kgosi, under increasing scrutiny due to media revelations arising from DCEC investigations into allegations of corruption, revealed as part of his “Save Isaac Kgosi Campaign” that the use of front companies was a common practice in the international intelligence community. The “Save Isaac Kgosi Campaign” was a public relations exercise aimed at sanitizing the image of the former Director General and restoring public trust in the DIS. The campaign was managed by Advocate Sadique Kebonang, Jacob Sesinyi and Advocate Sidney Pilane.
The BHC had not responded to a Sunday Standard questionnaire at the time of going to press.
The legislation that formed the DIS created three quasi oversight bodies and a single independent parliamentary oversight body. The latter, the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security is mandated by to examine the expenditure, administration and policies of the DIS and provide an annual report to parliament. Since its formation the DIS parliamentary oversight committee has only filed two annual reports, in 2009 and 2010. The committee has in addition failed to convene since 2014 when its chairperson Kagiso Molatlhegi MP was appointed Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.
The three quasi oversight committees comprising the President, the Vice President, head of the military, Head of Military Intelligence, the Attorney General, Minister of Justice and Security, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Deputy Director of the DIS are mandated to guide, formulate and approve intelligence in the interests of National Security.
All four committees ought to have been informed of the acquisition of the equipment installed at BTC, its purpose and cost and were required to approve or reject the undertaking on grounds of national security. The failure of the parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security to convene since 2014 has resulted in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) extending its authority to its limits to investigate the DIS due to the spy agency’s interaction with bodies that fall under the committee’s direct mandate, such as the National Petroleum Fund.
Under the PAC the DIS expenditure has been subjected to scrutiny over allegations of unlawful use of public money, held by the National Petroleum Fund, to purchase military grade equipment and assets.
Due to the collapse of the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security the PAC has sought to establish how the DIS internal procedures failed to make it accountable on public expenditure. It is widely expected that members of the three intelligence bodies comprising of the former president, Attorney General, Head of Military, Head of Military Intelligence, Minister of Justice and Security, Minister of Foreign Affairs and all other members of the bodies will be called to testify before the PAC in respect of their approval of the use of NPF funds for Fuel Storage facilities and the subsequent reallocation of the funds to purchase Israeli military equipment.