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Unlocking secrets behind the “Swazi secrets” investigation

[Photo: ICIJ]

Azra Hoosen | ah@radioislam.co.za
19 April 2024 | 09:00 CAT
3 min read

In a groundbreaking exposé shaking the corridors of power, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), collaborating with seven esteemed media partners, including Open Secrets, has unveiled “Swazi Secrets.”

This investigative report, fueled by a staggering cache of over 890,000 leaked documents sourced from the Eswatini Financial Intelligence Unit, marks a watershed moment in African investigative journalism.

The Leaked documents have sparked inquiries into the origins and objectives of a small Swazi bank. Distributed Denial of Secrets, a nonprofit focused on disclosing and preserving leaks, obtained the documents. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) received the documents and collaborated with a team of 38 journalists from 11 countries, including amaBhungane, to probe illicit or questionable financial activities in southern Africa and other regions.

Journalist and Africa Coordinator at the ICIJ, Micah Reddy, sheds light on the investigation in an interview with Radio Islam.

Reddy emphasised the historical significance of the leak, labelling it “unprecedented” and the most extensive of its kind ever to emerge from a financial intelligence unit in Africa.

Reddy elaborated on the unique role of the Eswatini Financial Intelligence Unit, describing it as an autonomous statutory entity entrusted with overseeing domestic transactions. Banks are mandated to report all transactions to this entity, flagging any deemed suspicious. These transactions are meticulously analysed, with the unit collaborating closely with both local and international authorities to furnish critical financial intelligence. The primary objective? Combatting money laundering.

“We are talking about nearly 900,000 documents. What ICIJ did for the Swazi secrets collaboration was cobble together a team; we had nearly 40 journalists from 11 countries working on these countries for months. We are still very much in the middle of the findings, the first few articles dealt with a bank of questionable providence that was opening in the kingdom of Eswatini. Canadian investors were behind this bank. The Swazi authorities were pushed back; there were suspicious financial transactions around this bank with the origins of the seed capital in question, and there were all sorts of red flags. With this story, there was a clash between an absolute monarchy and institutions that are independent or atleast nominally independent, such as the financial intelligence centre and the country’s central bank,” said Reddy.

Reddy emphasized the mounting pressure on countries from international bodies to establish and fortify institutions akin to Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs).

“If you don’t at least appear to be getting your house in order in terms of having these institutions and relevant laws in place, investors will be put off from investing in your country. If you don’t have these systems, you get greylisted, and that’s bad news for investment,” he added.

While the banking sector narrative was significant, Reddy underscored that it was just one facet of the broader investigation.

Another crucial aspect involved former Zambian President Edgar Lungu, who had reportedly raised red flags with Zambian authorities due to suspected involvement in dubious investments within the country.

“There was also a story about former president Edgar Lungu of Zambia, who was flagged by both Zambian and Eswatini authorities because he was investing in the country of Eswatini allegedly through fronts that were deemed highly suspicious in ways that looked like money laundering to Swazi authorities,” said Reddy.

According to Reddy, another story emerged from Al Jazeera’s renowned exposé on the gold mafia in Southern Africa. This story revealed the establishment of ghost reserves in a special economic zone in Eswatini. These reserves seemed to misuse the zone’s benefits, funnelling suspicious and untraceable funds through the country.

“This is a sort of Pan-African story; Eswatini is the common denominator in all the stories, but it is an absolute monarchy, so whether we will ever see accountability in Eswatini remains to be seen,” he said.

Reddy hinted at an upcoming story involving the ANC, indicating that this is just the beginning of a series of reports with several more stories in the works.

LISTEN to the full interview with Ml Sulaimaan Ravat and Micah Reddy, Journalist and Africa Coordinator at ICIJ, here.

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