JOHANNESBURG, January 28 – A visibly peeved Angelo Agrizzi lashed out at weekend newspaper reports that he had placed his palatial home in Johannesburg on the market and was planning to leave South Africa for Italy.
The Sunday Times reported that Agrizzi’s house was put up for sale, which was quickly withdrawn after inquiries were sent to Agrizzi on the property sale. The former Bosasa chief operating officer told the state capture commission of inquiry that the newspaper report was false and that he was never contacted by the journalist for comment. He said he informed commission investigator Frank Dutton that he would be going to Italy on a holiday after finishing giving evidence, as death threats he received were ”becoming more prevalent”.
”This is the same journalist that published the article that Bosasa gave the SABC 8 a donation. This [weekend report] is based on single piece of paper given to them by someone at Bosasa. I never received questions from the journalist. He just phoned my son and my daughter-in-law, who is having a baby. Chairperson, when I embarked on this process I did inform Frank Dutton that I will be going to Italy… I came with an open heart to come here and help…then you get stories like these that are manufactured…it is disheartening,” he said.
Agrizzi and his wife planned to downsize and sell their house and move into a townhouse.
”It is only myself and my wife who live in the house, chairperson. We planned to move into a townhouse..but because I am in a witness security programme, I am now in a hotel… we haven’t moved in yet.”
Agrizzi lambasted the newspaper for publishing the location of his lavish house, priced at R13.5 million.
Agrizzi dropped the names of three journalists who allegedly received bribes from Bosasa to fend off negative reports in newsrooms and write positively about the company, now called African Global Operations.
Agrizzi took the stand for the eighth day at the state capture commission of inquiry. Last week, he testified that Bosaba executive Papa Leshabane was responsible for paying journalists from 2012. He said Leshabane requested R70,000 monthly in cash to bribe various junior government officials and that R30,000 of the cash was earmarked for journalists.
Agrizzi named ”Ntuli”, Pinkie Khwebane and another journalist called ”Bongs” from the Eastern Cape.
”Bosasa had been going through a rough patch at that time in terms of negative reporting… he [Leshabane] said he could swing journalists to write positive about Bosasa and get information if there is a bad story intended to be published,” said Agrizzi, adding that Dube and Khwebane ”worked very closely”.
Former SABC journalist who went into public relations, Benedicta Dube, and a Stephen Laufer were hired as communication consultants for Bosasa.
Agrizzi said Dube received at least R1 million for her work.
Laufer was a South African journalist who later relocated to Germany. From 2012, the then Mail & Guardian journalists Adrian Basson and Carien du Plessis wrote a series of articles detailing the corruption that infested the department of correctional services and other departments as Bosasa paid top officials to ensure that multi-million rand state tenders are given to the company. Agrizzi testified money was dished out to buy phones for the consultants to call and intimidate the journalists.
”There were reports compiled on Basson and Du Plessis, everything was done to discredit them. Remember there was endless money in the vault, chairperson… money would be used to buy burner phones and issue them out to Dube or anyone else to call journalists and threaten them. I recall getting phone call from [then Mail & Guardian editor] Ferial Haffajee regarding attacks on Basson,” he said.
Commission chairman, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, asked Agrizzi if he was ever present when the journalists were given money. The former chief operating officer said he never witnessed any payments as he was never there.
”I am going with what Leshabane told me, Chairperson.”
The commission’s head of legal team advocate Paul Pretorius said investigators were probing the allegations against journalists, and that any further evidence would be presented before Zondo.
Earlier, Zondo commended the SA Editors Forum (Sanef) after holding a meeting with the head of investigating team Terrence Nombembe and Pretorius on Friday over allegations that Bosasa paid a donation to a crowd-funding initiative for the SABC 8 journalists.
”I thought I should read the statement thereof publicly, and take this opportunity to commend both parties for the spirit in which I am told the meeting was conducted.” (ANA)