Sunday, September 27, 2020

Matsheka skirts around the P100 billion “hot potato”

Finance Minister Thapelo Matsheka on Friday refused to be drawn into discussing the controversial P100 billion Bank of Botswana (BOB) alleged heist.

Two days earlier the issue had been at the centre of former President Lieutenant General Ian Khama and South African businesswoman Bridget Motsepe’s international press conference to clear their names after hiring “private investigators” to tell the world what is already in the public domain.

Matsheka, who was delivering a statement on anti-money laundering and financial terrorism, steered clear of the controversy despite attempts from legislators Dithapelo Keorapetse and Wynter Mmolotsi to draw him into the issue.

The two Members of Parliament (MPs) wanted the Minister to explain to parliament if the controversy surrounding the alleged heist could have contributed to Botswana’s blacklisting by the European Union and international rating agencies.

“I Don’t think the big fat lie that has been peddled that money was stolen from the central bank, an allegation that has been denied by the Governor himself, as a contributing factor to Botswana’s reputation having been tarnished internationally,” Keorapetse asked.

Matsheka however chose to adopt a blanket approach to the question, citing the credibility of state institutions and their ability to carry out their mandate as a key consideration in the assessment of any country.

“All statements which are made by politicians, legislators, and journalists, sometimes without facts, have profound implications on perceptions,” Matsheka said.

“And as a result it is the duty of all of us as nationals and citizen compatriots to really pay attention to the statements that we make because we want to be able to separate institutions and their abilities to carry out investigations, report and follow court processes, which is why a lot of what is required by  the International Country Risk Guide, and Eastern and Southern African Anti-Money Laundering Group is to make sure that our legislative framework can be relied upon to actually make judgements on our ability to comply with our own laws.”

Matsheka said as the government they have a legal process that they are following to conclusion so that they can be satisfied.

“Certainly some of these reports add to the anxiety by institutions that are seeing this process. It is important that statements of this nature are actually contrived and controlled because they have got far reaching implications for our ability to finance the midterm review, to finance the economic recovery and transformation plan.”

Keorapetse and Mmolotsi’s concerns came in the wake of the Khama, Motsepe press conference featuring among others UK’s Cherie Blair, and facilitated by former SA Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

The aim of the press conference was to ‘clear’ Khama, Motsepe, Isaac Kgosi, and Wilhelmina ‘Butterfly’ Maswabi’s names in relation to the P100 billion ‘Butterfly’ money laundering case in which the five are alleged to have stolen money from Bank of Botswana.

A forensic investigation by Omnia Strategy LLP, an international law firm founded by Blair and reportedly funded by Motsepe and released this past week found that “…allegations of money laundering against former Botswana president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, and South African businesswoman and Ambassador to the Pan African Parliament, Bridgette Motsepe, were fabricated.”  The report also cited the BOB Governor’s statement that no such amounts have been stolen from the bank, to support their case.

“It has been reported that the Governor of the Bank of Botswana, Mr Moses Dinekere Pelaelo, confirmed to Botswana’s Parliamentarians that the money never left the bank and that Botswana never had that amount of money in its accounts in the first place,” the report says.

An affidavit filed by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) claims that President Khama, while still in office and with the help of  former spy chief Kgosi, channeled in excess of USD10.1 billion (P100 billion) to various international and South African bank accounts some of which Motsepe and Maswabi were co-signatories.

“Critically, there is no evidence that USD10.1 billion ever left the Bank of Botswana or entered international or South African bank accounts… Furthermore, in relation to the alleged inflow into South Africa of part of this money in 2019, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has confirmed it ‘could not find any record of the (i) transaction referred to, (ii) the payment having been approved (cleared), either inbound or outbound, or (iii) of any cross-border flow of funds in the amount referred to, inbound or outbound from South Africa’,” the report said.

Khama and Motsepe told the media last week that they have instructed their legal counsel to launch defamation claims against the Botswana government.  In addition, Kgosi and Maswabi are also expected to launch defamation claims against the government.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.