How blonde spy double-crossed her clients and blackmailed her way into SARS and the Sunday Times. By the Noseweek Investigations Team
It was a bomb of a story: a blonde Pretoria lawyer confessing to Sunday Times journalist Malcolm Rees that she was an agent of the State Security Agency (SSA) and that her “handler” was then intelligence head Gibson Njenje.
Belinda Walter told Rees that she had not only sold information about her clients – mostly alleged tobacco smugglers and independent tobacco manufacturers – to the spy agency, but that she was a double agent: she had also spied for tobacco giant British American Tobacco (BAT) which in turn paid her a fortune for furnishing them with the confidential details of her other tobacco clients.
The double-crossing spy then went on to tell the journalist – who recorded the interview – that she had just ended a romantic relationship with SARS investigations head Johann van Loggerenberg, then one of the most powerful officials in the revenue service and investigating variously Julius Malema, Dave King, Christo Wiese, Glenn Agliotti, Radovan Krejcir and Lolly Jackson.
Van Loggerenberg was in fact investigating the very tobacco producers that Walter represented as a lawyer – while not only betraying their trust but also the ethics of the legal profession.
She told Rees that Van Loggerenberg and his colleagues in the SARS investigations unit were a law unto themselves: they tapped telephones and illegally spied on suspected tax evaders.
She also claimed that Van Loggerenberg had revealed confidential taxpayers’ details to her – a crime under the Tax Act.
This meeting took place in Norwood, Johannesburg on 1 February 2014. Walter’s relationship with Van Loggerenberg, she said, had gone sour the previous day after she discovered “certain personal messages” (said to involve other women) on Van Loggerenberg’s cellphone.
Walter presented herself as a woman scorned and wanting revenge. Thus fired up, the SSA spy was about to trigger the destruction of the entire top leadership of the South African Revenue Service. First she summoned her clients, alleged tobacco smugglers Adriano Mazzotti and Mohammadh Sayed, both executives of “independent” tobacco manufacturer Carnilinx, which was under investigation by Van Loggerenberg’s unit. The Carnilinx men suggested she summon Rees from the Sunday Times to hear her story. She had got to know Rees at a tobacco conference and, according to Walter, her clients had also established a relationship with Rees.
Walter not only told Rees her story; in her tobacco clients’ presence, she also handed him documents that supported elements of the story.
A second meeting took place later that day in the office of Johannesburg Senior Counsel Nazeer Cassim, apparently at the request of the Carnilinx directors – with all the same parties present.
The plan was for the Sunday Times to publish her shocking revelations on Sunday, 9 February 2014.
(Details of these meetings are contained in a series of affidavits, made by – among others – the Carnilinx directors, in support of a high court application that they later brought against Walter and their competitor [and Walter’s other client] British American Tobacco. Noseweek has these affidavits.)
Van Loggerenberg was unaware of the meetings taking place between Walter, Rees and the Carnilinx directors and their plans to sink him in the Sunday Times.
However, the very next day, maybe overnight, Walter bethought herself. Perhaps she realised she was committing professional and commercial suicide by alienating all her clients – and as a result of the imminent media exposure – in all likelihood, ending her legal career and blowing her cover as a spy.
Her first step back from the precipice was to hurriedly kiss and make up with Van Loggerenberg. On 2 February she sent him an sms that read: “I love you with all my heart. I feel so disgusted and disappointed in myself that not only did I betray you, but the types of things I said to those scumbags. You should hate me.”
And: “I want to sleep so that all these emotions of extreme guilt, remorse, regret and sadness don’t consume me.”
Walter also had to stop the Sunday Times from publishing the stories. In order to do that, she cunningly set out first to solicit pity (providing the newspaper with an ostensible reason for dropping the story) and then, Noseweek can now reveal, she sealed the deal by blackmailing the Sunday Times (clearly the real reason for their dropping the story).
Noseweek is in possession of a series of extraordinary, even bizarre emails that Walter sent to Sunday Times business editor Rob Rose on 5 and 7 February last year. In them she says that “between 31 January 2014 and 1 February 2014”, she had suffered severe “mental and psychological trauma”, presumably a reference to her fall-out with Van Loggerenberg.
She said this had caused her to have conversations with certain parties “which included Malcolm Rees”, who had recorded the meetings.
“I retract my utterances. Simply put, I was under severe emotional distress. Much of the content were [sic] untrue. Fact and fiction were interwoven to give credence to what I wanted to say.”
Walter added that she was receiving treatment to deal with the “mental and psychological trauma, stress and my state of mind which led me to such an extreme act of fear and desperation.”
Walter then warned Rose: “As you know, I do have knowledge of certain interactions between the same company (her client, tobacco manufacturer Carnilinx) and Malcolm Rees and (Business Times journalist) Loni Prinsloo. I expressed my discomfort to you during our very first meeting.
“I also reported to you that offers of money had been made by this same company (Carnilinx) for financial benefit in the form of cash, holidays and cocaine to Malcolm Rees on a number of occasions. He admitted to this in your presence.
“I also told you that Loni Prinsloo received sportswear for her entire [roller derby] team [a sport founded in America which features competitors on roller skates trying to knock each other over], which was told to me was delivered to your offices and paid for by this same company (Carnilinx).”
The suggestion that the latter gift constituted an improper inducement offered to the journalist is supported by the fact that the kit did not bear the sponsor’s name and the donor did not require its sponsorship to be advertised.
Walter continued: “You know the origin of the original information given to Malcolm [Rees] and you also know, as I do, that there exists an understanding between Malcolm and the company that he will not report negatively on them.
“Loni originate [sic] from the same company [Carnilinx] and had the sole intent of unfairly pushing the attention away from their own unlawful activities and onto those of competitors.”
Walter warned Rose that, should the Sunday Times plan to publish any detail of her relationship with Van Loggerenberg, she would apply to court for an urgent interdict stopping the newspaper from doing so.
“This unfortunately would have the counter-productive effect of forcing me to have to bring into the public domain that which I consider to be intimate and private and is precisely that which I would wish to interdict you from doing.”
It was not necessary for Walter to bring the interdict – the Sunday Times got the drift of the argument and undertook to shut their mouths and shelve the story.
Apparently unaware that Noseweek was in possession of his email correspondence with Walter, Rose emphatically denied all knowledge of Sunday Times reporters having received or having been offered bribes to report favourably on the controversial cigarette importer, when Noseweek asked him to respond to the allegation. He also denied that Walter had threatened him and the Sunday Times with exposure of these matters.
|Johan van Loggerenberg|
The Sunday Times made no attempt to publish the story until August last year, when Walter secretly launched her next torpedo: a confidential memo directed to SARS management in which she accused Van Loggerenberg of any number of offences. By then, the romance was finally over and Van Loggerenberg and various of his SARS colleagues were once again in the double agent’s sights for destruction. She regurgitated in her submission to SARS much of what she had told the Sunday Times five months earlier: that Van Loggerenberg was mentally ill, corrupt, a pathological liar and a sociopath “likened to a paedophile”.
It is uncertain whether she was acting as a wronged lover, or did she simply reckon the honey trap was ready to ensnare it’s victim?
If so, playing the wronged lover was a convenient cover to carry out the instructions of her SSA handlers. One way or the other it certainly suited the spy agency.
But, within no time, Walter learned that someone at SARS had leaked news of her memo to City Press – and that that newspaper would, unlike the Sunday Times, not be sympathetic to her in their treatment of the story – and would identify her as an SSA spy. She learned all this when City Press approached her for comment prior to publication.
Instead of providing City Press with her comment, she rushed to her friend Malcolm Rees at the Sunday Times.
One would have thought that after the February fiasco the Sunday Times would be extremely circumspect in any further dealings with Walter. By her own account she was mentally unstable, untrustworthy and fuelled by malice. She was also undoubtedly a manipulative secret agent with no scruples, and accustomed to Sunday Times reporters being induced improperly to serve her clients’ interests.
Instead the Sunday Times and Rees, Sanlam’s Online Journalist of the Year, welcomed her back with open arms.
On 10 August City Press led with the story that Walter was an agent for the SSA and that the spy agency was intent on discrediting Van Loggerenberg and the top leadership of SARS.
On the same day the Sunday Times front-page story uncritically repeated Walter’s earlier allegation that Van Loggerenberg had revealed taxpayers’ confidential information to her. The newspaper said not a word about her being a self-confessed SSA spy and that she had admitted to having sold confidential client information to both the SSA and BAT.
They did happily publish her entirely unsubstantiated description of Van Loggerenberg as an “apartheid spy” – although he was only 21 when the ANC was unbanned in February 1990 (and had, in fact, been employed doing criminal investigations only.
One would have thought that the Sunday Times would have kept journalist Malcolm Rees away from the story. Not so. It appeared under his byline.
In an editorial in the same edition, Sunday Times Editor Phylicia Oppelt felt compelled to do some explaining: she said that her newspaper had been approached previously by both Walter and Van Loggerenberg with the request that the story not be published as it exposed their private relationship.
Oppelt also referred to Walter’s putting pressure on Rees to return documents she had “willingly given to us”.
Said Oppelt: “Initially – and this is the reason we did not publish details of Van Loggerenberg’s relationship with Walter – the affair was private.” But, asks, “Is this story in our readers’ interest, given the significant space that SARS occupies in South Africa?
“Yes, it is. That is why we publish the story today – not because we have been played,” said Oppelt. As the saying goes, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks”.
If it was in the public interest to publish the story on 10 August – as it undoubtedly was – what had made it less so six months earlier?
Had the Sunday Times perhaps in the interim done additional, independent research on the matter? Clearly not. In fact the entire purportedly factual content and drift of the Sunday Times story, as it appeared under Rees’s name, was dictated, in an email to Rees, by Walter herself.
Belinda dictates to Sunday Times
Pretoria lawyer and spy Belinda Walter must have had an extraordinary hold over
Business Times journalist Malcolm Rees. Not only was she able to dissuade the Sunday Times from publishing her sensational story in February last year, and then, five months later when it suited her, persuade them to publish it after all, at short notice; she managed to dictate the contents and drift of the story that appeared under senior reporter Rees’s byline.
City Press had sent her a list of questions, inter alia wanting her response to allegations that she was an SSA spy and part of a state-sponsored campaign to discredit SARS investigations head Johann van Loggerenberg and a politically inspired plot to remove SARS’s entire top structure.
Instead of answering the questions, she rushed to tell the Sunday Times that City Press was about to scoop them on her story. The Sunday Times was not about to let that happen. Throwing all caution to the wind, and with only days to go, the editors put Business Times’s Rees back on the story.
Both newspapers carried the story on their front pages on 10 August but their versions were vastly different.
Noseweek is in possession of two emails that refer to two meetings that took place on Friday, 8 August – two days before the Sunday Times published the first of their SARS stories. One meeting was between Rees and SARS’s Van Loggerenberg; the other, between Walter and her handlers at the State Security Agency (SSA).
Walter knew that Rees had requested a meeting with Van Loggerenberg – presumably to get his side of the story – scheduled for 2pm at a restaurant.
An hour beforehand, Walter sent an email to Rees which can only be described as a “briefing document”. When Rees left after the hour-long interview with Van Loggerenberg, he accidentally left a copy of Walter’s email on the table. This is in Noseweek’s possession. It is a devastating indictment of Rees’s ethics as a journalist and exposes how the SSA agent manipulated – “played” – the Sunday Times journalist and his editors.
It is clear from the email that Walter knew that Rees was going to interview Van Loggerenberg. She told Rees what to ask him and how to deal with his answers – effectively controlling the story that was to appear on the front page of the Sunday Times under the headline “Love affair rocks SARS”.
Walter said in her email: “Malcolm, once you have [comment] from the other side, I will provide comment. The notes and affidavits set forth my version, to a large extent, but I would like to ensure that we exclude all and any other state initiatives.” She then listed several statements that Rees should put to Van Loggerenberg (who she referred to as JvL) for comment:
♦ “JvL made use of illegal interception to groom me prior to meeting me…
♦ “JvL lied to me about various persons and entities with whom I was associated and threatened and manipulated me into terminating mandates with clients and withdrawing as the chairperson of FITA (Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association);
♦ “Due to JvL’s extensive [electronic] interceptions, he did not require any client information [an indirect admission that he had not improperly asked her for client information or, in any event, a denial that she had given him such information]... but certainly appeared to be promoting criminal syndicate agendas by removing me as chairperson of FITA;
♦ “JvL repeatedly and without restraint disclosed confidential taxpayer information to me.”
Walter encouraged Rees to brand Van Loggerenberg as an apartheid spy and added: “You may also want to ask about JvL and the RS-programme. If he insisted on secrecy and his identity being kept secret in the [Jackie] Selebi case, why is his picture and name linked together all over his charity site and Facebook page? Why was he pulled out of the programme? How did he jump from sergeant in the SAPS to head of the TCEI (Tax and Customs Enforcement Investigations unit) at SARS?”
(The apartheid police, and more specifically the notorious Security Branch, had in the 1980s used the so-called RS-programme to recruit and train undercover agents to infiltrate liberation movements. The police continued to use the programme after the unbanning of the ANC in 1990 and the 1994 election in other areas of combating crime, mainly investigating organised crime syndicates.)
This is the email Rees left on the table after his meeting with Van Loggerenberg. He sheepishly phoned minutes later and asked whether he could collect it from the SARS executive.
Van Loggerenberg told Rees and subsequently his Business Times editor Rob Rose, that he was never an apartheid agent. He told them he was employed to operate undercover for the SAPS organised crime intelligence unit from 1992 to 1999, mainly to investigate drug-related organised crime.
The Sunday Times ignored all his explanations and denials and repeated Walter’s allegations.
Belinda Walter was a busy person on 8 August. She also met her SSA handler and former lover Chris Burger, and a member of the SAPS’s crime intelligence unit, Lt-Col Hennie Nieman, at the Life Café in Waterkloof, Pretoria. It is not clear whether this meeting took place before or after she emailed her instructions to Rees.
It is also not known what she and her spy handlers discussed, but Walter refers to the meeting in an email to Brigadier Casper Jonker of the Hawks on 7 June this year. Noseweek has obtained a copy of the email. This meeting is significant because shortly after Van Loggerenberg and Walter became lovers, he discovered she was a spy and asked her to resign, which she said she had done. It was obviously a lie and it is clear from the letter that she remained in contact with her handlers – and that they were directing her while she was persuading the Sunday Times to run her story “un-influenced by other state agencies”.
Noseweek learnt that Van Loggerenberg laid eight separate complaints with the Press Ombudsman against the Sunday Times, which he withdrew when he resigned in February this year. The withdrawal was a condition of SARS’s accepting his resignation. By that time, he had already been subjected to three internal investigations where he was not allowed to defend himself. (Noseweek will have a closer look at those in due course.)
Asked whether the Sunday Times still stood by its reports on the so-called “SARS rogue unit”, Sunday Times legal editor Susan Smuts, acting as spokesperson, initially dismissed our question as a “fishing expedition” but subsequently replied as follows:
“Our stories were confirmed
♦ by the Sikhakhane report.
♦ by a panel headed by Judge Kroon.
♦ by members of the rogue unit who confessed in sworn statements to the Hawks they had bugged NPA offices.
♦ by emails from the rogue unit to Hacking Team released by WikiLeaks.
♦ Our stories will no doubt also be confirmed when SARS releases the results of a KPMG investigation into the rogue unit.”
Her reply demonstrates how obstinately the Sunday Times has persisted in getting things wrong.
The next issue of Noseweek will deal in greater detail with those SARS investigations to which Smuts refers, but in the interim, some observations:
There have been four SARS investigations relating to the “rogue unit”. The first, by a panel headed by commercial lawyer Moeti Kanyane and two SARS executives was required to investigate the original allegations made by Walter against Van Loggerenberg. It was “unable to conclude that the evidentiary material presented by Walter was credible or reliable” as the majority of her allegations were unsubstantiated.
The brief of the second panel, headed by Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, was to investigate whether any SARS officials had broken the law, including by alleged illegal interception and monitoring of communications. Most of Sikhakhane’s findings were based on prima facie (superficial, untested) evidence, and he recommended that the Inspector General of Intelligence, or a judicial commission, investigate whether a covert or rogue unit operated within SARS. He was critical of Van Loggerenberg, but, again, based this mostly on prima facie, evidence. Sikhakhane was later criticised in the labour court for failing to make findings of fact.
The third probe, the so-called Kroon Advisory Committee, headed by retired Judge Frank Kroon (with, as one of its members, Adv Rudolf Mastenbroek, a former senior ANC, Scorpions and SARS official who happens also to be the former husband of Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt) was appointed by the finance minister to advise him on developments at SARS. Kroon endorsed the Sikhakhane’s panel’s finding that the establishment of the intelligence unit was unlawful because SARS didn’t have the statutory authority to “covertly” gather intelligence. (It is worth noting that Van Loggerenberg did not establish the unit, that the existence of the unit was not hidden. It was part od SARS’s formal structure. Kroon’s committee also did not conduct its own review of the evidence relating to the alleged misconduct of “rogue unit” members. )
On to Susan Smuts’s next assertion – that members of the rogue unit confessed in sworn statements to the Hawks that they had bugged the NPA offices.
This allegation contains an element of truth, but unpacking that and the Sunday Times’s more laughable claims that the unit ran a brothel and bugged President Zuma’s home make for such a great story that we have decided to save it for a proper telling in next month’s issue.
Finally, there is Smuts’s reliance on those emails that, remarkably, she still alleges were sent by the rogue unit to an Italian supplier of legally suspect spyware called Hacking Team.
The Sunday Times – or its suspect sources – regularly confuse two distinctly separate SARS units: the National Research Group (NRG), which they have labelled the “rogue unit” – headed by Van Loggerenberg – that investigated tax subjects considered “too high risk or dangerous” for conventional staff to look into, such as illegal poaching and smuggling of abalone, ivory, rhino horn and their links with organised crime syndicates inside the country; tobacco and cigarette smuggling and the illegal trade in narcotics.
The other unit with which it is often (conveniently) confused by both the Sunday Times and various dishonest current and former SARS employees, is the Anti-Corruption and Security unit (Acas), headed by Clifford Collings, that is tasked with investigating the delicate matter of corruption and security issues within SARS itself. There is good reason to suspect it was the latter unit that may have been bugging suspect SARS staff members’ telephone and email communications.
First an earlier example of this confusion to be found in the Sunday Times. In a report published on 7 June this year, the newspaper mischievously attributed to the “rogue unit” a series of payments made to former apartheid operative Steven Whitehead’s company. The payments were for training and equipment supplied by Whitehead’s company.
What the Sunday Times did not reveal was that it was in fact the Acas unit headed by Collings that used Whitehead’s services. This is easily established from the payment schedule referred to by the Sunday Times. It reflects Acas as the cost centre from which the funds are derived, and the approvals given by managers at Acas.
According to Noseweek’s sources, it was, ironically, Van Loggerenberg who drafted a detailed memorandum to SARS management in 2012 warning them of the reputational risk involved in dealing with Whitehead and recommending his services be terminated.
On 12 July this year, the Sunday Times yet again mischievously mis-attributed to the “rogue unit” an inquiry that SARS official Helgaard Lombard had sent to an Italian firm called Hacking Team, asking about the capabilities of legally suspect spying equipment. The letter, dated 14 July 2014, was recently published online by WikiLeaks. The Sunday Times conveniently failed to note or report that Lombard signed the letter describing himself as “Manager: Technical Physical Security” – in the Acas unit. It better served the Sunday Times’s purpose to rather describe him as “a former SARS rogue unit member”.
Noseweek was easily able to establish that Lombard had, for a brief period several years ago, been a member of Van Loggerenberg’s NRG unit, but by 2010 had been transferred to the Acas unit headed by Collings.
When Lombard wrote that letter, Van Loggerenberg had already been placed on special leave and was being subjected to scrutiny by the Khanyane panel for supposedly having spied on taxpayers with sophisticated equipment. Collings was a member of the three-man investigating panel. No mention was made in the panel’s report of the spy equipment Acas had acquired, or what it proposed doing with the equipment.
• Noseweek also approached Van Loggerenberg and Pillay for comment. Both refused, saying they were contractually constrained from talking to the press. We did not see any point in seeking Walter’s comment.
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