Eschel Rhoodie, South Africa's former official promoter, arrived here today under police guard to face charges for his role in the country's multimillion dollar information scandal.
Rhoodie, 45, was taken to an undisclosed jail immediately after his arrival from France, where he was arrested June 19 at a resort town on the Riviera. He will be tried on seven counts of fraud or theft for allegedly misappropriating government funds.
The former civil servant headed South Africa's secret public relations campaign as secretary of the now-disbanded Information Department from 1973 to 1978. He is likely to be the only former official to face criminal charges related to the scandal that led to the resignations of former information minister Cornelius Mulder and John Vorster, the former prime minister who stepped down from the largely ceremonial post of president.
The attorney general of Transvaal Province, J. E. Nothling, said Rhoodie would make his first court appearance in Pretoria in the next two days.
For the government, Rhoodie's extradition is seen as a moral victory. It follows Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha's promise to clean up the scandal and bring guilty officials to justice.
Botha has been criticized for not getting Rhoodie back sooner, since the former information secretary departed last November and since the arrest warrant was issued March 16. The delay made many whites believe they would never see Rhoodie back in South Africa.
Foreign Ministry officials have objected to press speculation that right-wing pressure on Botha finally forced Rhoodie's arrest. They said it took from March to May to ascertain where Rhoodie's permanent residence was and then from June to July for the French to act on their specific arrest request.
It remains to be seen if Rhoodie's return will be a political victory for Botha since Rhoodie has threatened to reveal information -- either at his trial or through the Dutch magazine Elseviers -- that could damage and embarrass South Africa.
Botha is gambling that his administration will be able to deflect any new revelations by Rhoodie. There is speculation in the South African press, however, that the trial may be closed since it could affect sensitive areas such as relations with black-ruled states.
[Rhoodie charged in the latest issue of Elseviers that officials of Alleghany Ludlum Industries of Pittsburgh, Pa. sought to enlist the South African government in a plan to influence the April election in Rhodesia, The Los Angeles Times reported. ]E. F. (Andy) Andrews, vice president of the company, offered to arrange for Alleghany to invest $1 million in South Africa if that country would, in turn, provide a similar amount for James Chickerama, a black politician in what is now Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. At that the time of the alleged proposal Chickerema was allied with Bishop Abel Muzorewa, the current prime minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. Both men are considered moderates.
[Officials for Allegheny Ludlum declined to comment on Rhoodie's accusation, The Los Angeles Times reported.]
Rhoodie will be prosecuted for allegedly writing seven checks worth about $100,000 from the Information Department's secret funds. The government charges that Rhoodie deposited the money in accounts for his wife, his brother or himself and subsequently used the funds for personal real estate deals.
Rhoodie handled much more than that in a covert campaign that involved more than $72 million, according to a government report on the scandal.
Almost half of this was funneled secretly to an English-language progovernment newspaper, the Citizen. Millions more were used in Rhoodie's unorthodox methods to improve South Africa's image abroad and at home and to gain acceptance of its apartheid policies.
The authorities appear to have had trouble linking Rhoodie to allegedly embezzled funds despite the fact that he openly lived at a standard well above his $20,000 annual salary.
Rhoodie unsuccessfully fought his extradition in French courts on the ground that it was political.But French Justice Minister Alain Peyrefitte was quoted in the South African press as saying, "It seems clear that South African justice has every reason to pursue Dr. Rhoodie."
The French, however, insisted that Rhoodie not be prosecuted for any crimes other than the seven for which extradition was sought.