17 April 2024 | 08:40 AM

First Strut’s Wiggill may have planned own death

Key Takeaways

Jeff Wiggill did not struggle. He did not fight for his life when the end came on a dusty service road outside Soweto, perhaps not even as his murderer struggled with his gun and misfired a bullet.

Wiggill did not drive erratically on the more than 30km stretch of road that brought him from Auckland Park to Soweto, although he seemingly had ample opportunity to attract attention, to crash into another vehicle, say, or into a highway barrier.

He did not flinch when he opened the door of his sleek Bentley for the man he collected just a little while earlier in Auckland Park, the man now believed to have fired the shots that killed him.




In fact, a combination of footage from surveillance cameras, data drawn from his car and the crime scene suggests the only time Wiggill showed anything resembling hesitation on the night of June 19 was when he was searching for the correct building in Auckland Park, the building where he would collect a man who was not only known to him, but also in his employ.

“He wasn’t hijacked,” said a source who has had access to evidence in the case. “This was a planned thing. Poorly planned, but planned.”

Many who knew him refuse to believe that Wiggill would plan his own murder, following the example of what has come to be called fallen mining magnate Brett Kebble’s “assisted suicide”; some because they considered Wiggill to be too ambitious, others because the nature of his death does not fit the image they had of him.

Jeff Wiggil

“Knowing him, he would not have left this kind of mess,” said an executive at a company related to Wiggill’s sprawling First Strut group. “He would have planned to die without all this stuff … He would have made it hard to solve.”

Despite the fact that Wiggill and Wiggill alone may have held crucial information about a series of massive frauds that could see jail time for several individuals involved, police (who are loath to reveal anything about their ongoing investigation) appear to have uncovered no evidence that his death was an assassination planned by anyone other than himself.

Crucial to that theory is the fact that Thulani Cele, the man accused of his murder though yet to stand trial in the matter, was employed to do maintenance for one of Wiggill’s companies at a rate of pay considerably above the usual rate for such a job. Cele was employed even though he had served jail time on an armed robbery conviction. And it was Cele that Wiggill appears to have sought out on the night he died.

Cele reportedly confessed to being offered R100 000 for the murder before being released on R15 000 bail, although it is not clear whether he will wilfully disclose the details of the arrangement. Prosecutors this week could not provide any details of the Wiggill case, and did not answer questions on whether Cele is expected to remain the sole accused.

Aggressive tactics

That doubt remains in the minds of some of those who had worked with Wiggill is perhaps testimony to his complicated and sometimes internally conflicting personality: a father of five adopted children with complicated histories, but also a sometimes flamboyantly gay man prone to boasting about his conquests; a man who used aggressive tactics to create a business empire, yet one described as soft-spoken and well mannered, even introverted.

“He had a lot of people taking advantage, using and abusing him,” said one executive who worked for Wiggill’s group.

“If you didn’t give him the numbers he expected, it got ugly,” said another, from a different division.

The starkly different views are in part explained by the fact that, at least in the business environment, nobody really knew Wiggill.

In court papers, his business partner Andris Bertulis claims that Wiggill alone understood the nature of various deals he had constructed, suggesting that Wiggill had no confidants, no kitchen cabinet.

That is corroborated by interviews with a range of executives in operating divisions within his company, none of whom were willing to be named for reasons including fear of jeopardising the buyout agreements feverishly being negotiated, and of speaking on matters before the courts.

“In the two and a half years I worked here, I never met him once,” said a mid-level executive. “Which I found strange, but I thought ‘obviously he has 24 companies to look after, so he’s probably busy’.”

Another executive in charge of an important operating unit said: “In two years I think I met Jeff Wiggill four times. When I say ‘met’, I think I spent maybe two minutes with him in total. He was the kind of guy where you would walk past his office and he would chat to you for 30 seconds, then just walk away. He was a very strange guy.”

A third executive said: “What can I tell you about Jeff Wiggill? I can tell you that I sent him the numbers once a month, and when they were good, all I got was ‘thanks, cheers’ and that was the end of the story. If the numbers weren’t good I’d get a call from [First Strut chief executive officer] Andy [Bertulis].”

According to surveillance footage and data from his car, Jeff Wiggill did not struggle before he was shot near Soweto. [Photo: Oupa Nkosi, M&G]

But among those more sympathetic to Wiggill, a conspiracy theory of sorts has emerged: that he may have become a convenient fall guy. Why, one divisional executive with no direct knowledge of the head-office functions wanted to know, are there suddenly no documents to be found, documents that could conclusively show fraud and those responsible for it?

“I am starting to think he killed himself, but what happened after that?” the executive asked. “Maybe some people saw an opportunity and started shredding.”

De Wet is Associate Editor of the Mail & Guardian

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