Gaborone - Botswana has extended an olive branch to South Africa as the countries seek to offset a diplomatic spat arising from a multibillion dollar case implicating a former president, a business mogul and a slew of eyebrow-raising money transfers.
Ex-President Ian Khama and South African businesswoman Mrs Brigitte Motsepe have been implicated in the alleged siphoning of P100 billion from the Bank of Botswana, moving the money through South African financial institutions.
The allegations have strained relations between the two countries, with South Africa displeased that Botswana’s Directorate of Public Prosecution opted to ask an NGO, Afriforum, to provide mutual legal assistance to resolve the matter.
This was after some investigators absolved Mr Khama and Mrs Motsepe of wrong-doing in a process that Gaborone feels is flawed.
Botswana’s Minister of International Affairs and Co-operation Dr Lemogang Kwape this week said a telephone conversation with his South African counterpart, Dr Naledi Pandor, had served to thaw tensions.
He said among other things, they discussed the need to convene the Botswana-South Africa Bi-National Commission (BNC).
Dr Kwape said the pair reaffirmed their shared commitment to close co-operation for mutual development.
Meanwhile, Botswana’s Directorate of Public Prosecutions this week for the first time opened up on the P100 billion spat.
Advocate Stephen Tiroyakgosi said on September 17, 2019, the department submitted a request for mutual legal assistance (MLA) relating to the above financial investigation with South African authorities.
“The request was made in accordance with, and routed through, established communication channels, for mutual legal assistance,” he explained.
According to Adv Tiroyakgosi, Numerous enquiries were made between October 2019 and May 2020 on the fate of the MLA without any tangible update.
“On that account, the office of the DPP saw it fit to find other means of establishing the fate of the MLA. The reason for appointing Advocate Gerrie Nel (of Afriforum) was, therefore, to assist the DPP in making follow-ups on the said request. The request requires a lot of legal processes within the Republic of South Africa and as such it requires the DPP to have legal representation in South Africa to help it pursue this matter as it was clear that the normal process had failed,” he said.
He said the DPP Botswana had over the years enjoyed cordial relations with its counterparts in South Africa.
“Our expectations were that this is a high profile investigation with far reaching implications which in our view should have been attended to promptly. Failure or the lack of the expected promptness has raised a lot of question hence the engagement of a lawyer in South Africa for assistance,” he said.
He said It is on this basis the Office of the DPP has engaged Adv Gerrie Nel to establish the fate of the request for MLA to the government of South Africa.
“We are mindful that the said Advocate Nel is associated with the organisation known as Afriforum as part of their ‘private prosecution team’. We, however, do not know the same to be providing legal services but is some kind of advocacy or pressure group in South Africa. Our engagement of Advocate Nel is solely on the basis of his reputation as a former prosecutor and legal practitioner notwithstanding his relationship with the Afriforum,” explained Adv Tiroyakgosi.
“As already indicated, we have no control of his association with Afriforum. Again, our engagement of Mr Nel was owing to the inordinate delays in executing the MLA. At the time we engaged Advocate Nel, we had received no update whatsoever in the fate of the MLA.”
However, Chrispin Phiri - spokesperson for South Africa’s Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services - said the initial request by Botswana was not ignored but was being handled by various departments with a view to providing a response.
He said a new request by Botswana had been received through the correct diplomatic channels.