Man’s defence in money-laundering case? His wife packed an extra US$200 000

The Botswana directorate of public prosecutions is preparing yet another appeal to deny a South African-based Malawian business access to his cash after he won another high court case.

Simbi Phiri won another round in the high court of Botswana in Lobatse last week to access his company’s money while an anti-corruption unit, the directorate on corruption and economic crime, is still investigating him on money-laundering charges.

Phiri – who owns a South African-based civil engineering company, Khato Civils – has been involved in a protracted battle with the directorate on corruption, which applied for a restraining order in the high court to freeze his accounts last April.

The directorate on corruption decided to investigate Phiri after he deposited $886 000 (about R11.8 million) cash from South Africa into the Stannic Bank account of Khato Civils.

The directorate’s investigators claimed that Phiri did not declare $86 000 of the amount at the border gate, according to court documents. They also alleged that Phiri entered Botswana on July 26 2015 and declared $300 000, but deposited $500 000 in the bank.

Phiri has not denied under-declaring some of the money at the border gate and has blamed this on an oversight. In one instance, he said, his wife had added money that he took, unaware that it had been topped up. He said it was only when he handed it over to the bank that he discovered it was more than he thought.

He has also said that he followed all procedures and exchanged rands into US dollars at registered forex exchange agencies before importing the money to Botswana, where he is establishing a branch of Khato Civil in that country.

The Botswana director of public prosecutions, Advocate Abraham Keatshabe – under which the directorate on corruption falls – eventually won on appeal in December to freeze Khato Civils’ accounts after failing two previous high court cases, but its victory was short-lived.

The high court ruled last week that Phiri should be allowed access to at least 500 000 pula (about R627 150) a month with effect from the end of February until June pending the directorate on corruption’s investigation. This judgment effectively gives the directorate four months to finish its investigation that started 11 months ago.

According to the court’s judgment, Khato Civils needed the money to pay its salary bills, security and maintenance of its machinery worth R40 million, tax, accountants and office expenses.

“Furthermore, such period of limited access will propel the director of public prosecutions to carry out the necessary investigations with promptness, diligence and dispatch in order to obviate the need of further variations of the restraining order by the applicants [Khatho Civils and Phiri],” Judge Michael Leburu said.

The directorate on corruption’s spokesperson, Nlayidzi Gambule, said prosecutors had decided to appeal.

“I cannot confirm whether papers have been filed with the court, but a decision has been taken,” Gambule said.

Phiri reiterated that the investigation was a witch-hunt and should be stopped.

“This investigation is a farce developed to stifle me from doing business in Botswana. They’re abusing state institutions,” Phiri said. Khato Civils is bidding for a six million pula water contract in Gaborone.

“Where have you heard of this? They close the accounts in order to investigate. They’re still looking around to find something yet they freeze my company’s money,” he said.

Two weeks ago, Phiri dropped a bombshell. Phiri said the directorate on corruption targeted him because he refused to give shares in Khato Civils Botswana to his cousin, Kagiso Makgekgenene, who is married to deputy director-general of the directorate, Botlhale Makgekgenene.

Botlhale Makgekgenene did not respond to written questions on these allegations.

Phiri’s mother was born in Botswana and he had spent his youth in that country. Khato Civils is a big civil engineering company, which is has a contract to deliver the R2.2 billion water project in Limpopo’s Mopani district.

The company also has contracts in Malawi and Botswana and is now expanding to Accra, Ghana.

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