Adriaan Basson tells state capture inquiry of Bosasa threats and meeting with Agrizzi

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Adriaan Basson on the 21st of February 2016 in South Africa. Photo: Gallo Images / The Citizen

News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson told the commission of inquiry into state capture on Tuesday of the threats he received after publishing a story about allegations of corruption at Bosasa and the department of correctional services.

In his testimony, he further confirmed that he had met the company’s former COO Angelo Agrizzi after he heard that the former COO had turned on the company and so he, Basson, sought to obtain information on the company from Agrizzi.

Basson’s testimony revealed threats and intimidation levelled at him during his investigations into the Bosasa group of companies. He said he believed these threats were an attempt to stop him from publishing articles about Bosasa.

In January 2009, an article by Basson was published by the M&G which, in part, revealed that Bosasa had been involved in writing specifications for tenders the company would later score at the department.

Basson told the commission that he relied on emails leaked to him by a source within Bosasa and that forensic investigators confirmed the authenticity of these emails.

He said the article was “definitely” one of the “smoking guns”, and that “this was the company’s level of access of what we now call state capture of that specific department”.

The publication of the articles on Bosasa led to threats against Basson because they had “caused discomfort and anger at the Bosasa group”, he said.

Following the article published at the M&G, Basson received calls on his cellphone during the day, at night, and during the early hours of the morning, sometimes from numbers that were not hidden, while some were hidden and some calls were made from landlines.

Basson told the commission that the callers would say they were employees at Bosasa and that his reporting on the company would lead to job losses and so he should stop doing so. He further said some callers would accuse him of being racist for reporting on the company.

He described the calls as aggressive and were “upsetting”, with some callers using profanities.

Basson’s sources within the Bosasa group of companies confirmed to him that his contact details had been distributed to the company’s employees who were then asked to call him.

The second episode of threats on Basson took place in February 2009 while he was on holiday with his then girlfriend, now wife.

He said that while driving at night he received a phone call from a person he would later identify using a Google search as Benedicta Dube.

During his marathon testimony at the commission, Agrizzi told the inquiry that the Bosasa paid R30,000 to journalists to write good stories about the company. Among the journalists and media practitioners Agrizzi named, Dube was included.

Basson told the commission that Dube had used a visible number and that when taking the call, she did not introduce herself by name but said she was his colleague involved in the media.

Dube then warned Basson about his investigations into Bosasa and “then proceeded to attempt to convince me she’s helping [me]”.

Basson told the commission that Dube had cautioned him on these investigations, saying his probe into Bosasa was dangerous.

He said the caller, Dube, during the 18 to 19 minutes call, would constantly request to confirm his identity, ID number, address, and that she read an accurate list of friends and family members and their occupations.

“It was clear to me that she was reading some kind of intelligence document and that the real purpose of the call was not to help me but to scare me,” Basson told the commission.

He said he had been “perturbed by the call,” because Dube knew his personal details which led him to conclude that the call was a Bosasa operation to intimidate and scare him.

Basson told the commission that Dube had at one point of the call said: “I will kill if you tell anyone of our conversation”, adding that she did not say this jokingly, but had been “ominous”, using a harsh tone.

After the call, Basson used google search and the visible number to identify Dube as a public relations consultant who had previously worked at the Financial Mail and eTV.

He said he confirmed with one of his sources within Bosasa that Dube was on the company’s payroll and had been consulted about Basson.

Basson told the commission that he had been “upset” when he heard a video clip in which Agrizzi claimed he had formed an alliance with the editor because “it is completely false”.

He said he had met Agrizzi once he heard that the former COO of Bosasa had turned on the company’s CEO Gavin Watson and sought to obtain information on the controversial company.

Basson told the commission that he first investigating the controversial company in 2006 while working for the Beeld newspaper.

These investigations he conducted with his colleague Carien Duplessis who worked for the Beeld’s sister publication Die Burger at the time.

The Commission continues.

Makhosandile Zulu / The Citizen