Gavin Watson’s missing millions raises questions and suspicion

series of mind-boggling events were a build up to the death of former Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson.

Details of a trust fund set up by Gavin Watson in the international tax haven of Guernsey were presented to a South African Revenue Service (Sars) inquiry this week, a day after the Bosasa boss died.

According to the  Sunday Times, former Bosasa director Angelo Agrizzi submitted documents to the inquiry claiming the trust was set up in 2010 and that R500m had been deposited into it.

In one e-mail, Watson’s then lawyer Brian Biebuyck wrote to a company specialising in trust funds: “As discussed this morning, I have opened a file for Gavin Watson … in relation to the establishment of the Guernsey trust and underlying instructions. This e-mail serves to formally mandate Sphere Management Ltd on behalf of Gavin to attend to the establishment of the trust.”

It is believed the National Prosecuting Authority has been looking for Watson’s

money for months. A Sars source said it had long suspected Watson had moved money overseas. However, Watson’s nephew Jared Watson denied Agrizzi’s claims, saying: “Gavin does not have R1 overseas.”

● Claims about Gavin Watson’s alleged “missing millions” resurfaced this week, a day after the Bosasa boss was killed in a car crash near the OR Tambo International Airport early on Monday.

An ongoing South African Revenue Service (Sars) inquiry into the company’s tax affairs this week heard claims that in 2010 he created a trust in the international tax haven of Guernsey, into which R500m was allegedly transferred.

The Saxon Trust — believed to have been named after the Johannesburg hotel where Bosasa directors met to discuss it — is mentioned in e-mails submitted to the

inquiry.

The inquiry is not open to the public, but details of the evidence submitted have been confirmed by a source in Sars and another insider at the inquiry.

It is believed the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has been looking for Watson’s money for months. The Sars source said it had long suspected Watson had moved money overseas, but “it is not known how or where”.

“This information could prove very useful,” he said. “We do not know much about the offshore trusts or the amounts but it will be investigated.”

Watson’s family and business colleagues have rubbished the claims, with Watson’s nephew Jared Watson saying: “Gavin does not have R1 overseas.” They said the idea of a trust had been discussed, but it had not

gone forward.

Bosasa, now named African Global Operations (AGO), secured an estimated R12bn from government contracts, though Watson appeared to have rejected a life of opulence in favour of a low-key, religious and familyorientated lifestyle.

Watson had been preparing his own evidence to submit to the Sars inquiry on Tuesday. He was killed when the Toyota Corolla he was driving smashed into a concrete bridge pillar in the airport precinct at about 5am on Monday.

Watson’s family said they have no idea why he was travelling to the airport. They said he was known to attend early morning prayer sessions with Bosasa staff stationed at the airport.

“Maybe he was awake early and decided to attend,” said Jared.

The Sars inquiry began this year after testimony before the state capture commission on how Watson and senior AGO executives allegedly bribed government ministers and senior correctional services officials to secure multimillion-rand contracts.

Those who testified before the commission included former Bosasa director turned whistleblower Angelo Agrizzi and fellow exemployees Andries van Tonder, Leon van Tonder, Peet Venter and Richard le Roux.

Agrizzi and Andries van Tonder, as well as former Bosasa executives Frans Vorster and Carlos Bonifacio, and former national correctional services commissioner Linda Mti and the department’s former chief financial officer, Patrick Gillingham, were arrested in February and face charges of fraud, money-laundering and corruption.

The charges relate to the department’s

alleged irregular awarding of R1.6bn in tenders to Bosasa, among other things. They are all out on R20,000 bail.

Agrizzi and other Bosasa staff told the state capture commission that Bosasa irregularly secured government contracts, and gave details of a prawn farm in Port Elizabeth in which Watson invested R9bn. It was allegedly a front to launder money.

The Sunday Times understands that among the documents Agrizzi handed to the Sars inquiry were two e-mails sent in April and May 2010. One of the e-mails, which the Sunday Times obtained independently, has the words “Saxon Trust” in the subject line.

The recipients of the e-mail, dated May 19 2010, were AGO and Watson’s then lawyer, Brian Biebuyck, Watson, Agrizzi, and Chris Guilbert and Stephen Ball of Sphere Management. The e-mail was an exchange

between Biebuyck and Guilbert, who now works at the Guernsey-based trust company Livingstone.

Biebuyck, writing to Guilbert, says: “As discussed this morning, I have opened a file for Gavin Watson … in relation to the establishment of the Guernsey trust and underlying instructions. This e-mail serves to formally mandate Sphere Management Ltd on behalf of Gavin to attend to the establishment of the trust …”

The source inside the inquiry said Agrizzi testified this week about how the Saxon Trust came about, the companies managing it and how the money was allegedly moved.

“Agrizzi referred them to e-mails and documents. He told them of an amount of R500m, but this is unverified,” the source said. Agrizzi declined to comment.

Watson’s family, his lawyer and Sphere Management dismissed the allegations. Jared, a chartered accountant who had been assisting his uncle with his accounts, said: “I know all his assets, and I can assure you it’s absolute nonsense. It’s completely absurd.”

A senior security cluster source said the Asset Forfeiture Unit, which falls under the NPA, had been “looking at” Watson’s assets for the past four months. “Obviously now things are a bit more urgent.”

Biebuyck initially said he had no knowledge of any trust. When asked about the email, he said he had introduced Watson to Sphere Management and there had been a long discussion about establishing a trust “but nothing came of it”.

Guilbert failed to respond to calls, WhatsApp and e-mail.

Ball said: “We do not and have never had any form of business or fiduciary relationship with the people you refer to.”

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