24.09.2020 | How Alaco made Headlines in Africa

The story behind Alaco’s investigation refuting alleged financial crime in Botswana.

As business intelligence professionals, discretion and confidentiality are central to the way we work. While this means our reporting rarely if ever makes headlines, there was an extraordinary exception several weeks ago, when we found ourselves disclosing our findings to media outlets in Africa and beyond.

Early in the summer of 2020, Alaco was approached by Omnia Strategy, the London law firm founded by Cherie Blair QC. Its client, the prominent South African businesswoman Bridgette Motsepe, had found herself implicated in a host of financial crime and money laundering allegations in neighbouring Botswana.

These allegations had been lodged against her – and the former President of Botswana, Ian Khama – by the Masisi government in Gaborone via an affidavit filed in criminal proceedings against a former Botswana intelligence officer, codenamed ‘Butterfly’.

Importantly, neither Motsepe nor Khama were charged with any crimes by the Botswana authorities. As such, they had little recourse to legal due process and were compelled to commission an independent investigation in the hope of clearing their names in the public arena. Alaco was engaged to undertake that investigation.

After concluding its report, Alaco and Omnia Strategy participated in a press conference over Zoom in late August. Alaco Associate Director Gordon Rainey presented a compelling account of the flaws and untruths contained in the allegations against Motsepe and Khama.

From a business perspective, the Zoom call was unprecedented: the first time we have ever gone public with the results of a client investigation. It was the wish of our client that we did so and, indeed, both Motsepe and Khama participated in the event.

Transfers of power in Africa are not always peaceful affairs, but there have been encouraging signs of political maturity in recent years – especially in Ethiopia, Tunisia, Angola and Algeria.  And certainly, when Mokgweetsi Masisi took over the leadership of Botswana from Ian Khama, the smoothness of the transition was testament to the country’s standing as one of the most democratic in Africa.

While their subsequent falling out was therefore regrettable, Masisi’s pursuit of his predecessor with trumped up charges of corruption looked very much like a politically-motivated vendetta, one which has undoubtedly tarnished the prosecution authorities in a country with a reputation for upholding the rule of law.

Our conclusions about the sloppiness and baselessness of the allegations levelled against Khama and Motsepe generated substantial interest amongst the southern African press corps as they resonated across the region, even wrongly implicating the financial authorities in South Africa.

The local reporting largely took the form of summaries of the press conference. There was little commentary on the possible implications of the findings, beyond refuting the case against Khama and Motsepe – though subsequently there was some assessment of the political fallout in Botswana.

For Alaco, while the investigation was groundbreaking in terms of its public exposure, the nature of the enquiries represents just one facet of our work in Africa. We have taken on a broad range of due diligence assignments over the years, from investigations into the integrity of local investment partners to probing political smear campaigns. Our disputes team also has worked on a number of asset tracing cases linked to the enforcement of international arbitration awards.

In addition, we are playing our part in helping African governments build their own anti-corruption and asset-recovery capacities, having developed a training scheme for officials engaged in countering financial crime. This programme has been successfully road-tested.

What the Monarch case (as it is known locally) shows is that in the hands of the wrong leader, the rule of law is often one of the first casualties in any developing power struggle.