Thursday, February 25, 2021

Millionaire businessman, Deputy PS to appear in court on corruption charges

One of Botswana’s wealthiest private property developers, Said Jamali, has been summoned to appear in court to answer charges related to corrupting an official employed by Government.

By far one of Botswana’s richest people, Jamali’s business empire includes Universal Estate properties, the private radio station Duma FM, Universal Builders and many other commercial interests, especially in the construction industry.

Formerly a native of the Middle-East, Jamali is an unassuming, soft-spoken business tycoon who prefers to operate from behind the scenes.

Over the last few years, he has earned himself the reputation of being the largest property owner in Gaborone, if not in Botswana.

He counts as his closest personal friends, the ruling party chairman, Daniel Kwelagobe, with whom he is also listed as one of the shareholders of Duma FM radio stations.

After lengthy investigations, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime has concluded what promises to become a test case of collusion between Government officials and big business.
Together with Deputy Permanent Secretary, Victor Rantshabeng, Jamali will appear in court on April 13th.

For many years, Rantshabeng has been a big presence in the allocation of state land at the Department of Lands.

Rantshabeng will face two charges, both of which pertain to conflict of interests and a failure to disclose his interests in the companies owned by Jamali.

For his part, Jamali will answer to a single charge of corrupting a public officer.

Expected to give evidence are former ministers of Lands, Margaret Nasha, Jacob Nkate and Daniel Kwelagobe under whose political leadership Rantshabeng worked.

According to investigations by DCEC, whilst acting as Permanent secretary for the Ministry of Lands and Housing, Rantshabeng failed to disclose his vested interests in the company owned by Jamali.
As a result of advice given the Minister of Lands by Rantshabeng, Jamali’s company, which owns and manages the Westgate Mall along Gaborone’s Western By-Pass, was at one point allocated additional land.

It is alleged that, in return, Rantshabeng received two residential plots in Gaborone Block 6 from the same company that is owned by Jamali.

In yet another count, Rantshabeng is alleged to have been influential in assuring that Jamali and his company received yet another plot in Maruapula, next to the SSG camp.

The plot was at the time valued at close to P2 million but, according to the charge sheet, owing to Rantshabeng’s advice the then Minister of Lands sold the land to Jamali at the price.

Jamali was to later develop a large enclosed estate on the land, one of the many he owns around Gaborone.

Contacted by The Sunday Standard if he had received his summons yet, Rantshabeng, who is presently Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, said he had not been notified.

For his part, Jamali said he was aware of the case but was awaiting more information from the state.
Speaking through his aide, Jamali promised to talk more once he had the details of the impending court case.

“While we are aware that there is a pending case, we do not have all the facts before us right now. We have referred the matter to our lawyers. They are handling it on our behalf. We are unable to say much at this early stage, however, we will be able to respond in a bit more detail in due course, after we get more information.”

The Public Affairs Officer of DCEC, Lentswe Motshoganetsi, said he could neither confirm nor deny if Rantshabeng and Jamali had been served with summons.

The relationship between Jamali and Rantshabeng first crossed the radar in a report of the judicial commission of enquiry into state land allocations in Gaborone.

The commission was headed by Justice Isaac Lesetedi.

The commission found that Universal, a company owned by Jamali, had been allocated the land without following due process, which involved tendering.

The company was also found not to have submitted a project proposal which was necessary for critical assessment by Government official before getting a plot of that nature.

Jamali’s company had been given land after it approached government officials proposing to rehabilitate it at own cost.

According to the Lesetedi Report, the company said it intended to build medium and low cost houses on the land.

With support from Rantshabeng, who said he was following earlier briefing from he the then Vice President, Jamali’s company was to later get the land at half its initial value after arguing that rehabilitating the land would prove costly.

“The Department of Lands had not themselves sought to asses the reliability and reasonableness of the quoted cost of rehabilitation of the land,” argued the Lesetedi Commission.

When the Commission asked officials at the Department of Lands how Jamal’s company had received the land, all they said was that it had demonstrated capacity to service and develop it.

“The only issue that arises in this allocation is whether the procedure for land allocation was followed and whether the purchase price determined was also within that procedure. The Department of Lands officials were under the impression that no prescribed procedures fitted this allocation.

They seemed to have understood and the Under Secretary also in passing the recommendation seemed to have understood that there was a briefing by the Vice President which allowed for his procedure. We have found no evidence of such briefing. In our view this is an allocation which would have fallen to be considered either by way of putting out the land to tender or by calling upon the applicant to present a project proposal for critical assessment,” said the Lesetedi Commission.

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