A cache of leaked documents from the Eswatini Financial Intelligence Unit has raised questions about the origins and purpose of a tiny Swazi bankThe documents comprise more than 890,000 internal records from the Eswatini Financial Intelligence Unit (EFIU) obtained by Distributed Denial of Secrets, a nonprofit devoted to publishing and archiving leaks, which shared them with ICIJ. ICIJ coordinated a team of 38 journalists from 11 countries – including amaBhungane – to investigate illicit or suspicious financial flows in southern Africa and beyond.

Part One: South Africa and the ANC moneymen

On a balmy evening in June 2015, four men with deep Swazi connections were preparing to take on the night in Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur.

It had been a year since Sibusisiwe Mngomezulu was posted at the Eswatini High Commission in Kuala Lumpur as a counsellor and, as evidenced by the picture of the group posted by his friend Musa Sibandze, he was taking a break from his diplomatic duties.

The blurry photo shows the men in clumsy poses behind a kitchen island covered with an assortment of half-empty liquor bottles and mixers.

Sitting on a bar stool in a blue v-neck t-shirt is Bongani Mahlalela, the chief financial officer (CFO) of South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC).

The man leaning on the island pointing at the camera next to him is Mngomezulu, Eswatini’s current ambassador to Belgium and a brother-in-law to King Mswati III.

He was previously the head of finance, strategy and business development for the ANC’s investment arm, Chancellor House Holdings.

On the outer corner is the youngest in this group, Craig Coglin who, according to Linkedin, was the group strategy director for the Coglin Media House.

And behind all three with his left hand in the air is Sibandze.

“We [sic] about to go out,” reads Sibandze’s Facebook caption. “Clear the way we’re coming through.”

‘Coming through’

While Sibandze played no role in the events described here, his three companions would get involved in more than a wild night out.

In the following years they would seemingly facilitate a dizzying set of transactions that would channel millions to accounts belonging to popular Eswatini Archbishop Bheki Lukhele and his All Nations Christian Church in Zion.

These suspicious money flows eventually attracted the attention of the Eswatini Financial Intelligence Unit (EFIU), which suspected money laundering and the possible theft of money from South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC).

The EFIU is an independent statutory body responsible for collecting and providing financial intelligence “that safeguards the local and international financial system”.

AmaBhungane gained access to the leaked documents via Swazi Secrets, a cross border investigations project in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

It is the largest leak of its kind from a financial intelligence unit in an African country and consists of bank records, internal communications and several confidential transactions and investigative reports by financial and regulatory institutions in Eswatini and beyond.

From 2015 onward, more than R200-million would flow from South Africa to Eswatini and into the bank accounts of Archbishop Lukhele and the All Nations church – much of it seemingly with the involvement of Mahlalela, Mngomezulu and Coglin.

The ANC connection

By 2018, the banks and the EFIU started to monitor Lukhele closely.

A 2019 suspicious transaction report (STR) submitted to the EFIU by First National Bank (FNB) appears to be the first time that regulators were able to detect that some of the money that was deposited into Lukhele and the church’s accounts came from the ANC’s election fund account.

FNB in Eswatini suspected that Lukhele was possibly an “accomplice in siphoning of ANC funds”. His partners in the alleged scheme were, according to the STR, supposedly the party’s CFO Mahlalela and former Chancellor House executive, Ambassador Mngomezulu.

A few days later the EFIU shared this information with its counterpart in South Africa, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) and later initiated a cross border investigation into the South African individuals and entities involved.

Leaked EFIU documents show that over the years, Lukhele mainly received money from South African companies FNB believed to be “fronts” or “shells”– companies we will return to below.

In 2017 the archbishop personally received R40-million from the accounts of four such companies that had “no other significant activity in the companies’ accounts besides receiving funds…and transferring them to the client within a short succession of receipt,” FNB reported.

More importantly, some of these payments shooting in and out of the four suspected fronts were referenced “Bongani Mahlalela” and others “ANC”.

Then, in 2018, things changed.

Now, money flowed into Lukhele’s church’s account, primarily from an account belonging to the king’s brother-in-law and former Chancellor House executive Mngomezulu.

Taking one step back, FNB was able to trace some of the deposits into Mngomezulu’s account as flowing from, among others, the ANC Election Fund account.

The payments the governing party was making to Mngomezulu were, however, seemingly disguised.

“The references in Mr Mngomezulu’s account were all found in the ANC account and were made to appear like they are going to different companies like XGM Trading and Projects,” the report noted.

More on XGM later.

Other payments into Mngomezulu’s account (and paid forward to Lukhele’s eSwatini church) came mostly from the same ‘fronts’ that had previously paid archbishop Lukhele directly.

During 2018 Mngomezulu transferred a total of about R37.8-million to Lukhele’s All Nations church using the reference “Church Building”. He made these transfers shortly after receiving incoming payments (from the ANC among other entities).

Overall, Mngomezulu, the brother of one of King Mswati’s wives (Sibonelo, known as Queen LaMbikiza), was the single most significant conduit of funds channelled to Eswatini.

“These transactions gave rise to the suspicion of money laundering where possibly the church’s account was being used as a front,” the bank said in its internal report.

Money laundering is a process of disguising illegally obtained money through a series of intricate financial or commercial transactions to make the money look legitimate.

The use of layered transactions, spread out between different entities, individuals and jurisdictions makes it difficult for law enforcement officials to track and clamp down on money laundering activities. 

A powerful priest

News reports show that Lukhele and his All Nations church were quickly gaining prominence in the kingdom. A 2019 article published by Swaziland News described Lukhele as “powerful and highly influential”.

Responding to questions at the time about his source of income, Lukhele claimed that he had built multiple churches in South Africa, “especially Cape Town”. Over and above that, the man of the cloth told the Swaziland News reporter that he was a shareholder and owned “flats in South Africa and Eswatini that are rented even by white people”.

In August of that year, Lukhele would become the new owner of the kingdom’s Mbabane Swallows football team, making him responsible for running and financially supporting the team at a time when most public gatherings and events were paused due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

The team’s leaked bank statements, seen by amaBhungane, reveal that Mbabane Swallows was cash-flush while other teams reportedly struggled to pay their players.

Confronted with all the information above, in April 2020 the EFIU submitted its findings to Eswatini’s anti-corruption investigative agency, saying it was possible that Mngomezulu used his account to “facilitate illegal transactions” to Lukhele.

“The way in which the reported account disposed of the funds so soon after receipt appeared unusual and suspicious,” the EFIU reported. “The transactional behaviour was not in line with the subject’s profile and further it was noted that no living expenses were made on the account.”

The Eswatini authorities have neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the leaked material but have criticised journalists for making use of “stolen” data.

The ANC money man

Mahlalela, the ANC’s long-serving CFO, is the other prominent individual linked to the network around the archbishop and Mngomezulu.

AmaBhungane isolated under R12-million in transfers made directly to Lukhele, and carrying the references “Bongani Mahlalela”, “B Mahlalela” and “Mahlalela”, between 2015 and 2021.

An analysis of Mahlalela and Mngomezulu’s social media footprints revealed that not only were they very close friends, but Mahlalela was also linked, as described below, to several directors of the suspected front companies that ultimately channelled funds to Lukhele.

It’s not clear how the two men, or indeed the ANC, are linked to Lukhele; however, his profile as a businessman and religious leader of a growing church exempt from general taxes in Eswatini would in theory make him an attractive laundering partner – if that’s what these payments were.

Lukhele did not respond to detailed questions sent by amaBhungane.

Nor did Mngomezulu nor Mahlalela respond to questions sent by amaBhungane, including those related to FNB’s findings that some of the money channelled to Eswatini came directly from an ANC account.

Responding to similar questions, the ANC told amaBhungane that it was not aware of any investigations carried out by the financial intelligence agencies in South Africa or Eswatini, but indicated it was taking the matter seriously.

“The ANC will be getting to the bottom of this issue and will without any hesitation take appropriate action should any incidences of wrongdoing be established. To this end, the ANC will undertake a thorough investigation to establish the veracity of the claims,” said the party in an emailed statement. 

The ANC in 2015: a party in trouble

Mahlalela and Mngomezulu were sending money to Lukhele as early as 2015, according to references in the archbishop’s personal account contained in the leaks.

In 2015, South Africa and the ANC faced a political and financial crisis that called into question whether former President Jacob Zuma, who had been re-elected a year prior, would complete his second term in office.

Public anger was mounting against the ANC, which continued to protect Zuma despite the Public Protector’s findings that millions in taxpayer’s money were used for non-security upgrades to his private estate in Nkandla.

The ANC’s reputation was also withering under allegations that Zuma abused his office to dish out patronage to the Gupta family, who were seen as the main beneficiaries of State Capture.

In 2015 Zuma abruptly fired finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, replacing him with the unknown Desmond Van Rooyen, which saw billions of rands wiped off the stock market.

Just four days later Zuma backtracked, replacing Van Rooyen with former finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

The following week thousands of citizens took to the streets in protests demanding that the President step down.

Meanwhile, in the same year, Mngomezulu, Mahlalela and the constellation of ‘front’ companies allegedly linked to them managed to channel R5-million to Lukhele through a steady stream of deposits, bank records show.

Whether they were taking personal advantage of the ANC’s turmoil or working on behalf of the party is not clear – and the silence of nearly all the characters involved doesn’t help – but the leaks and other documents obtained by amaBhungane suggest it is unlikely there is an innocent explanation.

2016 Municipal Elections

One of the companies identified by the EFIU as involved in channeling of funds to Lukhele and his church is Umncele Clearing Agencies.

The leaks show that Lukhele and his church All Nations received R9.1-million in total direct or indirect deposits from Umncele.

However, the bank account number the EFIU attributed to Umncele has, in South Africa, cropped up in an entirely different context that ties it to the ANC’s CFO, Mahlalela.

By 2016, the ANC’s finances were, like its reputation, were showing signs of trouble according to court documents filed in a matter between the liquidators of Gupta-linked company Regiments Capital and a lawyer appointed by the party to pay creditors.

In the court records (unrelated to the Swazi Secrets leaks) Durban attorney Naheem Raheman tried to set aside a subpoena to explain his role in distributing a questionable R50-million donation to the ANC in 2016.

In his application, Raheman stated that in 2016 the ANC had appointed him to negotiate and settle outstanding payments to creditors that were threatening legal action against the ANC for services provided for the 2016 municipal elections. 

Raheman’s documents included a letter from ANC CFO Mahalela appointing Raheman as a payment agent for the party and a list of service providers owed monies by the party.

Among the service providers to be paid was a company ostensibly called Ibiza Couriers, which was purportedly owed R200 000 for “courier services” provided to the ANC during their local government election campaign.

The bank account number given for Ibiza Couriers is, however, the same as the account number of Umncele Clearing Agencies, the alleged front implicated in channeling funds to the Eswatini archbishop and his church.

A 2018 report by the EFIU to the Swazi revenue authority raising concerns about suspected tax evasion shows that the EFIU linked the same account number to payments that Lukhele had received from Umncele under another reference, “IBZ Fuel”.

While neither Ibiza Couriers nor IBZ are registered companies, Umncele is, and the director of the company at the time, Zwile Manzini, is the same contact person that Mahlalela provided to Raheman on the schedule of the ANC’s municipal election creditors.

In other words, it appears that the ANC CFO was directing at least one payment to be made to Umncele, making it possible that there were others.

Payments from Umncele to the church referenced “IBZ Fuel” and “Ibzcs Fuel” happened between 2015 and 2018, the year Manzini resigned as a registered director of Umncele.

Apart from the limited intelligence report compiled by South Africa’s FIC, the EFIU did not obtain the bank records belonging to suspected South African front companies and could not ultimately determine where the money they channelled to Lukhele came from.

In the case of Umncele, amaBhungane’s investigation shows the company was positioned as a service provider to the ANC, though it’s not clear how much Umncele/Ibiza received from the ANC.

Manzini did not respond to written questions, but in a brief phone interview in February amaBhungane asked him to explain why Umncele’s account was flagged in a suspected money laundering scheme involving prominent individuals in South Africa and Eswatini.

In response, Manzini said he was “not in a good position to answer that” because, when the payments were made, he was working in a partnership “with someone that has passed on and that person shifted quite a lot of money around”.

Manzini would not give us the name of his “partner” but claimed the individual brought in “a lot of projects” for them to work on and was responsible for moving “most” of the money. 

Other “fronts

Another company making payments to Lukhele was 2nd Thought Communications, a closed corporation with Craig Coglin as one of its two members.

To rewind, it was Craig (who also goes by the name Sandton Coglin) who was part of the 2015 boys’ night out in Kuala Lumpur with Mahlalela and Mngomezulu.

AmaBhungane was able to independently obtain 2nd Thought’s bank statements in court documents filed by FNB in South Africa after Craig Coglin failed to service a R660,000 credit facility extended to the company.

These statements show that the company was seemingly paid for services provided to the ANC during the relevant period based on deposit references that explicitly refer to the party.

For instance, the company was paid R100 000 in May 2018 for a “Winnie Mandela Event” about a month after the death and memorial of the struggle stalwart. In March 2017, a R39 900 payment was received, referenced “ANC”.

2nd Thought statements show that the company transferred at least R25-million to Archbishop Lukhele and his church from the beginning of the account’s transaction history in 2016 through to 2019 when Coglin dumped the business account and its outstanding debt.

Of the receipts funding these payments, R16.4-million was from an account referenced “Registered Trustees Of The Afr,” which could refer to an ANC account.

The activity in 2nd Thought’s bank statements seemingly confirmed Eswatini authorities’ suspicions that the companies making deposits to Lukhele operated as front or shelf companies, with very few transactions apart from receiving from and sending money to Eswatini in quick succession.

While most payments made by 2nd Thought went directly to Lukhele or his church, some went via Mngomezulu, suggesting his and Coglin’s relationship extended beyond partying together. This pattern was seen across the rest of the “shelf” or “front” company network analysed by the EFIU and FIC.

A look at all the bank statements available from 2nd Thought, Mngomezulu and accounts controlled by Lukhele suggests that the total flow of funds attributed to 2nd Thought via this chain was over R30.9-million.

Front number three – an unwitting accomplice?

And then there is a third suspected front: Fillis Holdings.

In Eswatini, Lukhele received R13.2-million attributed this company, but its sole director Sheldon Fillis points the finger back to Coglin.

Although Fillis admitted to opening Fillis Holdings’ bank account, he claims he was not behind the payments made through it. He claims he was approached by Coglin with “a business opportunity” to get into events management and planning.

Fillis said he had no reason to doubt Coglin because he had previously seen him work on events and supply goods such as bottled water to conferences. Fillis mentioned that Coglin had also “printed flyers or posters” for the ANC.

“That is what I know because that is what I saw,” said Fillis.  

Coglin managed his company’s account, he alleges, and would later introduce him to the ANC’s Mahlalela.  The agreement was that Fillis would get 10% of the company’s turnover, which Fillis says, “never happened”.

“He would always tell me he needs to pay suppliers.”

Now, Fillis says, he has been embroiled in an ongoing dispute with the taxman after he was hit with a huge unpaid tax bill that “Craig and Bongo” promised to help him with but didn’t.

“Bongo” is Bongani Mahlalela’s nickname.

“To a certain extent it makes me feel stupid and mad at myself because of the relationship I had with Craig. He is a very close friend of mine; I genuinely looked up to the guy and I trusted him.”

Fillis, like Umncele’s Manzini, said he was “not in a position” to answer amaBhungane’s detailed questions.  Instead, he directed us to Coglin and Mahlalela as the right people to speak to.

Coglin, for his part, did not respond to amaBhungane’s questions.

And yet more fronts

Synquest Trading, whose sole director is one Ivor Coglin, was seemingly behind at least R7.2-million transferred to Eswatini. In Lukhele’s accounts these payments were expressly referred to as “Synquest” or a variation on this.

But the largest payments from Synquest to Lukhele and All Nations were instead disguised under the reference “Mounting Material,” under which R18-million in deposits were made.

Leaked suspicious transaction logs in the Swazi Secrets submitted to the EFIU, which record foreign transactions coming in and out of Eswatini through the financial system, appear to confirm that transactions referenced “Mounting Material” came from Synquest’s account.

In total, an estimated total of R26-million attributed to Synquest was transferred to Lukhele. 

It is understood that Ivor and Craig Coglin are related; online searches show that both men work for Coglin Media House based in Eswatini.

Questions sent to Ivor via Craig also went unanswered. 

Kgatong Investments, a sole proprietorship company owned by Claude Tobias, was referenced in deposits of just over R11-million made to accounts controlled by Lukhele.

Tobias’s Facebook profile is revealing. His social media activity shows that he is also close to Craig Coglin and the ANC’s CFO Mahlalela and is an enthusiastic ANC supporter.

He did not respond to questions.

Some revealing posts on Claude Tobiass Facebook profile. Click to view full size.

A company we briefly encountered earlier called XGM Trading and Projects transferred an estimated R34.5-million to accounts in Eswatini between 2016 and 2021.

As we saw, FNB’s internal investigation found that some ANC election fund payments to Mngomezulu were referenced in ANC accounts as payments to XGM.

Mngomezulu’s employment history in online credit records shows that in addition to Chancellor House Holdings, in 2022 he declared “XGM Consulting” as one of his employers.

In a preliminary phone interview with amaBhungane in February 2024, XGM’s sole director Mduduzi Shongwe admitted to making the deposits from his accounts to recipients in Eswatini.

Shongwe told amaBhungane that the company provided communications and marketing services and that all the payments made by XGM were “above board”, being either to pay service providers or to give money to friends.

“One service provider would say, pay me through the teller or another would ask to be paid through the company and so on,” said Shongwe.

After undertaking to meet amaBhungane for an in-person interview, Shongwe started ignoring our communication.

Written questions sent to his numbers were also ignored.

The Moerane Flows

There are signs that other prominent ANC members may have been aware of the money-moving-network and possibly tapped into it.

Between 2018 and 2019 around R27-million in transactions marked “Moerane”, “AT Net”, “Leferane” or “Figlen” moved to Lukhele via Mngomezulu or 2nd Thought Communications.

The references on their own don’t tell us much; however, a closer look at company records reveals that they appear to refer to companies in which the late ANC Johannesburg Region Treasurer Mpho Moerane and his wife Fikile are directors.

Fikile Moerane is the director of Figlen Consulting and was the director of AT Net until 2021.

Following her husband’s passing in May 2022, she was appointed director of Leferane Trading.

These payments did not always end up in Eswatini.

For instance, in late August 2019, Mngomezulu’s statements show that he received R300,000 referenced “AT NET” and R320 000 from “Figlen” on separate days.

Mngomezulu paid out the money using the reference “Mahlalela”, and we understand that this money did not flow through to the archbishop or the church’s accounts because there were no corresponding credits on the days the deposits were made.

2nd Thought’s accounts also received money with references referring to the Moerane’s companies, albeit to a much lesser extent.

Again, the distribution of the deposits did not neatly mirror the pattern we have observed in the other suspected fronts. In October 2018, after receiving R200,000 from “AT Net”, Coglin withdrew the same amount of cash via a teller at Featherbrook Village in Roodepoort.

Responding through her lawyers, Moerane’s wife, Fikile, restricted her responses to questions related to Figlen despite being the director of AT Net at the time the money flows happened. 

“Based on the information at our client’s disposal and strictly limited to Figlen, our client has no record of any payments made with such references as contained in your letter,” her lawyers said.

Her lawyers added: “We are instructed to reiterate that our client does not know Messrs Mngomezulu and Lukhele. Accordingly, our client does not have any knowledge of any funds that allegedly flowed to Mr Lukhele. Our client further denies having benefited (directly or indirectly) from payments allegedly made to Mr Lukhele.”

The question of who exactly benefitted from this scheme, and whether Archbishop Lukhele was a pawn or the beneficial owner of money that was channelled to him gets murky when one looks at how Lukhele used the money once it was in his accounts.

We will deal with this in Part Two.

CREDITS

Editorial support: Lionel Faull, editorial coach, amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. Troye Lund, managing partner: editorial, IJ Hub.

Data support: Miguel Fiandor, Jelena Cosic, Karrie Kehoe, Denise Ajiri, and Delphine Reuter, data team, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Adam Oxford, data journalist, trainer and strategy consultant, OpenUp data journalism programme supported by Africa Data Hub.

Cover illustration: Sindiso Nyoni, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Multimedia: Aragorn Eloff, digital coordinator, amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. Tsholanang Rapoo, digital officer, amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism.

The post The ANC, the megachurch and the mystery of the R200-million money flows appeared first on amaBhungane.

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