P500m stolen from government?

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High-ranking government officials including cabinet ministers and Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) officials are implicated in a clandestine plot that allegedly fleeced over P500 million from government.

Information passed to Mmegi reveals that the sum was for a project that was never completed. There are documents showing that senior government officials (names withheld) at Office of the President (OP) and the government spy agency may have been in cahoots with a controversial Israeli-Serbian national identified as Vladimir Cizelj, to siphon millions of taxpayers’ money.

Investigations by Mmegi suggest that Cizelj’s company, Vlatacom, was awarded a closed contract of over P500 million in 2010 to supply the Botswana government with Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) systems. 

The contract was awarded without following tendering processes because it was considered a ‘national security’ matter.

According to sources, part of the P500m may have landed in the offshore accounts of senior government officials. It is reported that DIS director, Isaac Kgosi may have recommended Vlatacom for the PKI project.

There are allegations that Kgosi inappropriately assisted or favoured the company in the pursuit of the PKI contract.

The allegations form part of Kgosi’s corruption docket that has been passed to the Directorate of Public Prosecution for assessment.

PKI is a security system that supports the distribution and identification of public encryption keys. It enables users and government computers to securely exchange data over networks such as the Internet and verify the identity of parties to the communication.

“The contract did not have clear deliverables. It was just a ploy to fleece money from the government coffers because Vlatacom never delivered anything since it was awarded the contract in 2010,” said a highly placed source.

The startling allegations that the PKI project was never delivered means that government systems that need protection remain unsecure. 

The source said the PKI contract, which was initially under e-government was conveniently transferred to DIS so that the officers could embezzle the funds without public audit fears.

Mmegi investigations show that Vlatacom is one of the companies that have won multi-million pula security tenders in Botswana over the last decade.

Since the establishment of DIS, Vlatacom has been awarded tenders to supply high security equipment. The company was contracted by DIS to install Automated Finger Print Identification Systems in all its bases, Mmegi has established. 

In 2012 the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC) investigated Vlatacom for its suspicious dealings with the DIS boss who was also under investigation for multiple cases of corruption. 

Documents seen by Mmegi suggest that senior members of Vlatacom may have been interviewed by DIS on allegations of corruption at the agency. At one point, Interpol was roped in to assist with the cross border investigation of Vlatacom. The BDF Military Intelligence was also roped in to monitor the movements of Vlatacom staff in Gaborne. 

Last year, Mmegi reported that Kgosi allegedly received close to P1 million from Vlatacom to purchase Sentlhane Farm. The money was paid through leading local law firm, Collins Newman trust account on August 3, 2009.

Kgosi allegedly lied to Collins Newman saying that the farm was actually purchased by Mossad - the feared Israeli Secret Service - to be used by their agents when they are in Botswana.

In the DCEC interview, Kgosi changed the Mossad statement and said the funds were from the late Debswana managing director, Louis Nchindo and never mentioned Mossad.  Kgosi said Nchindo just presented him with a P900,000 gift in hard cash because ‘he was very close to him’.

Efforts to contact Cizelj in Israel and Serbia were unsuccessful. He has not answered questions sent to his official email. Vlatacom’s Botswana telephone rang unanswered. Efforts to talk to the e-Government controler Dr Omponye Kereteletswe were unsuccessful as he was saiud to be on leave.


Cizelj: The man behind Vlatacom

Vladimir Cizelj, the managing director of Vladacom, a mysterious company that won almost all major communication systems tenders from the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) is a controversial figure. His arrival in the country close to 20 years ago unsettled the security and business community, intelligence files on the company and Cizelj have revealed.

Cizelj is an Israeli citizen who was born in Serbia where one of his companies, Vlatacom, is domiciled.

Intelligence files seen by Mmegi indicate that when he first came to Botswana, his interest was mainly military procurement and agriculture. In fact, he was a representative of Tahal – a company that developed Botswana’s Agricultural Master Plan back in the 1990s. Cizelj’s focus shifted to military procurement later when he plotted to unseat Procon, an Israeli company that was responsible for maintaining BDF’s F-5 fleet.

In the process, he became friends with the most powerful people in government (names withheld), including senior BDF officers, cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries. Some of the senior members of the BDF and its suppliers were not happy about Cizelj’s alleged ‘mafia style business tactics’, information from the intelligence files reveal.

Cizelj was so boastful that he claimed to have met former presidents Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae and that at one point, he had access to them whenever he wanted. His relationship with the DIS director, Isaac Kgosi, according to the files, dates back to the early 2000s.

It is not clear how the two met, but the files suggest that Cizelj may have met President Ian Khama through Kgosi sometime in 2000.

It is no surprise that years later, Cizelj’s company, Vlatacom has won multi-million tenders at DIS. In 2010, his company was awarded a tender to supply Public Key Infrastructure systems to e-government.

The company supplied and installed DIS Motorola communication systems and biometric systems, according to information seen by Mmegi.  Vlatacom has also won major tenders in other government ministries and departments. 

Cizelj is currently Botswana’s honorary consul in Israel according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation website and other documents.

It is not clear when and why he was appointed to the position. But what is obvious is that Cizelj, a mysterious figure, has won the hearts of those in power in Botswana.

Efforts to get hold of Cizelj this week were unsuccessful.  According to intelligence sources, he hardly comes to Botswana and Pini Maiden who is also an Israeli handles his interests in the country. Efforts to speak to Maiden were also unsuccessful.

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