Choppies founder and acting CEO, Farouk Ismail says he donated P2 million to President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s 2017 chairmanship campaign and another P2 million to the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in 2014, as part of sponsorship of the ruling party.
The revelations are contained in an affidavit Ismail deposed this week in support of former spy chief, Isaac Kgosi, against whom the State is building a money laundering and corruption case.
In response to a Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) allegation that Farouk’s loans and financial support to Kgosi were suspicious, the business tycoon pointed to his donations to Masisi and the ruling party.
“Was this money laundering,” he wrote in his affidavit.
“I have given a lot of money to many different people and organisations in Botswana through my attorneys. “I do not need anybody to prescribe how I should give people money.”
Ismail and suspended Choppies CEO, Ramachandran Ottapathu awarded Kgosi million of food retailer’s shares years ago in a scheme under which he would pay for them from dividends earned. The Choppies bosses also have other business dealings with the former spy chief that the DCEC is taking a closer look at.
“I am compelled to file this affidavit lest the wild and defamatory allegations made about my person by the said Matshameko go unanswered. I should state from the onset that, had the said Matshameko interviewed me, he would not have made these serious, untested allegations against myself, for I would have provided the answers to his suspicions and allayed his fears of any corrupt or improper relationship and or any illusions he had harboured relating to my relationship with Mr Kgosi,” said Ismail in his supporting affidavit.
Last month, the DCEC’s chief anti-corruption officer Festus Ngadzi Matshameko deposed an affidavit in which Justice Tebogo Tau relied on to give an order for the State to confiscate Kgosi’s farm in Sentlhane, Phakalane Estates mansion, cattle, vehicles and P549, 763.07 in his account with Barclay Bank.
Then Ismail explained how the Choppies Group was conceived by himself and Ottapatuh and how with the growth of Choppies, many Batswana not only had opportunity to do business with the grocer but to be employed as well. Choppies in Botswana has created over 10, 000 jobs alone, he said.
“Owing to the success of the Choppies Group in Botswana, Ram and I decided to invite other Batswana to be part of this group as empowerment initiative. Batswana could either become retailers themselves through our franchise scheme or acquire shares in the business. Mr Kgosi was one of those invited to acquire shares in the Group.”
Ismail said Kgosi was not alone and others such as Margaret Nasha, Oliphant Mfa, Festus Mogae amongst others acquired either franchises or shares in the Group.
“These were people we knew and had known for and over the years. We were not looking for any favours nor were we involved in any illegal activities with them. Choppies was already an established business. Many people including those in the current leadership of the BDP [Botswana Democratic Party] still do business with Choppies,” he said.
He stated that he has known ex-spy chief for close to 39 years and Kgosi’s 11-year-old son is his Godson. He said over a period of time in 39 years, he has not only lent Kgosi money to buy vehicles alluded to by Matshameko.
He has also paid for airfares for him and his family to take their son to hospital in Israel.
“I have done this with no expectation of any favour from Mr Kgosi.”
He added that he is not involved and has never been involved in any criminal activities, real or imagined, in laundering and in any illegal activities with Kgosi. Any suggestion to that effect is preposterous, he added.
“That I chose to give money to Mr Kgosi through my then attorneys Sadique Kebonang Attorneys is equally irrelevant.”
Masisi’s 2017 campaign for the BDP chairmanship in Tonota has been a thorn in the side for the President. Money laundering accused asset manager, Bakang Seretse has also alleged that he donated P3 million to Masisi’s campaign.
Documents suggest the donations were made through Masisi’s main fundraiser and lobbyist at the time, Sadique Kebonang, who is also a co-accused with Seretse in the money laundering case. Kebonang, a former Cabinet minister, was also Ismail’s attorney at the time of the donations to Masisi and the ruling party.
On the allegations, Masisi/BDP have always maintained that Masisi did not commit any crime by receiving the campaign donations. Masisi is running on an anti-corruption ticket with the BDP adopting the “Re Baakanya Lefatshe” tagline for its 2019 campaign.
The Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) has raided several people and seized assets, as anti-corruption activities have ramped up.
Masisi and his government, however, have been accused of only targeting his political opponents, while turning a blind eye to suspicious activities by loyalists.
Also coming to Kgosi’s rescue was Ottapatuh, popularly known as Ram who said Matshameko’s suspicions of wrongdoing or criminality were unfounded and outrageous to say the least.
Ram disclosed that he has known Kgosi for over 18 years and the director general of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has been his business partner in Choppies through his company Silver Shadows (Pty) Ltd since 2010.
“As a shareholder he was entitled to yearly dividends whenever these were declared by the company,” Ram said.
Kgosi also had access to company loans whenever he required assistance. As a general rule, Ram said, any director or shareholder who acquired a loan would have it deducted against his or her dividend.
“I have been previously interviewed by the DCEC about how he acquired and paid for his shares in the company. I state that Mr Kgosi was allocated shares, which he was paying through his dividends. He was not only citizen shareholder who acquired his shares in this manner. Several citizens, whose names shall remain confidential as they are not part of these proceedings were beneficiaries of this arrangement from our Group of Companies.”
He added that as a business partner and a fellow shareholder, Kgosi was assisted to buy a car, being a Land Rover B414 ATI.
“I personally made payment through my attorneys at the time being Sadique Kebonang for the payment of the car. The amount paid towards the car was a loan with the understanding that it would be repaid against future dividend or upon his selling of his shares when the price of the shares picked up,” Ram said.
He explained that he had never had official interaction with ex-DIS boss and added that even as a business partner, Kgosi once rejected his mother’s visa application.
In conclusion he dismissed any suggestion of criminal involvement with Kgosi as nonsensical. Had he been interviewed by DCEC like before, they would have established these facts and not made unwarranted allegations.
Kebonang also deposed supporting affidavit in favour of Kgosi. Likewise, he said Matshameko has not interviewed him and his unmerited allegations warrant the filing of this affidavit, as these were absurd and in some instance malicious.
Kebonang stated that he had previously given Kgosi a loan towards the purchase of his wife’s car, a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, besides having paid him the sum of P102, 000.00 towards the amount he previously owed Kgosi.
He also testified that Kgosi and his wife have never met Li Gang or sought any assistance from him towards the purchase of the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado.
He said the money paid towards the Prado came from a donation he received from his friend and neighbour Li Gang.
“Any allegations of obtaining by false pretence are rejected outright. Any payments by Sadique Kebonang Attorneys were fully authorised by Farouk and Ram with no benefit expected from Mr Kgosi by Ram and Farouk.
Any suggestion that the law firm was used for illegal activity is rejected outright. Such allegation is not only absurd but defamatory,” Kebonang concluded.