Africa

South Africa to investigate gold mafia uncovered by Al Jazeera

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that authorities are looking at several individuals mentioned in Al Jazeera.

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South Africa has launched an investigation into several people involved in a gold smuggling and money laundering scheme exposed by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

In a speech to the Parliament of South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa said this week the investigation was in the “inquiry stage”.

“We are committed to preserving the integrity of our financial system in the interests of the broader economy and ordinary citizens,” Ramaphosa added on Thursday. “Details of the steps that are being taken cannot be divulged at this stage without compromising the investigation.”

The investigation is the direct result of Gold Mafia, a four-part series by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) into gold smuggling and money laundering in southern Africa.

In it, Al Jazeera revealed how a group of money launderers and gold smugglers had effectively taken over several South African banks by bribing key members, allowing the criminals to send large amounts of illegally obtained money overseas without raising the suspicions of the authorities.

Mo Dollars

The key person in this process was a man named Mohamed Khan, nicknamed Mo Dollars.

“He’s sort of held up as a sort of shadowy figure that controls money laundering in South Africa,” money laundering investigator Paul Holden told Al Jazeera.

Among Khan’s biggest clients was Simon Rudland, a Zimbabwean millionaire who owns one of the region’s biggest tobacco companies, Gold Leaf Tobacco. South African revenue officials have accused Rudland of evading taxes by selling his cigarettes on the black market.

Rudland authorised Khan’s company SALT Asset Management to carry out foreign exchange transactions on Gold Leaf’s behalf. Khan, who also owned another company called PKSA Group, then used a complex web of fake invoices, front companies and bank accounts to launder hundreds of millions of dollars to bank accounts all over the world, from Dubai to Mauritius to Switzerland.

Those companies are controlled by Rudland and several business partners.

To ensure that this process did not raise any red flags in South Africa’s financial system, Khan would bribe key officials at two of the country’s biggest banks – Standard and Absa – as well as at Sasfin, a bank that focuses on small businesses.

Ledgers accessed by Al Jazeera show thousands of dollars of cash were paid every month to these officials. Other documents and interviews reveal that dodgy, illicit transactions were only processed when bribed employees were in the office.

People in bank compliance departments were paid to ensure that PKSA and SALT Asset Management paperwork appeared clean and got the required approvals. And in the case of Sasfin, a member of the IT department received bribes to wipe fraudulent transactions from the bank’s online system.

Request for UK investigation

Last week, a member of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom asked for a similar investigation into members of the Gold Mafia by UK authorities.

Three of the people featured in the investigation – Uebert Angel, Rikki Doolan, and Kamlesh Pattni – have British citizenship.

“I hope that the National Crime Agency is investigating the activities of these individuals and others named in the documentary and the sources of their wealth, and that the authorities won’t hesitate to freeze their funds while these investigations are being pursued,” Baron Jonny Oates of Denby Grange said during the discussion of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill.

Uebert Angel is a pastor and self-proclaimed prophet who was appointed Zimbabwe’s ambassador-at-large for Europe and the Americas by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Doolan is Angel’s number two. Angel was covertly recorded agreeing to smuggle $1.2bn of dirty cash into Zimbabwe using his diplomatic status. He told Al Jazeera’s undercover reporters, “[The plane] will land in Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe can’t touch it too until I get to my house. So, there can be a diplomatic plan.”

Kamlesh Pattni is a gold smuggler who in the 1990s almost bankrupted Kenya through a gold smuggling scheme. He has since moved his gold smuggling and money laundering operation to Zimbabwe. He also offered to help Al Jazeera’s undercover reporters to launder money and smuggle gold, a deal that he said would be protected by Mnangagwa.

YouTube account taken offline

In response to the investigation, Angel said he was actually undercover himself when he offered to break the law. Angel, who claims he can predict the future, said he was always aware the undercover journalists were reporters, and he had concocted an elaborate scheme to reveal the true nature of the meetings despite never providing any evidence of him working undercover himself.

Since the release of the investigation, Angel’s YouTube channel has been taken offline, although it is unclear whether the account was removed by YouTube or if Angel took the account offline himself.

A second account, also belonging to Angel, remains online.

Reponses to investigation

Simon Rudland told Al Jazeera that the allegations against him formed part of a smear campaign by an unidentified third party. He denied any involvement in the sale of illicit cigarettes and in gold or other smuggling.

He accepted that he had had dealings with Mohamed Khan, who he agreed “appeared” to be a money launderer. He acknowledged that Gold Leaf and another of his companies had authorised Khan’s SALT Asset Management to act as their agent but denied that any form of money laundering had been undertaken for him or any of his businesses.

Gold Leaf Tobacco denied any involvement, past or present, in money laundering, illegal gold trade and related matters. No “untaxed” or “illegal” cigarettes could be “attributed” to Gold Leaf, it said. Gold Leaf’s limited transactions with Mohamed Khan and SALT Asset Management had always been lawful and proper, it said.

Mohamed Khan told Al Jazeera that all allegations against him were false and based on speculation, conjecture and manufactured and doctored evidence. He confirmed that he was the owner of the PKSA Group and of SALT Asset Management and that Gold Leaf were clients of SALT, but he denied involvement in money laundering or other criminal activity. He denied bribing anyone who worked in the South African banking sector.

Sasfin Bank told Al Jazeera it was taking vigorous action against suspended and former employees and clients of its foreign exchange unit and said that it no longer had a relationship with any of the businesses named in this article.

Absa Bank said it had passed Al Jazeera’s findings to its Forensic Investigative Unit, while Standard Bank said it has a zero-tolerance stance relating to fraud and criminality and would report and assist in any legal investigation.

Kamlesh Pattni denied involvement in any form of money laundering or bribery and denied being in communication with Mnangagwa or having any business dealings with him.

Others featured in this report did not respond to our inquiries.

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