Business consultant Athol Williams said he witnessed high-level corruption under the presidency of Jacob Zuma—but a good portion of it emanated from a U.S. company with connections to U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, according to a new report.
Williams had been a consultant with the American financial firm Bain Capital founded by chief executive Romney. Bain & Co. took advantage of weak companies, Williams said, describing their actions as “greed run amok… Things that Bain did in South Africa, they would never do in the U.K. or the U.S.”
This comes after a South African judicial commission investigating state capture and corruption concluded there had been “collusion” between Bain and Zuma to reshape entire sectors of the economy.
Bain made numerous attempts to offer Williams “large sums of money in return for his silence,” according to the report.
After testifying, Williams, a former ethics lecturer at Cape Town University, asked to be given state protection given to whistleblowers but it was not granted. “I’m in danger and I don’t know where it will come from,” he said.
”There’s a conscious effort to leave me and other whistleblowers exposed.”
In the U.K., Bain’s purported role in state corruption prompted former Labor minister and anti-apartheid activist Peter Hain to attempt to block Bain & Co. from lucrative government contracts until Bain fully cooperated with South African prosecutors and investigators who are investigating alleged corruption under former president Zuma.
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Hain called Bain’s actions “despicable,” adding that South Africa “had its tax collection and enforcement capabilities massively and systematically damaged during the Zuma administration, rendering it ineffective in enforcing tax compliance.”
The Hain letter continued: “That a multinational company such as Bain would act as a willing and knowing accomplice to corruption by those intent on undermining the South African state and its democracy, is outrageous.
“I therefore find it completely unacceptable that Bain & Co. be licensed to operate commercially in the U.K. and be endorsed by your government by contracting for work with government departments and public sector bodies.”
In a statement, Bain replied: “We accept that through various lapses in leadership and governance, Bain South Africa became an unwitting participant in a process that inflicted serious damage on South African Revenue Service (SARS), for which we apologize.”
Bain reportedly raked in about US$10.5 million from the havoc wreaked at SARS. The company said it had paid back the money it made from the SARS contract. Other Bain clients in Africa are Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Angola, Zambia, and Botswana.
While admitting “serious failure” at SARS, Bain & Co. insists that this latest report “mischaracterizes” its work in South Africa.
Whistleblower Williams, who worked for Bain between 1995 and 2019 as a senior partner, dismissed the narrative that “only a few bad apples” were involved in corruption but in fact “the corrupted web stretches across our society and needs bold action” to tackle it.
“The reality is that there are many important and influential people who we revere in society, who we offer awards to, who sit on boards and committees and lead grand initiatives and organizations, who are in fact enabling this capture and benefiting from it.”
He added that he would continue advocating for justice “no matter how far from home I am.” He did not say which country he had gone to.
Meanwhile, former President Zuma’s case has been pushed to May 17 pending the outcome of the ex-leader’s appeal to have the state prosecutor removed from the case.