Publication: Sunday Times Issued: Date: 2001-03-25 Reporter: Editor: Mzilikazi Wa Afrika, Jessica Bezuidenhout and Andre Jurgens

Tony Yengeni, the 4x4 and the R43bn Arms Probe

Publication  Sunday Times
Date 2001-03-25
Editor Mzilikazi Wa Afrika, Jessica Bezuidenhout and Andre Jurgens
Web Link

Today we reveal how Tony Yengeni, the ANC's Chief Whip in Parliament, ended up with a luxury Mercedes-Benz 4x4 which manufacturer DaimlerChrysler says it never sold him; How the car was ordered as a "staff car" by DaimlerChrysler Aerospace South Africa (DASA), a company linked to the R43-billion arms deal; and how Stannic denies financing the car, although this is stated on Yengeni's registration records. 

Computer printouts from DaimlerChrysler show the car was ordered as a "private staff vehicle" by DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (DASA) which, through a joint venture, secured a contract to supply tracking radars for the corvettes purchased in the arms deal package 

When the Sunday Times walked into Tony Yengeni's office in Parliament at noon 30 days ago, there were beads of sweat on his brow. Shaking reporter Mzilikazi wa Afrika's hand, the well-built MP said: "Why is your hand sweating like that?" "No," said Wa Afrika, holding up his: "It's not my hand that is sweating, but yours, Mr Yengeni." The award-winning investigative reporter was there to find out how a vehicle ordered by a company involved in the R43-billion arms deal had come to be in the possession of Yengeni, who, as chief whip of the ANC, is one of the most powerful men in Parliament. He was also head of the Joint Standing Committee for Defence, which had played a key role in the decision to buy the arms in the first place. 

The vehicle in question is a state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz ML320 4x4. The price tag when it was delivered nearly three years ago was R359 000 - without any fancy extras. Buyers were offered the choice of extras like an electric glass sunroof, tinted windows and a fabulous Bose sound system. Yengeni's 4x4 had plush body-hugging beige leather seats, tinted windows and metallic green paintwork.

The first official records on the vehicle show that it was dispatched from DaimlerChrysler's East London plant on September 15 1998. It arrived at the company's Johannesburg stockyard on October 19. 

Computer print-outs from DaimlerChrysler which came into the possession of the Sunday Times show the 4x4 was ordered as a "private staff vehicle" by DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (DASA), which, through a joint venture, secured a contract to supply tracking radars for the corvettes bought in the arms deal package.

But on October 22, three days after it was delivered to Johannesburg, the vehicle was registered in the name of Tony Yengeni in Pretoria. A few days later it was licensed in Cape Town - in Yengeni's name. 

Traffic department records give the vehicle's details: registration number (CA 80233), chassis number (WDC 1631542A048577) and engine number (112942302 03839). The same records list the titleholder - the banking institution which owns a car until it is fully paid up - as being Stannic. But bank sources deny this. Stannic says it can find no record of any agreement on this vehicle and that the last motor vehicle financing agreement between Stannic and Yengeni was for a different car in 1993. 

And then there is the puzzling matter of the insurance. 

Banks which finance vehicle purchases are reluctant to hand the money over to motor dealers (who hold the car keys) until the buyer can produce proof of comprehensive insurance cover. Elmarie Barac, customer liaison officer at Stannic, said the Credit Agreement Act made it the duty of a person getting credit to ensure that a car was comprehensively insured. But this Mercedes-Benz, ostensibly financed by Stannic, appeared to remain uninsured for five months. 

On March 12 1999 - 140 days after the 4x4 was first registered in his name - Yengeni signed an insurance agreement with Millionsure. Before then, the popular MP had already collected the first of two traffic fines for disobeying the rules of the road on a busy Cape Town street. His first brush with Cape Town's traffic officers was on March 2 1999, when the driver of the 4x4 disobeyed a traffic directional arrow while cruising along the city's busy Klipfontein Road. The driver, who received a R150 ticket, was listed as the MP at his current home address.

Exactly a fortnight later, on March 16, the dark green vehicle with tinted windows collected a second traffic violation for exactly the same offence along the same road. A second R150 ticket was made out to Yengeni. Both remain unpaid - a matter traffic officers were unable to explain this week. 

Nevertheless, the car then headed off for its first inspection service on April 23. Records show the inspection, which did not reveal any major mechanical problems, was done on behalf of Yengeni, named as the "customer". A month later, rumours began circulating in the corridors of Parliament that Yengeni had received the car as a "gift". 

This is where the whole saga took a puzzling turn that has left a trail of unanswered questions. 

DOCUMENTS in the possession of the Sunday Times show that it was only at this point that Yengeni started paying monthly instalments for the 4x4. Seven months after the vehicle was registered in his name, Yengeni entered into a finance agreement with DaimlerChrysler Financial Services (Debis) on May 28 1999. 

The question, investigators probing the arms deal are asking themselves, is why? If, as Stannic states, it played no role in financing the deal, then Yengeni's registration forms contained incorrect, possibly fraudulent information. On the other hand, if Yengeni had entered into a finance agreement with Stannic, why did he need to enter into another one with Debis eight months later? Had he been loaned the vehicle for seven months, he would have been obliged to record this fact in terms of Parliament's Code of Members' Interests. 

Yengeni's signed list of declared items for 1998 makes no mention of a Mercedes-Benz. What is known is that a Cape Town newspaper published a letter in July 1999 suggesting that Yengeni should explain how he came to own the vehicle. Two months later, on September 11, Yengeni summoned a group of journalists to his office where waving a sheaf of papers in the air, he protested his innocence. 

Yengeni told the journalists that the papers in his hands were bank statements and said they were proof that he was paying for his car. Three of the journalists present say he did not allow them to read the documents. Yengeni says he did. Four days later, on September 15, Cabinet announced it had concluded the controversial arms deal. PAC MP Patricia de Lille then made startling allegations of corruption relating to the arms deal, naming several prominent politicians, including Yengeni. 

In the months that followed more allegations about bribery and corruption playing a role in the arms deal surfaced but matters came to a head in September 2000 when Auditor-General Shauket Fakie submitted a report to Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts suggesting that a forensic audit be carried out into aspects of the arms deal. 

The committee was flooded with more allegations of corruption and shortly thereafter it was suggested that a whole team of investigators, including the Auditor-General, the Public Protector and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions , be appointed to undertake a full-scale investigation. 

Yengeni moved into the spotlight in January this year when Andrew Feinstein, ANC leader on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, was removed from his post. Feinstein had been vocal in his support for a thorough investigation of the arms deal. Yengeni, in his capacity as ANC chief whip, replaced him with Geoff Doidge. The move was seen by political observers as an attempt by the ANC to bolster the committee with party loyalists. 

At the same time, President Thabo Mbeki announced that Judge Willem Heath would not take part in the investigation. While these political developments were being played out, the Sunday Times started gathering documents on the arms deal and identified several issues which needed to be investigated. One of them was how Yengeni got his 4x4. 

THE newspaper telephoned Yengeni on February 22 requesting a meeting to discuss the allegations around the car. Yengeni agreed to a meeting and asked reporter Wa Afrika to fly to Cape Town the following day. Yengeni agreed to bring all the necessary vehicle documents to the meeting. 

The sweaty handshake kicked off an hour-long meeting in which Yengeni described the allegations against him as "hogwash". Wa Afrika switched on his tape recorder, telling Yengeni he wanted an accurate record of their discussion.

Well-known as the nattiest dresser in Parliament, Yengeni was not wearing the R1 000 suit given to him by Fabiani, one of Cape Town's most expensive designer boutiques on the V&A Waterfront. He was casually dressed in a simple short-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans. 

Yengeni refused to produce any of the documents that could have, within minutes, proved his innocence once and for all. "I am saying to you I am not going to answer your questions now or ever and if you still want to continue, you can go to the other guys, the journalists (summoned to his September press conference) who were here," said Yengeni. 

He said he was aware that investigators had trawled through his personal and financial details. If they had questions, he would gladly answer them, but he would not respond to the Sunday Times. 

"There is a due process under way in the so-called arms deal. I respect this process. I will submit myself to it, as well as fully co-operate with the investigation. I will not submit myself to a witch-hunt by the Sunday Times," Yengeni insisted. 

He said three legal bodies were conducting the arms investigation: "Now we can't have an investigation by the police and the Sunday Times running its own parallel investigation." He then challenged the Sunday Times: "Go to the traffic department to find the information about the car." A number of traffic department records with details of Yengeni's car had already arrived anonymously at the Sunday Times office. As suggested, the Sunday Times approached the traffic department to seek the truth. 

It was during this search that the Sunday Times traced the two unpaid fines. Yengeni also said: "Everything is registered and it is legal. The information is with the banks." We approached Stannic where sources said there was no record of the bank financing the vehicle. 

Taking note of Yengeni's protest that allegations about him were "hogwash", the Sunday Times then ran a check through a company called Hire Purchase Information (HPI). Every hire purchase deal anywhere in the country is stored in a central database in Pretoria by HPI. But HPI's only record relating to the 4X4 was Yengeni's deal with DaimlerChrysler Financial Services on May 28 1999. 

Still searching for answers, the Sunday Times headed for DaimlerChrysler whose representatives at first seemed to know less about the vehicle than us, and became increasingly nervous as we asked more questions. In the meantime, our team succeeded in obtaining a full history of the vehicle from DaimlerChrysler's own computer system which showed clearly that DASA had ordered it as a "staff" car. The documents were delivered anonymously to the Sunday Times. 

DaimlerChrysler spokesman Annelise van der Laan said: "DaimlerChrysler South Africa has no record of selling an ML320 to Mr Yengeni." Her statement did not, however, explain whether DASA had sold him the vehicle. 

"As we have now been made aware of various allegations, we have launched our own internal investigation into the matter in order to establish the full facts," she said. 

The Sunday Times waited for news of the DaimlerChrysler investigation. Two weeks later, we faxed DaimlerChrysler a complete list of questions. These included whether DASA had ordered the vehicle as a staff car. Whether there was any record at all of DaimlerChrysler ever having sold the vehicle to Yengeni or having any record of a finance agreement with him. We asked if any deposit had been paid and whether the motor group had sponsored overseas trips by Yengeni. 

THE last question was asked because Yengeni, in a public disclosure to Parliament, acknowledged that DaimlerChrysler had sponsored his trip to an air show in Chile and the Daimler-Benz plant in Brazil in 1998. Media relations manager Lulama Chakela responded: "It has come to our attention that the issues you are investigating are contained in a judicial inquiry which, as you are aware, the South African government has instituted on the much-publicised arms deal. 

"The matter is therefore sub judice and any information DaimlerChrysler may have at its disposal which may have material bearing on the case cannot be discussed with the Sunday Times or any other interested party outside the judicial process." 

We then turned to DASA, hoping it could explain how its car had landed up in Yengeni's hands.

DASA was incorporated two years ago into the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS). The company issued a brief statement signed by Melanie Grobbelaar, personal assistant to managing director Michael Woerfel. It said government had "instituted a judicial inquiry" and EADS was "obliged to respect this process". They declined to reveal any further information. 

Yengeni told Wa Afrika: "I am very, very clear about this matter. Those that have information must take it to the police. I am a law-abiding citizen. "I have got nothing to hide. The investigators must investigate this," he said. 

They are. An official investigation into how Yengeni obtained the car is under way by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions , the Public Protector and Auditor-General. Yengeni's entire file at DaimlerChrysler has been attached and several staff members subpoenaed by the investigation team. 

'I am very, very clear about this matter. Those that have information must take it to the police. I am a law-abiding citizen. I have got nothing to hide. The investigators must investigate this' - Yengeni 

'DaimlerChrysler South Africa has no record of selling an ML320 to Mr Yengeni' - DaimlerChrysler spokesman Annelise van der Laan 

With acknowledgement to Mzilikazi Wa Afrika, Jessica Bezuidenhout, Andre Jurgens and the Sunday Times.