President Cyril Ramaphosa has been asked to help recover millions of dollars belonging to the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which government sources say was hidden at former president Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence before being secretly moved to Swaziland earlier this year.
Ramaphosa last month flew with two ministers to Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) where he asked King Mswati about the money. In that meeting, the king denied knowledge of the stash.
However, on Thursday last week, Ramaphosa and Mswati met again at OR Tambo International Airport where the king confirmed the existence of the fortune, estimated to be $30m (about R422m) in cash.
It has long been suspected that some of the Gaddafi millions were hidden at Nkandla, but this was confirmed only recently when South African agents tipped Ramaphosa off about the stash being moved to Eswatini. In 2013, after touring Nkandla, former public protector Thuli Madonsela said she had been denied entry to the bunker at the homestead, fuelling speculation about what may have been hidden there.
Now authorities are certain that there was indeed money in the bunker.
The missing Libyan cash is also on the Zondo commission’s radar. The Sunday Times understands that an investigator from the inquiry into state capture was in Eswatini when Ramaphosa met with Mswati. Zuma was in the Swazi capital on the same day.
The cash pile is said to have been given to Zuma by the Libyan leader for safekeeping shortly before he was killed in October 2011.
The missing cash is also said to have interested Washington, with US authorities said to have made inquiries with the South African government. They are especially interested in the possible violation of sanctions and flouting of foreign exchange controls.
The US embassy in Pretoria was not able to provide any information on the matter. A panel of experts mandated by the UN Security Council in 2017 to trace missing Libyan money found as much as $20bn was sitting in banks and other funds in SA. In 2013, SA agreed to return Libyan funds worth R10m.
Shortly before Gaddafi was killed, Zuma undertook a trip to Libya with then intelligence minister Siyabonga Cwele, top sources in the presidency, the government and intelligence structures said this week. The delegation offered the Libyan leader safe passage to SA as rebel forces closed in.
“Gaddafi refused to go. He said he will die in his own country. He gave them money and said, ‘Please use this if I’m captured and taken to the International Criminal Court, find a good lawyer for me’. He said, ‘If I’m killed, please give it to my family’,” said a wellplaced insider who asked not to be named.
It is understood the cash was smuggled into SA and taken to Nkandla, where it was kept in an underground vault.
Ramaphosa is said to have first been alerted two months ago to the existence of the cash pile by Libyan military authorities.
A high-ranking intelligence source said upon investigation it was discovered that the money had been moved in five tranches from Nkandla and transported to Eswatini.
Another top government source with intimate knowledge of the matter said they were aware of the possible movement of money to Eswatini since January.
“We have known for a long time that he has that money but we were alerted when the movement of the money started.
“In February, Zuma went for a prayer activity there. This is where we suspect he started putting plans in place to transport the money,” the source said.
Reports from the kingdom said Zuma was the first international ally to meet Mswati after Zuma said he needs the money because CR does not want to pay for his legal fees his annual cultural seclusion.
“Zuma told Mswati that they were coming after him. He is scared he is going to be arrested and he said that he needs the money because CR [Ramaphosa] does not want to pay for his legal fees,” the source added.
The insider said because the money was a large amount of cash in foreign currency, it needed to be “cleaned”.
“They tried cleaning the money through the Jacob Zuma Foundation but that was not successful so then they became desperate because it’s a large amount,” he said.
The Sunday Times sent questions to Zuma, via his spokesperson Vukile Mathabela, but he had not replied by late yesterday. Cwele was not available for comment. Ramaphosa and two ministers, Lindiwe Sisulu of international relations and state security minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, flew to Eswatini on March 3, when Mswati told them he knew nothing about the money.
Last week, however, while returning from Argentina, Mswati asked to make a stop in Johannesburg for a chat with Ramaphosa, who was in the city on the election trail.
The two met at OR Tambo, where the king admitted to knowing about the cash pile.
The money was said to have been transported out of King Shaka airport in Durban bound for Eswatini, where it was to be stored by the Central Bank of Eswatini.
But highly placed sources in the country said the bank’s governor, Majozi Sithole, refused to deposit the cash pile. Sorting out the cash was left to deputy governor Mhlabuhlangene Dlamini, who is related to the king.
“The deputy governor is involved. He is the one who went with JZ [Zuma] to go and count the money. He took some people at the bank, they apparently flew to King Shaka airport, counted the money and brought it back. Majozi is refusing to put the cash into the system,” said an insider with links to both the royal household and the bank.
Sithole could not be reached for comment. Multiple efforts to contact Dlamini, the Eswatini government and the royal household also failed.
Two weeks after Ramaphosa visited Eswatini, Zuma returned to the kingdom “to make sure things were going as planned”, said another insider.
“So now when the money was held up, he again called Mswati and asked for help. Zuma believes that we are coming after him. And then the king called last week and asked to see the president [Ramaphosa] and then the president said no, he will go see him at the airport,” the source said.
Meanwhile, an independent source with knowledge of Zuma’s visit to Tripoli in 2011 said the former president was the last leader to try to convince Gaddafi to seek exile.
“The delegation went to the compound [Bab al-Aziziya]. And then there was a time when everyone left the room, it was Gaddafi and his son there. Then we returned to SA with the two planes. When everyone asked where the Gaddafi millions were, no-one knew where it was,” a second source said.
The Sunday Times understands the Libyans want the “Gaddafi money” because his son, Saif al Islam, wants to contest elections in a UN-supervised poll later this year.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko said Ramaphosa visited Eswatini as part of a long-standing commitment to the region. She would not comment on the substance of the first meeting, or on the subsequent meeting at OR Tambo airport.
The department of international relations declined to comment, and referred the Sunday Times to a communiqué issued after Ramaphosa’s visit to Eswatini.
– Sunday Times