AmaBhungane makes oral submissions on draft regulations issued by ICASA

23 June 2022 - Amabhungane

Are you comfortable with cellphone companies collecting and keeping your biometric information? Today, amaBhungane will be making oral submissions on draft regulations issued by ICASA which proposes that mobile network operators collect biometric data when selling SIM cards.

The regulations propose that biometric verification take place when SIM swap requests are made – ostensibly, to guard against unauthorised SIM swaps, which can be used to commit banking and other types of fraud.

AmaBhungane is opposed to these regulations because (1) biometric verification carries inherent risks that data can be misused, (2) this is not a permanent solution as biometrics can be faked and (3) that there are easier, cheaper, better methods to prevent fraudulent SIM swaps.

The expanding acceptance of biometric identity verification is a concerning instance of “surveillance creep”, where the public are made to accept ever-increasing intrusions on their privacy in exchange for promises of security.

Read full submission here

Watch: Sam Sole speaks on Ramaphosa’s stolen millions – the Namibian connection

07 June 2022 - AmaBhungane

AmaBhungane recently published a story following the news of theft at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm in Limpopo – our story followed the trail to Namibia.

In 2020 Namibian authorities identified suspects following a break-in at Ramaphosa’s farm, but sources allege SA intelligence back-channels were used to get the Namibians to let the matter go. Now Arthur Fraser’s criminal complaint puts the President on the spot: what did he do, what did he know and why the cover-up?

What we do know is that authorities in Namibian law enforcement agencies were alerted to about N$6-million (about R6-million) transferred by the suspects into Namibian accounts between February and May 2020.

One of the suspects, Imanuwela David, a Namibian-born individual who also carries a South African passport, was arrested after illegally crossing into Namibia on or about 12 June 2020.

Amabhungane on Saturday reached David via WhatsApp but he claimed we had the wrong number and he didn’t know what we were talking about, despite the number being confirmed by one of his friends. He then blocked us.

By 16 June 2020 Namibian journalists were already aware that David was alleged to be linked to a “theft worth around R50-million from a farm belonging to President Cyril Ramaphosa”.

Watch: Cherese Thakur explains the Steinhoff win

06 June 2022 - AmaBhungane

AmaBhungane advocacy coordinator Cherese Thakur talks on the recent win by amaBhungane and Tiso Blackstar in the Western Cape High Court to gain access to a PwC report commissioned by embattled retailer Steinhoff. The report will shed light on the alleged irregularities giving rise to a precipitous drop in the company’s share price in December 2017.

The decision also strikes a blow against the argument that exemptions from providing such information, such a legal privilege, can be invoked merely on the say-so of the requestee. A sound factual basis must be established.

The impact of this decision is that legitimate requests for access to information from, for example, companies mired in scandal, cannot be ignored or deflected by briefing attorneys to do their bidding.

It means that just because a document may be marked “legally privileged” does not make it necessarily so.

“It has to be emphasised that this first victory is really important, it sets the tone for any further potential litigation and when we look at the actual content of the judgment it is very strong in favour of access to information in this case,” said Thakur

Read full article on the case here

 

Watch: amaB challenges the Executive Ethics Code in Constitutional Court

06 June 2022 - Amabhungane

In 2021 the High Court handed down judgment declaring the Executive Ethics Code to be unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid — internal campaign donations to be disclosed.

The victory would see future donations to members of the executive seeking election to political office within their respective parties become subject to scrutiny.

The Code governs the conduct of members of Cabinet, deputy ministers, and members of executive councils. It obliges them to disclose “benefits of a material nature received by them” while in office.

AmaBhungane raised the issue of internal campaign funding disclosure when we intervened in the president’s high court review of the public protector’s report that found that the president had acted unlawfully by failing to disclose donations made to his CR17 campaign for election to lead the ANC.

Our basis for intervening was always one of principle: we did not take a view on the dispute between the public protector and the president. Rather, our arguments concerned the disclosure of future donations.

The case was heard at the Constitutional Court on 31 May 2022.

Read more here: https://amabhungane.org/advocacy/211203-win-for-transparency/

Watch: Dewald van Rensburg explains the R90m hack at Postbank

05 April 2022 - AmaBhungane reporters

AmaBhungane’s investigative journalist, Dewald van Rensburg explains the R90m social grant system hack that happened at Postbank on Newsroom Afrika.

Read the full article:R90m hack at Postbank kept under wraps

On the 30th of March, amaBhungane published a story on how unknown individuals, most likely working from inside the aspiring state-owned Postbank, stole millions through the social grant system between 16 and 28 October last year. The brazen fraud involved illicitly crediting grant beneficiary accounts with large sums and then emptying these accounts out at ATMs.

Postbank confirmed the theft but stressed that the money was not stolen from customers but rather from Postbank itself.

“Postbank wishes not to provide too much information about the modus operandi of the cybercrime fraud incident in order to protect the sensitive processes of the investigation that is currently underway,” Postbank acting chief executive Kevin Maartens said in response to questions.

The scheme was only accidentally discovered and quashed when a call-centre operator noticed a SASSA grant beneficiary account with a balance of just under R100 000 — highly anomalous for a grant recipient.

Listen: Susan Comrie speaks on gas on the John Perlman Show

01 April 2022 - Susan Comrie

In an interview with John Perlman on radio 702, Susan Comrie explains the SA gas tender following a story published by amaBhungane.

On the 28th of March, amaBhungane reported that Gazprombank, part-owned by Russia’s state-owned gas supplier has confirmed that they are considering bidding for what is potentially a multi-billion-rand contract to provide gas to South Africa.

Listen to the full interview here

The Central Energy Fund (CEF) released a tender last month, looking for a gas aggregator to help secure liquified natural gas (LNG) for various gas-to-power projects planned for the Coega special economic zone in the Eastern Cape.

A gas aggregator is a wholesaler who imports LNG in bulk and sells it to smaller customers.

The tender is potentially lucrative: “[T]he average Gas Demand could be more than [200 million cubic feet per day]. Such volumes can be managed through multi-billion rand contracts per annum,” the tender documents explain.

This translates to over 75-million MMBTU per year, the common unit of measure for natural gas when it is sold on the global market.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 1MMBTU was priced at roughly $26. At the beginning of March, 1MMBTU hit a record-high of $52. Even at pre-Ukraine prices, that would put the size of the potential contract at $2-billion (R29-billion) a year.

Also read: SA pursuing major gas deal — and Russia wants in

Watch: An amaBhungane masterclass on financial forensics

15 October 2021 - AmaBhungane reporters

AmaBhungane’s financial reporting maestro, Dewald van Rensburg joined fellow beetles, Susan Comrie and Sam Sole (amaB managing partner) to present an online masterclass session on financial forensics.

The amaBhungane masterclass was one of about 25 sessions offered by the African Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC) in October.

The annual conference is usually held at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Journalism Department, who also organise it. But the global outbreak in 2020, of the Covid-19 pandemic, forced the conference online.

For their virtual masterclass session, the amaB trio used a case study a series of amaBhungane investigations relating to South African businessman Iqbal Survé and his Sekunjalo group of companies to demonstrate everything that is financial forensics. 

Van Rensburg, Comrie and Sole also discussed practical issues around prioritising investigative resources; story selection and targeted misinformation and smear campaigns aimed at reporters.

Read some of our Survé-linked investigations: 

*“Dr Dan” Matjila’s secret deal to make Survé’s R700m debt to pensioners ‘disappear’
*Independent “outsources” staff to tap Public Investment Corporation billions
*Sactwu drags Survé to court for Indy millions

Watch the video and let us know if you found it helpful.

*Follow us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Even better, sign-up to get our free and friendly newsletter, with all our big and breaking investigations.

Watch: The UPL chemical warehouse disaster explained

28 September 2021 - AmaBhungane

In July 2021, South Africa was gripped by widespread unrest. Amid the chaos of the insurrection, a pesticide warehouse in Durban was set alight. The fallout caused a major ecological disaster. Rivers turned a luminous blue, fish and crustaceans died by the thousands. While nearby residents, exposed to the fire’s toxic fumes, have started to wonder if they will suffer any permanent damage to their health.

International agrochemical giant UPL, which rents the KwaZulu Natal-based warehouse, refused to provide answers about what chemicals were being stored in their warehouse at the time of the blaze — prompting amaBhungane reporters to roll up their sleeves and start digging. 

AmaB’s investigative journalists, Susan Comrie and Dewald van Rensburg, explain in this video how they set about uncovering what toxic chemicals were on site at the time of the blaze, and what they discovered is quite terrifying. 

Watch the video to find out why.

Plus, read amaB’s series into the UPL chemical warehouse fire:

*Here it is: The toxic stockpile of chemicals in torched Durban warehouse
*UPL fire: Here’s the full inventory of chemicals in the destroyed Cornubia warehouse
*UPL chemical disaster: A gaping legal loophole or jaw-dropping negligence?
*UPL disaster: Initial tests found high levels of arsenic from Durban’s chemical spill
*UPL disaster: Residents kept in the dark about dangers on their doorstep


 

Watch: The Age of Accountability — How McKinsey was made to pay back the money

14 June 2021 - AmaBhungane reporters

AmaBhungane investigative reporter Susan Comrie joined the Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis and investigative reporter Pauli van Wyk of Scorpio for a behind-the-scenes look into the Transnet-McKinsey saga. The Daily Maverick, which hosted a live webinar on June 11, focussed on issues surrounding state capture and the need to pursue accountability from implicated companies.

Davis, who moderated the discussion, posed these questions: “Are we in an age of accountability? Is it hopelessly naive to say that accountability is upon us?” 

Susan Comrie responded by offering a “list” of companies she believes have yet to make full disclosures: “If you want accountability there is a list of companies that need to start paying back the money and start disclosing exactly what happened.”

*SAP the software company: they had promised us in 2018 that they were going to review all their public sector contracts; they would report back within six months and that they would disclose all of the business development partners that they had been paying on those contracts. They’re no longer honouring that commitment — that was in 2018. They should have disclosed that in October. They are still getting billions of rands from government: They need to pay back the money.

*The next company is Liebherr, a German-Swiss crane company. They need to pay back.

*Neotel as well. That was one of the first investigations of the first letterbox companies that amaBhungane exposed, which was a Neotel deal with Transnet. They need to pay back money.

*PWC on Eskom they definitely need to pay back the money. They’ve (PWC) been asked to pay it back, but as far as I know they haven’t agreed to pay it back.

*T-Systems: That’s possibly one of the the bigger ones and one of the companies that has just sailed under the radar they need to pay back the money.

*Dentons, as reported this week by your colleague Jessica Bezuidenhout. They need to pay back the money. 

*Bain, they need to pay back the money.

*The biggest one though is CRRC, which was the merger between China North and China South Rail. These are the the companies that got massively inflated locomotive contracts in order to allow — I think it was around R9-billion in kickbacks — to flow to companies controlled by Salim Essa in Hong Kong.

“In terms of accountability, it’s a great first step that McKinsey has paid back the money, but there’s a long way to go. There are a lot of companies that are that are on my list that need to pay back the money.

“We need real accountability. We need real disclosure. We need real transparency and we need the money back,” Comrie said.

Listen: Cherese Thakur discusses the “momentous” Constitutional Court ruling on SA’s Rica surveillance law, with Bruce Whitfield

10 February 2021 - amaBhungane Reporters

In an interview with The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield, Cherese Thakur explained the meaning of amaBhungane’s February 4, Constitutional Court victory, saying: “The ruling is momentous in that it says this needs to change when the amendments to Rica to bring it in line with the Constitution are eventually passed, which needs to happen within three years.”

In it’s judgement, the Constitutional Court, confirmed a landmark 2019 high court ruling, which found five provisions of South Africa’s surveillance law, the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (Rica) to be unconstitutional.

*Read the Constitutional Court judgement.

The highest court in the land also declared bulk surveillance in South Africa to be unlawful.

AmaBhungane launched a high court challenge in 2017 after it emerged that phone calls between its managing partner Sam Sole and a prosecutor involved in the investigation of former president Jacob Zuma had been intercepted.

Also read: Advocacy comment: AmaB’s Rica victory — big brother can no longer watch us with impunity

Watch: AmaBhungane’s counsel Steven Budlender in action in the #CR17 matter

30 November 2020 - amaBhungane Reporters

Counsel for amaBhungane, Steven Budlender SC, delivered a rousing closing argument on Thursday (26 November) capping off an eight-hour hearing at the Constitutional Court in the matter of the Public Protector and Others v President of RSA and Others.

AmaBhungane is arguing for transparency regarding future donations to internal political party campaigns. We have argued that in order to exercise fully the right to vote, the public can’t be left in the dark as to who funded internal political campaigns.

Read:

*Advocacy release: CR17 – court kicks transparency question into touch

*Advocacy release: In CR17 case, amaB asks the court to uphold transparency

In his argument, Budlender set out why disclosure of internal political campaign financing is essential — and indeed required by the Executive Members’ Ethics Act — due to the conflicts of interest that arise following such donations.

Budlender also took the President to task for seeking a cost order against amaBhungane, a non-profit organisation litigating in the public interest, only to abandon the claim at the hearing — a strategy that could have a chilling effect on public interest litigation.

Watch: amaBhungane’s AIJC masterclass

04 November 2020 - amaBhungane Reporter

Watch amaBhungane team members take us through their investigative processes during this year’s African Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC) — an annual conference organised by Wits University’s department of journalism.

AmaBhungane investigators Dewald van Rensburg, Stefaans Brümmer, Susan Comrie and Micah Reddy offer a rare glimpse behind the scenes into the process of investigating corruption at both state and private sector levels.

AmaB’s advocacy coordinator Cherese Thakur gives a run through of how to use PAIA and the Companies Act to get records and court documents from a South Africa perspective.

Susan Comrie takes us through her investigations of the private sector, noting: “There’s a common misconception that we, at amaB, only focus on the State. But that is technically not true. we focus on the intersection between the state and the private sector: it is really about where public money moves into private hands and the kinds of abuse that happens.” Susan shows us her go-to tools to help dig deeper.

Dewald van Rensburg gives us a case study using his work on Iqbal Survé illustrating how to do an investigation with only publicly available information and tools.

Micah Reddy gives “a lightning tour” on how amaBhungane combined tender documents, forensic reports and on-the-ground reporting to uncover EFF-linked corruption and “bust their alibi”.

AmaBhungane investigator and managing partner Stefaans Brümmer gives a lesson on following the money, using his investigation that exposed how Transnet locomotive suppliers pledged R9-billion in kickbacks to the Guptas in the context of state capture.

Brümmer explains, “State capture is the process by which private interests get their hands on the levers of state power.”

Listen: Dewald van Rensburg on VBS and the NPA’s deal with ex-finance boss

08 October 2020 - amaBhungane Reporter

AmaBhungane’s Dewald van Rensburg spoke to EWN’s Bruce Whitfield, about the VBS Mutual Bank saga that took a twist in court this week.

The National Prosecuting Authority reached a plea agreement with disgraced former VBS chief financial officer Philip Truter.

In return for giving evidence for the state against his co-accused in the R2-billion alleged fraud case, Truter received a lighter prison sentence ten years, of which three will be suspended for five tears. He will also be held in a single cell “for safety reasons”.

Listen to the full interview here.

Truter’s co-accused include former VBS chairman and “mastermind” Tshifhiwa Matodzi, chief executive Andile Ramavhunga and treasurer Phophi Mukhodobwane.

Alongside them will be the Public Investment Corporation’s two former representatives to the VBS board, Paul Magula and Ernest Nesane. The last accused is Phalaphala Avhashoni Ramikosi, the former chief financial officer of the South African Police Service and also a former board member of VBS.

They face a collective 47 charges.

Read Update: VBS finance boss Truter strikes deal with NPA

Listen: Gemma Ritchie on the John Maytham Show

08 October 2020 - amaBhungane Reporter

Gemma Ritchie spoke to Cape Talk’s John Maytham about her investigation into a Prasa administrator who was paid R3-million just a day before a court ruled his appointment to be invalid.

Gemma also discussed the increased destruction caused to rail infrastructure during the country’s Covid-19 lockdown.

Listen to the full interview here.

Read: Prasa pays R3m to Mbaks’s administrator — just before court culls him

Watch: Croatian investigative show on Danko Končar and his links to SA

08 October 2020 - amaBhungane Reporter

In February 2020, journalists from Croatian investigative television programme, Provjereno interviewed Dewald van Rensburg on his 2019 story, The great Samancor ‘heist’, that revealed allegations of theft and corruption totaling over $500-million involving Croatian billionaire Danko Končar.

The allegations are contained in court proceedings pitting workers against Samancor Chrome, one of South Africa’s major privately owned mining and minerals processing companies, and Končar, its previous owner and chair.

Končar has had a storied career, owning and managing major mining and metals companies from Russia to Germany, South Africa and Finland. He has been dubbed the “king of chrome” in his native Croatia and is reportedly the richest Croatian in the world.

Van Rensburg’s interview forms part of Provjereno’s televised investigation into Končar’s international dealings. He explained how a profit shifting scheme and other dodgy deals orchestrated by Končar were allegedly used to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars offshore out of Samancor Chrome.

Watch Provjereno’s video.

Listen: Sam Sole talks about Eskom and the SIU’s claim to recover #StateCapture money

07 August 2020 - amaBhungane Reporter

Eskom and the Special Investigating Unit filed a R3.8-billion claim, alleging that former Eskom bosses conspired with the Guptas over a six-year period to exploit state-owned entities for the latter’s benefit.

Read: Update: Here are the papers in Eskom’s multi-billion state capture summons

Cape Talk’s Lester Kiewit spoke to amaBhungane’s Sam Sole about the case and why it is that criminal charges have yet to be bought against those named in the docket.

*Read how amaBhungane’s work is contributing to the recovery of billions in state capture loot.

Listen: Stefaans Brümmer unpacks his ‘Locorruption’ investigation

01 June 2020 - amaBhungane Reporter

On Monday it will be three years exactly since amaBhungane and its partners published the first #GuptaLeaks investigation. It showed that China South Rail (CSR) had promised kickbacks totaling R5.3-billion to the Guptas and their associates via letterbox companies in the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.

Today, June 1, 2020, amaBhungane published an investigation that reveals an additional seven kickback agreements, most of them made public for the first time.

*Retrace Brümmer’s steps and access a spreadsheet, with a comprehensive analyse of money flows, as well as all the kickback agreements via our evidence docket.

Brümmer took EWN’s Bongani Bingwa through his mammoth investigation, which included analysing bank data, matching payments that left Transnet as rands with US dollars inflows in Hong Kong and UAE bank accounts, while also adjusting for exchange rates on the day each payment was made.

On Transnet contracts worth R41.9-billion, companies in the CRRC stable pledged R9-billion in kickbacks to the Guptas. By the time our banking data ends in October 2016, the Guptas had already received at least R3.69-billion.

In his piece, Locorruption reloaded: We reveal Gupta kickback contracts worth R9bn, Brümmer writes:

“The kickbacks were paid by two locomotive manufacturers now merged to form CRRC Corporation, the Beijing-based conglomerate that boasts of being the world’s largest supplier of rail equipment. But the money came from ordinary South Africans via Transnet, a state-owned company. It followed a simple formula: whatever Transnet paid the CRRC companies, they paid the Guptas a cut of, usually 21%.

Listen to the interview:

Listen: Media law podcast on surveillance with Sam Sole

06 May 2020 - amaBhungane Reporter

Law firm Webber Wentzel’s Dario Milo speaks to Sam Sole and Professor Jane Duncan in the third episode of his legal podcast series on media law in South Africa.

The subject of the episode is surveillance and the impact of legislation on South Africa’s media freedom.

Get the podcast here.

AmaBhungane was involved in a landmark court case, challenging the constitutionality of South Africa’s surveillance law known as Rica – the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication Related Information Act.

After it heard legal arguments in February, the Constitutional court must decide whether to uphold the high court’s September 2019 ruling that found in amaBhungane’s favour and declared several provisions of Rica to be unconstitutional.

Explore more on our surveillance coverage: 

Analysis: Inside amaBhungane’s landmark ruling on surveillance
Advocacy: Surveillance — silent killer of journalism and democracy
Watch: #RICAchallenge highlights with Karabo Rajuili
Watch: Murray Hunter highlights the key issues around Rica

 

Watch: Reporting techniques for investigative journalists

25 March 2020 - amaBhungane Reporter

On February 28, 2020, The Namibian Media Trust (NMT) hosted a joint investigative journalism training session with amaBhungane and the IJ Hub, a non-profit spun off by amaBhungane which serves investigative journalists across Southern Africa.

AmaBhungane’s Susan Comrie traveled to Windhoek, Namibia to co-host the day’s training session, which focussed on reporting techniques for investigative journalists.

NMT said: “We sat down with investigative journalism trainers namely, Mathias Haufiku, Susan Comrie and Tileni Mongudhi after an interactive training session to find out about their experiences. While this genre of journalism supremely reflects the watchdog role of media in our society, they echoed challenges and opportunities facing the profession.”

Watch the video on the training session.

Susan Comrie on her top investigative tools with GIJN

18 March 2020 - amaBhungane Reporter

AmaBhungane investigative journalist Susan Comrie takes the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) through her top investigative tools.

Read the full article: My Favorite Tools with South African Investigative Journalist Susan Comrie

Comrie says many of her investigations began simply by poring over public records. “A lot of the time it’s a case of being able to take the data and then understand the narrative that flows from that data and come up with a hypothesis that one can then test,” she said.

Also check out our iVestigate page where you can find a number of useful digital investigative tools.