Roger Kebble - a haunted man

On 24 August 2015, Roger Kebble shot himself to death. Ten years earlier, to the day, he’d been ejected as chairman of two once-famous mining companies, JCI and Randgold & Exploration (Randgold), in a putsch instigated by Investec and backed by Allan Gray.

Equally unceremoniously, on that same date in 2005, Roger’s son Brett was ejected as CEO of JCI, Randgold and a third mining company, Western Areas, then owner of South Deep, a big developing gold mine west of Johannesburg (see "Digging into South Deep" in this issue). One of the most tumultuous decades in South African mining history had suddenly ended.

A month after the putsch, Brett Kebble’s bullet-ruined body was found in his Mercedes on the roadside near his Johannesburg home. He had been shot by hired hitmen. A decade later, Roger was found in similar circumstances, but with a single, self-inflicted bullet-wound in the head.

Roger was habitually in denial as to the extent of Brett’s criminal activities, but at the same time relished the high life they funded. He’d spent decades battling up the mining ranks, before making it as a mine captain. From there he moved into the cutthroat world of mining contracting. But it was Brett who walked the talk.

An  uncommon genius, Brett, in less than a decade, engineered and executed the greatest white-collar crime spree in national history. Along with a few cronies, he orchestrated the theft of R1.9 billion in cash, by stealing and selling Randgold’s listed stock portfolio. Of this, R378 million went to the personal bank accounts of Brett and his associates – including his father.

Roger Kebble

Roger Kebble’s other great windfall – surprisingly, largely legitimate – came in mid-2006, when he sold his stake in Simmer & Jack, acquired for virtually nothing at Brett’s suggestion, for more than R100 million.

Theft victim Randgold was meanwhile preparing to sue various parties, including Roger, for billions. But on 1 October 2006, he managed to settle with Randgold for a relatively trifling R30 million. The cosy deal was negotiated by Peter Henry Gray, the Investec-appointed CEO of both JCI and Randgold (and former CEO of T-Sec, Brett’s money-laundering stockbroker). A costly trial and the embarrassment of having everyone’s dirty linen washed in public was avoided.

Roger Kebble was from then on treated like a mountain of Teflon. Keep in mind that claims against son Brett’s insolvent estate amounted to R2.7 billion – and Roger had been a director of all the companies involved.

Most curious was a company called BNC, formed in 1997 as the paper manifestation of Brett Kebble’s doomed genius. Brett was the sole known shareholder, and he and Roger were its directors. After Brett’s death, Roger more than once admitted that BNC was “simply a vehicle for fraud”.

In May 1997, BNC had raised R125 million from SocGen Johannesburg, subsidiary of a large French bank. Over the years, substantial chunks of this debt would be repaid – with cash pilfered from Randgold. Roger Kebble swore he “was never aware of or involved in” BNC’s activities, yet forensic reports show (for example) that on 18 March 1999 he and Brett signed a letter on behalf of BNC, undertaking to reduce BNC’s debt to SocGen.

BNC collapsed in a heap in 2006. Randgold launched a formal enquiry into its affairs. But in February 2008, Randgold wrote to the liquidators asking, in effect, that Roger Kebble be regarded as royal game; that is, left alone. The next month, Randgold’s attorneys, Van Hulsteyns, repeated the instruction.

At the BNC enquiry, it was soon clear that all roads led to JCI CEO Peter Henry Gray, for his involvement in the funding of BNC and the laundering of its ill-gotten funds.

Randgold CEO Marais Steyn – originally appointed financial director by Investec’s Nurek – at that stage decided to cease funding the enquiry, effectively closing it down. As effectively, claims of R144 million against SocGen and T-Sec were cancelled and Roger was off the hook there too.

BNC was the ultimate manifestation of the devious and ambivalent relationship between son and father.

For good or ill, most of Brett’s preferences were abhorred by Roger, who was in the habit of referring to Brett as his “second daughter”. Perhaps the only thing Brett had in common with his father and brother was a strong appetite for hedonistic indulgence.

Wrong-headed as Roger’s relationship was with his eldest son, so Brett’s attempts to impress his father were hopelessly contrived. If I was ever visiting Brett and Roger pitched up, usually with some or other paperwork needing Brett’s signature, Brett would make him wait, no matter how much Roger paced up and down or attempted to intrude. Brett needed to assert and show off his dominance. At one stage, Brett was a director of some two dozen companies; Roger of just short of 100. There is every reason to believe that Brett inserted Roger into all these positions – impossible for any normal person to manage – to impress and manipulate him.

It was Brett who presented Roger as a mining engineer –which he was not. It was at Brett’s behest that Roger, at one stage or another, was chairman of all key companies in which Brett was invested.

Roger swimmingly enjoyed the millions, and denied anything that didn’t suit him. His band of followers (“he’s nothing more than a rogue, but he’s not evil”) protected him from anything vaguely resembling justice, yet it was the same faltering law enforcement system that Roger complained bitterly about from the moment Brett died.

The vaguely copy-cat manner of Roger’s suicide, and its date, suggests a motive. There are a couple of other potential motives: Randgold was suing Gold Fields for billions (earlier this year, Gold Fields joined JCI and Roger Kebble to the action, putting him back in the firing line); and the taxman suddenly popped up with a demand for R50 million. (Roger had clearly failed to make the political contributions necessary to secure immunity, as his son had done.)

In one way or another, Brett –  “... a high-powered mutant of some kind … too weird to live and too rare to die”, to borrow from Hunter S. Thompson – haunted Roger to the end.

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