The man behind the controversial TaraKLamp circumcision device has been linked to allegations of drug smuggling in Zambia during the 1980s.
Ibrahim Sildky Yusuf is the main director of a South African company, Intratrek Properties, which is the agent for supplying the circumcision clamp.
Yusuf, through his lawyer, said he was never charged for drug smuggling, nor is there any current investigation involving him.
The Malaysian-made disposable clamps, costing about R150 each, are being distributed by the KwaZulu- Natal health department as part of a circumcision drive to lower the transmission rate of HIV.
The clamps have attracted controversy over both their cost-effectiveness and safety when compared with surgical circumcision, and over the department’s failure to follow tender procedures in sourcing the TaraKLamp.
A Mail & Guardian investigation of the probity of the KwaZulu-Natal contract and into Yusuf’s background has raised questions about his past.
Two contemporary documentary sources have linked Yusuf, also known as Iboo, to a high-level Mandrax-smuggling network that operated in Zambia in the mid-1980s.
A 1985 Zambian High Court judgment relating to the detention of three Zambians sets out police allegations that Yusuf was part of a drug ring operating between Germany, Lusaka and South Africa.
The detention warrant for one of the men, McDonald Ngwira, alleged that in 1984 Ngwira “conspired with a West German national commonly known as Professor Brueck and Ibrahim Sildky Yusuf, also a Zambian and resident in Zambia, to illegally import into Zambia from West Germany … two million tablets of a poisonous drug called Methaqualone hydrochlo- ride … popularly known as Mandrax”.
Yusuf, through his lawyer, told the M&G: “Neither Ngwira nor anyone for that matter, including Ibrahim Yusuf, was ever charged for drug smuggling, nor is there any investigation against them.
“The applicants in that matter launched proceedings to be released from prison since they were detained under the ‘presidential detention powers’, which … granted the president powers to detain indefinitely any individual on mere suspicion.”
A source close to Yusuf blamed the detention on political harassment and told the M&G: “He was only given a presidential detention. President [Kenneth] Kaunda was president of Zambia, and there was a group of people who wanted to intro- duce another party. They were seeking financial support and approaching rich people.
“It was alleged that they approached Ibrahim for funding, but he was not involved. He was released after 40 days and there were, like, 30 other people. He was never taken to trial and not one person was found guilty.”
But Yusuf, under the alias Iboo, is also identified in a 1987 affidavit compiled for police by one-time drug smuggler Vuyo Ndzeku.
In the affidavit, Ndzeku also identified Brueck as a major Mandrax supplier to the Zambian network, which was alleged to have included Zambian MP Sikota Wina and his wife, Princess Nakatindi.
When Nakatindi was detained, first
in India and later in Zambia, on suspicion of drug smuggling, Ndzeku says he dealt with another German in Lusaka named Lorenz.
When Lorenz was later arrested in Johannesburg, Ndzeku was stuck for a supplier.
“With Lorenz out of the way, there were no more foils [packs of pills] on the market and the loose Mandrax started appearing,” Ndzeku said.
“An Indian man, Iboo, started selling these foils in Lusaka … At the moment I am trying to work my way to befriend Iboo from Zambia to buy my Mandrax from him.”
Yusuf denies knowing or meeting Ndzeku.
By 1996 Yusuf was part of a consortium called Intertrek formed to buy out Zamcargo, a logistics company that had been part of the state- owned Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines.
President Levy Mwanawasa succeeded Frederick Chiluba in December 2001, promising a crackdown on corruption.
In January 2002, the Post newspaper reported that the Zambian Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) was “hunting for Lusaka businessman Ibrahim Sildky Yusuf, alias Iboo, to help them with investigations of the US$29 000 obtained from the National Assembly two years ago”.
DEC spokesperson Nason Banda was reported at the time saying the commission also required Iboo to help them with investigations over goods stolen outside Zambia the previous year that were allegedly found in his possession.
Yusuf denies the allegations. He has also rejected suggestions from a number of sources who worked with him that he was still wanted in Zambia.
His lawyer said: “There are no investigations of whatever nature against Mr Yusuf in Zambia or any country for that matter and, in fact, he has been to Zambia a number of times since 2001.”
In 2001, Yusuf registered Intratrek — apparently a commodity trading company — and moved to South Africa.
Anash Latchman, who worked with Intratrek from December 2006 to late 2007, said: “I found it strange that Intratrek had no employees.”
Another former employee also felt something was strange about the company: “Intratrek was meant to have imported commodities in ship- loads — palm oil, maize and rice to redistribute to buyers all over Africa — but in my time with him I never saw a single transaction take place.”
It appears Yusuf’s relocation to South Africa was eased by the contacts he had made with ANC figures in exile in Zambia.
Latchman said Yusuf boasted about his political connections: “He always said he had connections in the ANC. He harboured ANC comrades when they were in exile in Zambia in the 1980s.”
Yusuf also spoke of his friendship with Kaunda, Latchman said.
His connections with the ANC in Lusaka may have led him to hook up in South Africa with Lawrence Pietersen, an ex-ANC intelligence operative, whom Yusuf describes as “a friend”.
Pietersen is himself a colourful figure, with questions being raised in 1996 about his rumoured involvement in a Mandrax bust at Lanseria airport in 1994. The allegations were never confirmed.
Pietersen’s companies, Adajet and Ibhubesi Trading, were also involved in controversy over the award of contracts by the department of defence for the provision of air-cargo flights and troop ration packs.
An associate of Pietersen, who asked not to be named, said Yusuf occasionally used to work out of Adajet offices five years ago, but stopped about four years ago.
“Pietersen was doing him a favour by lending him a desk as and when he needed it at Adajet … to get back on his feet.”
But in 2007, Yusuf registered a sister company in Mozambique, also called Intratrek, in which Pietersen was named as a director and 26% share- holder.
Yusuf is listed as having a 49% share and ex-Mozambican general Joao Americo Mpfumo holds 25%.
Yusuf referred queries about what Intratrek Mozambique does to the Mozambican authorities.
Mpfumo could not be reached for comment.
Pietersen told the M&G he had been introduced to Yusuf by Mpfumo, but the company they set up together never traded.
He said Yusuf was not linked to any of his own companies.
This article was co-produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.