In April 2019, a mysterious shelf firm known as Actinic Holdings sprung to life.
In exactly every week it opened a number of accounts at completely different native banks together with Sasfin, Bidvest, Habib Abroad Financial institution and Mercantile.
These accounts instantly began receiving multimillion-rand deposits after which quickly expatriating the cash overseas, largely to a Dubai-based firm that amaBhungane has already implicated in alleged large-scale cash laundering: Aulion International Buying and selling.
What we have now uncovered up to now seems to be the tip of huge and complicated cash laundering networks working in South Africa, performing like a banking sector for the felony underworld, usually utilizing short-lived entrance firms like these we uncovered partially one among this sequence.
The fronts maintain financial institution accounts via which money, whether or not illicit or not, is made to vanish offshore, usually disguised as respectable funds for non-existent imports.
With one such company chimera, Actinic, errors have been seemingly made which have uncovered two key native facilitators serving not less than one syndicate’s operations.
The primary is Johannesburg lawyer Saleem Ebrahim whose vibrant shopper listing has prior to now included alleged diamond smugglers, fraudsters, a hitman and even the late disgraced soccer star Marc Batchelor.
We will present that his agency Saleem Ebrahim Attorneys not solely helped arrange Actinic but additionally individually moved tons of of thousands and thousands of rands for different alleged money-laundering schemes we recognized partially one.
The opposite obvious foot soldier within the Actinic laundering marketing campaign is chartered accountant Zakkiyya Gutta, a tax professional whose shoppers embrace Rappa Assets, the main cog in an unlimited alleged VAT rip-off involving gold exports beforehand reported on right here.
Ebrahim and Gutta seemingly offered the invaluable job of establishing entrance firms and financial institution accounts that have been used to maneuver cash offshore for larger fish.
The widespread denominator: Aulion in Dubai, the recipient of thousands and thousands from Actinic and different fronts uncovered partially one.
As we confirmed then, it belongs to 2 luminaries within the native money-moving enterprise: Howard Baker, right-hand man to tobacco baron Simon Rudland, and Andries Greyvensteyn, a convicted gold smuggler who has performed a pivotal function within the native illicit gold trade for years.
The service suppliers: Ebrahim and Gutta
Ebrahim has legally represented AMFS Options, a infamous “cash-in-transit” firm linked to Greyvensteyn and his intensive gold pursuits.
In a courtroom case unrelated to this story SARS has stated that AMFS and associated money motion firms “for all sensible functions act as unregistered and unauthorised banks” for the laundering trade.
When an enormous fraud led to the collapse of the Namibian SME Financial institution in 2017, it was found that a good portion of the loot had made its solution to AMFS. AMFS had then acted on the instruction of Baker to ship cash to a Namibian firm which in flip despatched the cash to Aulion utilizing a pretend bill for mining gear.
Subsequently AMFS had its financial institution accounts frozen by the SME Financial institution’s liquidators.
The lawyer they turned to with the intention to get their cash unblocked: Saleem Ebrahim.
As for Gutta, the accountant has additionally made notable appearances within the make use of of Rappa Assets when the gold refiner was locked in a battle with SARS in relation to a colossal multi-billion rand alleged tax fraud.
As amaBhungane has revealed, Baker/Rudland are seemingly the hidden palms behind Gutta’s big-fish employer and Rappa has even described Aulion as “a part of the Rappa Administration group of firms” in paperwork beforehand submitted to the competitors tribunal.
Ebrahim has elected to not reply questions whereas Gutta claims she is legally unable to say something on account of being concerned in unspecified “in-camera proceedings” that are seemingly associated to investigations by SARS or the Reserve Financial institution.
She did, by means of her legal professionals, say that we have now “grossly misunderstood” her function in supplying “skilled providers”.
What our investigation reveals is that the duo’s respectable (albeit ethically questionable) authorized and accounting work for firms like Rappa and AMFS, accompanies different, extra clandestine, work accomplished within the shadows for a similar masters.
Exhibit A is Actinic.
Shifting cash quick
Like earlier fronts utilized by the syndicate and uncovered partially one among this sequence, Actinic despatched cash overseas below the duvet of so-called “ghost imports” – giant foreign exchange transactions justified by apparently cast invoices from firms like Aulion.
Actinic was seemingly a continuation of this technique, the place a neighborhood syndicate used completely different entrance firm accounts at Habib to funnel over a billion rand offshore all through 2018 and early 2019 – additionally largely to Aulion.
AmaBhungane has procured full and partial account statements for Actinic at completely different banks exhibiting a quick however spectacular effort to maneuver cash overseas in document time between April and Might 2019.
Actinic appeared on the scene instantly after the fronts we uncovered partially one, PKSA Finance and Ovenbird Buying and selling, have been shut down.
As one banking supply defined, that is the modus operandi on this line of labor: a brand new firm is about as much as transfer cash for 2 to 3 months, shut down and rapidly changed with a brand new, untainted automobile. Every entity must be understood as a chunk of a a lot bigger operation.
Actinic’s Habib account went dwell on 4 April 2019. At Sasfin, Actinic was up and working on 14 April and at Bidvest a welcome letter was despatched to it dated 16 April. At Mercantile its account went dwell close to the top of April.
Upon opening its account at Sasfin, Actinic instantly acquired R23-million from unknown sources and paid most of it to Aulion over the course of two days. It continued to function its account at Sasfin for six weeks for which we do not need statements, however (utilizing a easy extrapolation from the information we have now) probably expatriated as a lot as R200-million on the financial institution.
At Bidvest the corporate acquired and paid out R82-million over this era. At Habib, Actinic rapidly acquired over R28-million and paid out most of that offshore, partially to Aulion as properly.
At Mercantile the corporate was apparently caught out a lot quicker after funnelling lower than R4-million to Baker’s Aulion.
It isn’t clear whether or not Actinic had accounts at extra banks that moved but more cash on this fast multi-pronged marketing campaign. It did nonetheless have not less than two further accounts at Sasfin, recognized in a forfeiture discover gazetted by the Reserve Financial institution in Might this yr.
However who was Actinic? A big effort was seemingly made to disguise who sat behind the prolific firm, however from the beginning there was an apparent pink flag that may really be a pink herring.
The entrance and the frontwomen
Anybody who took a cursory have a look at firm information would see that Actinic’s sole director is the now-deceased Mohammed Sohail Jiwani.
That would appear to make sense. He was one of many two administrators of PKSA, one of many firms implicated in cash laundering partially one.
He was additionally a director of SALT Asset Administration, an organization that acted as an middleman for Rudland’s Gold Leaf Tobacco Company in its dodgy dealings with Sasfin, additionally detailed partially one.
However one thing isn’t fairly proper.
Jiwani was solely made a director of Actinic on 17 July 2019, after Actinic had already been found and its accounts blocked at basically all banks.
This looks as if a curious misstep for Jiwani, an in any other case skilled operator within the money-laundering enterprise. An informed guess is that his appointment was made with out his information, to muddy the waters.
In truth, Actinic had a puzzling revolving door of administrators.
First there was Babitha Sewram who was appointed as a director of Actinic on 25 March proper earlier than the corporate awoke from its slumber and infiltrated a number of banks without delay. Her stint was nonetheless curiously short-lived and he or she resigned lower than two weeks afterward 5 April.
Then there was Vernaline Urquhart who changed Sewram on 5 April, the day after Actinic’s Habib account went energetic. Each girls averted amaBhungane’s calls and messages.
As a substitute, the proof means that Gutta was an vital individual working behind the purported administrators of the corporate.
AmaBhungane has established that Actinic’s first director Sewram was an worker of Low cost Money and Carry, a wholesaler primarily based within the Johannesburg industrial space of Woodmead.
It seems that enterprise is owned by Gutta’s mother and father.
One other clue is a welcome letter Bidvest despatched to Actinic upon the opening of its account. It was directed at an deal with with no apparent hyperlink to the corporate. The deal with within the Johannesburg gentle industrial suburb of Selby is nonetheless the registered deal with of a number of Gutta household firms, together with ones the place Zakkiyya is a director.
In a while, when Jiwani was mysteriously appointed manner after the proverbial get together was over, the paperwork to have an effect on the change got here from a supplier known as Salman Amla.
Amla instructed amaBhungane that his directions got here from one Muhammed Gutta, who it seems is the little brother of Zakkiyya.
Much more damning than this paper path is a video Gutta herself made exhibiting the “despatched” folder of her e mail account on 11 Might 2019.
The purpose of the video was to show to the recipient that she had despatched an e mail to Faizul Shah, the supervisor of Habib Abroad Financial institution’s Fordsburg department.
This e mail’s topic line learn “Funds for Actinic to Alunion [sic]”.
The identical video reveals that Gutta had despatched emails within the previous two days to an worker of Sasfin in addition to an worker of Bidvest in relation to Actinic. One other recipient was the Actinic director Urquhart.
Gutta in different phrases despatched and acquired banking correspondence for Actinic whereas the corporate channelled thousands and thousands to Aulion, the offshore nexus of illicit cash flows managed by Gutta’s employer at Rappa, Howard Baker.
If she is at the moment being questioned below a SARS gagging order, that may clarify why.
But in addition lurking within the background was Saleem Ebrahim, the controversial Johannesburg lawyer.
He’s linked to Actinic via Urquhart, the second obvious dummy director who noticed the corporate via its cash laundering spree.
Paperwork filed on the Firms and Mental Property Fee (CIPC) present that when Actinic’s preliminary director Sewram was jettisoned in favour of Urquhart, the paperwork was accomplished by Kickstart Options, a small operation offering firm registration and associated providers.
We approached Kickstart to investigate who employed it.
“The shopper that instructed me to take care of the director adjustments in April, was Saleem Ebrahim Attorneys,” Kickstart’s proprietor Safura Araf instructed amaBhungane.
Ebrahim has private hyperlinks to Urquhart as properly.
Vernaline is the mom of Micheline Urquhart. Micheline is in flip a former worker, and obvious romantic associate, of Saleem Ebrahim.
Once we despatched Ebrahim questions, together with a reference to this relationship, it was Micheline Urquhart who replied as an alternative of the lawyer, successfully confirming the connection between them.
However Ebrahim is much extra deeply implicated within the money-laundering allegations surrounding Baker/Rudland than simply by way of Actinic.
Financial institution statements for his agency, Saleem Ebrahim Attorneys, present how he moved thousands and thousands of rands at Habib financial institution for entities we have now recognized as conduits for allegedly illicit funds overseas.
The information additionally recommend Ebrahim dealt with thousands and thousands for Howard Baker, seemingly in his private capability.
One obvious cash laundering channel we beforehand recognized was funds between the corrupt native arm of a German multinational vendor of development gear known as Putzmeister – and an offshore entrance owned by Baker.
Partly one we confirmed how native Putzmeister executives, with out the information of their guardian firm, arrange an modern mechanism for expatriating funds.
A bogus acknowledgement of debt was submitted to the Johannesburg excessive courtroom and made a respectable courtroom order. This was then used at banks to justify foreign exchange funds.
The offshore “creditor” receiving funds from Putzmeister was Prodigy Buying and selling, an organization registered by Baker in Hong Kong. This single courtroom doc would facilitate foreign exchange transactions as much as R67-million at every financial institution that accepted it.
A number of the subsequent funds have been processed via Ebrahim’s agency’s financial institution accounts at Habib.
First, two deposits of R32-million and R19-million respectively have been made into one Saleem Ebrahim Attorneys present account by one of many well-known cash-in-transit firms working within the orbit of the laundering syndicate – Rens Kontant In Transito.
This cash would then be transferred between Saleem Ebrahim Attorneys accounts held at Habib earlier than getting paid out to Prodigy Buying and selling.