Moroadi Nomalanga Cholota – the former personal assistant of suspended African National Congress (ANC) secretary general and fraud accused Ace Magashule – has written a harrowing account of hostile treatment by the FBI and SA investigators in the US and urged authorities to drop charges levelled against her.
Cholota, who was Magashule’s PA when he was premier of the Free State, is studying in the United States.
She was supposed to be a witness in the corruption and fraud matter involving her former boss.
The suspended ANC secretary general, 10 others, and five companies face charges relating to the alleged irregular awarding of the R255 million asbestos roofing tender in 2014 in the Free State.
Magashule, who was Free State premier at the time of the alleged offenses, and his co-accused face more than 70 charges of fraud, corruption, and money laundering.
Recounting her ordeal in the US, Cholota writes in her signed statement dated 6 November, 2021 that: “While I slept in my apartment in Baltimore, Maryland on the morning of 22 September 2021 I was woken up by loud knocking and banging on the door.
“Upon opening the door, I was greeted by multiple FBI agents who ordered that I get dressed and immediately come with them.
“I was not told where I was going, nor why I was being asked to come with them. Such was the degrading treatment that a female FBI agent was directed to accompany and escort me upstairs to get dressed.
“I was not given any sort of privacy or respect. And yet I was supposed to be a ‘witness’.”
Cholota said she alerted a colleague before she was escorted by FBI agents to the Sheraton Hotel.
“When we got to the Sheraton Hotel parking garage, two white male investigating officers from South Africa arrived and thanked the FBI for escorting me,” said the former PA to the Free State premier.
“My worried friend arrived at the Sheraton Hotel as well, and to my surprise, the FBI mentioned the exact time my friend had been to my apartment and even knew their name.”
Cholota said initially she thought she was brought to the hotel to be quizzed about her submission to the Zondo Commission.
She said the officials “became increasingly agitated and impatient with my answers as I repeatedly mentioned the questions were on matters I either knew nothing about or would be best answered by the specific officials or individuals that dealt with said information”.
Cholota said she asked if she could consult her lawyer as she had not prepared for the line of questioning and was unsure how to proceed.
“The officials refused. They informed me that they would give me a day to think about my responses and my attitude. They would tell me the next day that my answers to their questions was of no value,” said Cholota.
She contacted her lawyer in South Africa and was advised that no investigating official was allowed, in the preparation of a witness, to intimidate or attempt to coach a witness.
She said her lawyer told her there was a stark difference between “witness preparation” and “witness coaching”.
The lawyer stated that while witness coaching is unethical, the intimidation and coercion of a witness is against the law and contrary to the constitutional rights that all South Africans have, whether they were questioned in the country or outside of it.
“The following day is when everything broke down between myself and the investigating officials,” said Cholota.
“I was once again escorted by the FBI, this time, we met with the officials at the South African Embassy in Washington DC. The officials at the embassy did not appear to be aware of what was being done on their premises.”
Armed with the knowledge that criminal legislation does not permit asking a witness questions that incriminate them, Cholota said she refused to answer certain questions.
“When I stuck to my guns and would only answer questions related to my Zondo Commission testimony, they gave up and indicated that I left them ‘no choice but to treat you as a suspect’,” said Cholota.
She said the officials handed her “what was effectively a charge sheet”, which charged her with corruption, money laundering and fraud.
“Their decision to intimidate, threaten and then promptly charge me without reason or grounds to is the most blatantly egregious contravention of my constitutional and other rights both as a witness and as a citizen of South Africa,” said Cholota.
“They effectively detained me within the halls of the South African Embassy, an institution and building that is supposed to be there for the protection of the rights of South Africans.
“Nothing about any of this conduct and behaviour has been ethical. Worse that they then lie in a court of law and inform me that I was not cooperating with the officials and was therefore charged.
“My legal representatives have informed me that there is certainly not any ground in law to (unlawfully) arrest someone and charge them with corruption, money laundering and fraud.”
Cholota added: “I trust that once this information reaches the National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi, Ambassador to the United States Nomaindiya Mfeketo and Minister Ronald Lamola, it will be clear what an injustice this has been and the charges against me will be dropped with immediate effect.”
Last week on Wednesday the high court in Bloemfontein, which was hearing the matter involving Magashule, issued an arrest warrant for Cholota.
The National Prosecuting Authority said Cholota, who had turned State witness, would have to be extradited from the US after she failed to cooperate with law enforcement officials.