South Africa's former top propagandist, Eschel Rhoodie, testified in Supreme Court today that he gave large sums of money to some legislators in Western nations who were "anonymous collaborators" in "highly sensitive operations" of the South African government.
Repeating a claim he made earlier this year to a local newspaper, Rhoodie also said that former prime minister John Vorster had approved the use of bribery if necessary in the secret propaganda effort Rhoodie once operated under the auspices of the South African Information Department. The campaign was an attempt to win support for South African Information Department. The campaign was an attempt to win support for South Africa at home and abrroad.
Rhoodie, 46, who was giving evidence at his trial on charges of fraud and theft arising from his activities as this country's former secretary for information, was the central figure in South Africa's worst political scandal that brought disgrace to Vorster and former information minister Cornelius Mulder.
Both men were forced to resign for their parts in the propagnada effort and subsequent attempts to cover it up.
Recalling a meeting with Vorster at which Mulder was also present, Rhoodie said today "on that occasion I asked Mr. Voster 'Do I understand you correctly that in this campaign no rules or resulations will apply? And I also asked him, 'Do I understand you correctly that I can, for example, influence journalists by buying their wives fur coats, or that I could pay the fare for a journalist's mistress to Hawaii, for example?" And the prime minister's reply was in the affirmative."
When Rhoodie's lawyer today asked him if he had used such methods, he replied that he had.
Rhoodie's testimony did not make clear whether all the money given to the "anonymous collaborators" was to be passed on in the execution of the sensitive project or whether some of it was meant for the personal use of the receipient to win influence.
There have been allegations by sources close to the Information Department that money was secretly put into the campaign funds of some American politicians but so far there have been no allegations that any official was personally bribed.
Rhoodie offered no explanation today and none is likely to be given in open court, of what the "sensitive operations" involved, The Information Department had more than 100 secret projects and although many were scrapped when the scandal broke, some 60-odd are continuing.
There is speculation that some of the more sensitive projects did not deal so much with influence peddling as with the purchase of arms and nuclear cooperation from other countries. Because of international condemnation of its policy of racial separation, a mandatory United Nations arms embargo was imposed on South Africa in October 1977. Prior to that, the United States and Britain observed a voluntary arms boycott of Pretoria.
In one of the secret projects which has since been revealed, Rhoodie sought the help of American publisher John McGoff to whom he gave $11.5 million to purchase the Washington Star in 1974. When that bid failed, McGoff used the money to buy the Sacramento Union newspaper and some shares in a British-based television news company. McGoff has denied reports that he received South African funds.
Official investigators here have reported that McGoff still owes some $6 million to the South African government. McGoff's dealings with the South African information department are now under scrutiny by U.S. officials.
Rhoodie also said today that when he had destroyed certain documents Relating to some secret projects under his direction, he had done so under instructions from Vorseter.
Charged with the theft of a sum of about $100,000, Rhoodie today testified that he had paid all anonymous collaborators but one out of his own pocket and had then reimbursed himself from government funds.
Rhoodie said that amounts up to $300,000 yearly were available in the Information Department's budget for anonymous collaborators. Besides this, Rhoodie exclusively controlled overseas accounts with up to $24 million in them. The whole Information Department program ran to some $72 million.