For South African businessman, Simbi Phiri, dignity and reputation are worth than all the gold a man can have.
When a sustained media frenzy built around him in the last 12 months, suggesting that he had tried to sneak money into Botswana as the crime busters, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) froze all his bank accounts in a widely publicized move, for Phiri, it was the dignity that was at stake than the cry for the so called frozen money, P25 million, at the time.
It could not help when the unsuspecting media was sold a juicy line supposedly by the investigators that Phiri had allegedly been caught with USD 8.8 million in the boot of his car, before the truth finally came out in court papers that in actual fact, Phiri had mistakenly not declared USD 86 000, when he declared USD 800 000 at the Tlokweng boarder in one trip undertaken on 27 April, 2016, and that he had mistakenly and genuinely not declared USD 200 000, when he declared USD 300 000 in an earlier trip undertaken in July 26, 2015.
Phiri had said at the time of the declarations he was not aware that his wife had put in more funds and that it was only in those two occasions while in many occasions he had not failed to declare all his funds at the boarder.
It had been an unending tale of the ant and the sorghum in the courts for man widely known as Simbi in his circle of friends as the court case showed no signs of ending.
He thought he had won had he successfully challenged the DCEC’s court order to freeze all his bank accounts in September last year when the High Court gave him back all his money after satisfying itself that there had been no money laundering fears against Simbi.
Phiri had quickly, in a bid to clear himself, provided several documentary evidence from South African financial authority that proved that he had been cleared to travel outside South Africa with an equivalent of R20 million a year, while a South African bank had also written to confirm that Phiri’s companies, Khato Civils and South Zambezi Engineering had turnover of over R3 billion together, and that Phiri himself had cash in the bank of over R 5 million.
But the victory was short-lived, as the prosecution froze the accounts again on appeal, while investigations continued. Phiri would go back to Court to ask for a variation order that allowed him partial access to the funds, and was later given access to P500 000 a month. But it was not long after that that the DCEC was back in Court appealing the same variation order, arguing that he should not have any pula while investigations were ongoing. By the end of June there were two cases at the High Court and the Appeals, with the Appeals case to deal with the decision to award Phiri limited access to his funds and the High Court case to deal with strict scrutiny of the extension of the variation order that had elapsed.
By tactical maneuver, Phiri’s attorneys, Tengo Rubadiri allowed the variation order period to elapse without asking for any further extension, thus lending a natural death that pending appeals case against the variation, which would have ordinarily been kept active by the anticipated continuation of the variation order request.
However when the parties came before Justice Leburu for the umpteenth time at the end of August, Rubadiri attorneys slapped the Court with a completely fresh and new application and abandoned the variation order request completely. In the new case, the Phiri party applied for the release of all the funds sighting incompetence of the investigators in this case, as they had gone for over 12 months without any signs of going anywhere, while the company they were supposed to investigate had started losing millions of Pula due to lack of funds.
Like in the first hurdle, Phiri has been awarded back his money once again, but the wheel could play on and on, with another appeal, another freezing of the accounts, followed by another variation order, and appeal of the variation order, a lapse of the appeal, a fresh application, another Phiri victory, and the soapy goes on without end.
Those close to the events in this case, say it is more than just a court case, it is a reputation, a dignity war, to tarnish the man’s image and destroy his chances of winning a lucrative P8 billion North-South Water Carrier 2.2.
It is no secret that Phiri had tabled an unsolicited tender to President Ian Khama two years ago at the height of Gaborone and the southern region’s acute water shortage as the Gaborone dam failed.
Phiri’s proposal to help solve Gaborone and the southern region’s water problems with a cost effective long lasting non bursting pipes that could last 50-100 years, as well as his track record with similar projects in South Africa, seemed to had won the hearts of his audience at the Office of the President and the water Ministry, but there were tender sharks waiting and ready to dispossess and run away with the lucrative tender
Two powerful ministers and two permanent secretaries’ names as well as forces at the DCEC connected to the rival faction are mentioned as the game spoilers who desire that the tender to be given to their favored company that has already allegedly bought hem property in Dubai, as part of the deal sweetener.
Meanwhile the ministry responsible for the project has decided to unbundle it to ensure that more than one or two players are involved in the project for speedy completion.
But even as Phiri shakes off the long standing allegations, courtesy of the recent court victory, he must have learnt his lessons; it is a law of the jungle out there; as he drags himself to the drinking hole, like in the jungle, beware, danger
He may have gotten all his money back but for Phiri, it is not the money to cheer for.
In fact, when it comes to money, he has more than enough in his access in South Africa where he is presiding over companies with R3 billion plus in turn over.
But when it comes to reputation, moral image, public perception, the Botswana court case victory last week had been like the purest water washing clean a dirty linen, previously tainted by all the bad publicity that came with this marathon, Tom and Jerry case.
When Phiri finally leaped with joy when he heard the news of the victory, some 600km away in his Johannesburg headquarters, it was sure not about the excitement of the release of P25 million, it was the leap of moral victory, of confirmation of cleanliness in the handling of the affairs of his money in Botswana, the land of his mother. Simbi is born of a Botswana mother in Tonota, and Malawian father.
Interestingly Simbi Phiri’s moral victory in Botswana Courts of Laws had not been attained via some legal technicality. It was facts, and facts only that convinced the High Court judge that allegations of money laundering against Simbi Phiri have no leg or arm.
For Starters, Simbi had started depositing money into various Botswana bank, Stanbic Bank accounts from around 2010. His bank accounts, totaling nine, held various foreign currencies, as Simbi Phiri prepared himself to invest in Botswana by opening a division of Khato Civils. He is also in the business of international currency speculation and gains profits from exchange rates of international currencies.
It had been a hell of a torrid year for aka Simbi in the last 12 months, especially with the bad publicity. If he was not fighting the unsubstantiated allegations of money laundering, he was accused of buying influence to get a permission of change of land use, or accused of calling himself a Motswana, a Malawian, a South African, all unfounded.
While in Malawi Simbi Phiri would thank President Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika for standing up and condemn colonial mentality that still think an African is not worthy of a billion Rand project even when Simbi Phiri had proved capable in his many projects in South Africa, in his motherland, Simbi Phiri could only rely on the justice system of the courts to declare him clean, incorrupt, not money laundering, albeit in a very slow, painful and very expensive process. His legal bills alone had ballooned to millions of Pula. In fact he has told the Botswana courts that he expects to have spent over P5 million in legal fees alone by the end of this case.
To say it had been a long, frustrating journey to justice for Simbi in the Botswana courts would probably be an understatement. In fact under normal circumstances, all things being equal Simbi Phiri should have long been vindicated by the courts, as far back as September last year, 12 months ago, when he first won the same case, clean and fair, with documentary evidence from Forex World and FNB South Africa, that confirmed he had been cleared to carry more than R20 million a year, by the Reserve bank of South Africa, that also confirmed his liquidity as a wealthy man with companies worth over R 3 billion and with personal bank accounts with over 5 million Rand.
He had also proved to the court without doubt that he was also among others in the business of international currency speculation that requires him to carry cash from time to time in his safe, and that he was moving funds into Botswana also to mobilise resources for setting up of his company, that by last year had already moved into its site of operation, machinery worth over R40 million.
Simbi Phiri had also told the court that in the many occasions he had brought cash into Botswana he had not failed to declare except on the two occasions, when he under-declared by genuine mistake.
He also told the court that a money launderer would not deposit into bank accounts the same funds he is laundering, as they would be traced back to him.
It was supposed to end there, 12 months ago, but the DCEC appealed the case and froze the accounts for the second time, before Simbi Phiri applied for a variation order that allowed him access to P500 000 a month until June this year when the variation order was up for review.
In the meantime, heads had been rolling at the crime-busting agency the DCEC largely due to incompetence and perception of corruption there.
Head of investigations Itumeleng Phuthego, is on suspension and faces six years in jail after sharing with a Sunday Newspaper a docket to expose the Land and water resources Minister, Prince Maele, that they allege is very close to Simbi Phiri and hell-bent on handing the North-South water Carrier 2.2 project to Khato Civils ahead of a certain company favoured by some cabinet Ministers.
A deputy director corporate services, Botlhale Makgekgenene, who was previously singled out for attack by Siumbi Phiri for unethical conduct has also been thrown out of the DCEC after a Phiri had written a scathing letter that was published by Mmegi newspaper, while head of the DCEC, Ms Rose Seretse, has been removed and replaced by a former police assistant commissioner Bruno Paledi.
As Simbi cools off and regains his moral dignity and reputation as a straightforward businessman questions are being asked as to whether the rivals would be back in court and all over the newspapers with another Simbi Phiri allegations in a bid to disrupt his eyes from the ball. As for now, the shrewd businessman is basking in the glory of the court victory that has taken off the undesirable tag off his head.(additional reporting from Nyasa Times)