08.09.2020 | Botswana financial scandal implicating ex-leader exposed as fabrication

British lawyers work with Alaco to reveal a stream of baseless allegations against the former president.

The former president of Botswana Ian Khama, together with prominent South African businesswoman Bridgette Motsepe, are to launch defamation cases in Botswana against that country’s government after a joint report by British law firm Omnia Strategy and Alaco cleared the two of serious financial crime charges.

The charges shook the local and regional political establishment, and the joint investigation has placed the rule of law in Botswana – a country widely regarded to be one of the most stable and democratic in Africa – under considerable scrutiny.

Based on extensive enquiries in the region and internationally, the forensic report dismissed as fabrications the allegations that Khama and Motsepe had conspired to funnel as much as $10 billion (about half Botswana’s GDP and twice its national budget) out of the country and into bank accounts in South Africa, ostensibly for the purpose of “financing terrorism” in Botswana.

The claims were made by Botswana’s anti-corruption authority, the Directorate of Economic Crime and Corruption, in an affidavit supporting charges of financing terrorism and related charges against a Botswanan intelligence officer, Welheminah Mphoeng Maswabi, also known as ‘Butterfly’.  Maswabi is currently on bail awaiting trial. Her former boss, Isaac Kgosi, was close to Khama.

It is alleged that while still in office, Khama, with the help of Kgosi, set up accounts in Botswana’s central bank from which money was then transferred over several years to overseas accounts, a number of which were co-signed by Maswabi and Motsepe.  Neither Khama nor Motsepe have been formally charged, and both reject the allegations against them.

The state’s case against Khama and Motsepe emerged just days after last October’s general election which the ruling Botswana Democratic Party of incumbent president, Mokgweetsi Masisi (Khama’s former deputy), won by a landslide. Masisi had come to power the year before, taking over from Khama who stepped down after a decade as the country’s leader. But relations between the two soured soon after, and Khama joined a breakaway faction of the ruling party which allied with an opposition group, the Umbrella for Democratic Change, to contest the 2019 ballot.

Khama has maintained that the case levelled at him and Motsepe was politically motivated, insisting there was not a shred of evidence to back the allegations. Omnia Strategy and Alaco’s research fully supported the stance, significantly revealing that none of the supposedly missing money had even left the country – an assessment reportedly backed by the governor of the Bank of Botswana, the country’s central bank.

Moreover, the report indicated that many of the bank accounts claimed to have been set up abroad either didn’t exist at the time of the alleged transfers, used stolen data or were completely fictitious. The latter was the case with accounts for which Maswabi and Motsepe are alleged to have been co-signatories.

In addition to the false claims outlined above, the affidavit contained a myriad of bizarre and illogical inconsistencies.  Most curious, perhaps, is the implication that Khama began moving funds out of Botswana for the purpose of supporting domestic opposition almost ten years before he left office.

The research findings, reported on widely by local and international media, also disprove money laundering allegations against Kgosi and Maswabi, as well as claims that the Reserve Bank of South Africa authorised the transfer of some of the funds in question. Indeed, the affair appears to have strained relations between Botswana and South Africa, with the latter apparently snubbing Botswana’s request for mutual legal assistance in connection with its case against Khama and Motsepe.

The Botswanan authorities have said little in response to the Omina/Alaco report, but the fallout is understood to have unsettled senior officials and contributed to a government shake-up. International affairs and co-operation minister, Unity Dow, stepped down from her role, reportedly because of unease over the claims against Khama and Motsepe, while Brigadier Joseph Moenyana Mathambo, the director-general of the anti-corruption authority, was moved to a position in the defence forces.

But the case raises much more serious questions about both the integrity of Botswana prosecutors, for consenting to the submission of an affidavit that was so clearly flawed, and the general competence and independence of the country’s anti-corruption authorities.