Former South African information official Eschel Rhoodie said in a BBC television interview tonight that South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha "initiated at Cabinet level" at least two secret projects in a continuing multimillion-dollar campaign to buy foreign support for South Africa.
Rhoodie also said that 60 to 65 secret influence-buying projects "have been reapproved by the administration of Mr. P. W. Botha and therefore are ongoing operations" and that Finance Minister Owen Horwood signed a secret document approving the expenditure of approximately$9 million to fund the projects for the current fiscal year.
A photostat copy of that document, written in Afrikaans and given to the BBC by Rhoodie, was shown on the screen during the interview. According to a BBC translation, the document -- market "top secret" and dated May 12, 1978 -- is a letter to Horwood from then-information minister Connie Mulder, Rhoodie's boss.
In the letter, Mulder advises Howrood that "The Department of Information is intending to allocate the money which you are making available to it in the current financial year" for a list of items including "distributors and publications, conferences, front organizations, collaborators, advertisements, liaison services, lobbyists, institutions and foundations, news and photo services, film production and distribution, economic action, guests, trips and other matters which are related to this."
The document also bears Horwood's signature at the bottom, which Rhoodie said indicated his approval of the secret projects. Both Botha and Horwood have denied any involvement in or knowledge of the influence-buying campaign, and Botha has vowed to resign and call new national elections if it is shown that he or any member of his Cabinet is involved.
Rhoodie refused to further identify the secret projects listed in the document, but he told BBC correspondent David Dimbleby that the money -- about $100 million since 1973 -- was used "to establish organizations and institutes and to support groups and individuals to persuade them to back South Africa on certain important issues."
Contrary to press speculation, however, Rhoodie said no payments were made to U.S. politicants. "In the case of the United States," he said, "I can state categorically that we didn't make payments to politicians."
He refused to rule out or comment on the possibility that money was secretly spent in the United States on lobbyists, or front organizations for South Africa or on efforts to discredit and remove from office politicians who were staunch opponents of South Africa.
Rhoodie did say that money was paid to "members of Parliament" and "some newspaper people" and for "disinformation" efforts to sabotage antiapartheid organizations and campaigns, but he refused to identify the countries in which these payments were made.
"There were certain individual cases," Rhoodie said, "where we had used money to persuade a person who would perhaps normally have been anti-South Africa at least to adopt a more neutral attitude. Or, if he had been lukewarm or neutral toward South Africa, to adopt a more positive attitude or perhaps to keep us informed of the developments taking place in anti-South African organizations."
Asked who those people were, Rhoodie said, "Those would be people whom you would classify among the opinion-formers and decision-takers. I suppose that would include politicians and some newspaper people."
Only in the case of Britain did Rhoodie acknowledge specific aspects of the scheme he ran from 1973 until last year as the top civil servant, under Mulder, in South Africa's Information Ministry. He said antiapartheid groups in Britain were infiltrated and sabotaged.
He also said his department considered purchasing a national newspaper in Britain, but he would not name the paper. "It had to be done secretly," he said of the unconsummated deal, "because I don't think there would have been any chance of success if the South African Department of Information had made an open approach."
Asked if his operation had also tried to finance an attempt by newspaper-chain owner John McGoff to buy The Washington Star, as has been reported, Rhoodie said only that "I don't think there has been any admission on my part or anybody else's part that this is true."
Former prime minister John Vorster, who is now South Africa's president, or ceremonial head of state, "knew of every major project in which we were ever involved," Rhoodie said. "So did Horwood, and these were reported to them in detail on an annual basis. They knew about it. They could have stopped anything if they wanted to."
Rhoodie said that others also could testify to the personal involvement of Botha, the former defense minister who is now prime minister, in "at least two or three projects," despite Botha's denials.
"There are at least 20 officials in the Department of Defense who were involved in one of those projects," Rhoodie said. "There were outside agencies involved in one of those projects. I cannot see the prime minister making such a denial."
Rhoodie said he would emerge from hiding in Europe to go back to South Africa only if the entire affair were aired publicly in a court of law where his lawyers could cross-examine Vorster, Botha and members of the Cabinet. But he said he did not think "there is any chance of that happening."
Instead, Rhoodie said he intends to stay, with the help of "some friends left in the outside world" countries from which he cannot be extradited to South Africa. He said he has taped recollections of his knowledge of the affair and complete records of all 130 secret influence-buying projects -- with "amounts of money spent, names of people, the summary of the projects [and] who received what" -- safely hidden in a bank valut "somewhere in Europe."
He will not release the documents or the tapes, he said, because of the "disastrous consequences" for South Africa and its "relations with a number of Western countries," so long as he is alive and free.
"If I were to die an unnatural death or if I were to be taken back to South Africa against my will or imprisoned on trumped-up charges," Rhoodie warned, "my lawyers have instructions what to do and I think the circumstances would be different."
South African authorities have issued a warrant for Rhoodie's arrest charging him with fraudulently diverting some of the secret project money to real estate investments of his own.
Rhoodie, dressed in a fashionable dark-blue suit, appeared fit and relaxed during the interview, which was taped last Saturday in a hotel room in an undisclosed European city outside Britain. BBC officials said no money was paid to Rhoodie, who they said originally asked for $200,000 in return for access to his tapes and documents.