Controversy beclouds probe into missing chopper

  • P14m used to buy decrepit, second-hand choppers
  • DWNP, DCEC not involved in DISS investigations
  • Former PS unaware of any missing chopper


DISS investigations into a missing AgustaWestland helicopter that was bought by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) five years ago appear to be marred by controversy.
Under former president Ian Khama’s administration in 2017, Parliament approved a request by then tourism minister Tshekedi Khama for over P41 million in emergency funding to buy three used helicopters to monitor movement of elephants.
A week ago, it emerged that four helicopters were procured but one was missing. Two former executive officers at DWNP and a DISS engineer were subsequently arrested in connection with the missing chopper or for issues that bordered national security, as DISS spokesman Edward Robert put it.
The Botswana Gazette has established that DWNP and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) have been left out of these investigations. “I cannot talk about operations of another agency,” said the Director of DWNP, Dr Kabelo Senyatso. “You should talk to them and not us.”
At DCEC, the Director General Tymon Katlholo told The Botswana Gazette: “No, we are not involved in those investigations. Maybe they will reach out if they find something but at this point they have not reached out.”
Impeccable sources say DWNP bought four old, second-hand AgustaWestland helicopters in Germany in 2016 for anti-poaching operations as well as to patrol the movement of wild animals such as elephants and rhinos. Three helicopters arrived in the country but one never did.
Sources say the helicopter that did not reach Botswana was to be stripped for parts for use to fix the three helicopters that reached Botswana when a need arose. “The officers did not steal the aircraft,” an intel source said.
“The ministry was aware that the fourth helicopter was to be cannibalised for other helicopters since they were old. It is the parts of the fourth helicopter that have gone missing and the officers who were arrested are being questioned about the missing parts. The helicopter was never even registered with CAAB (the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana).”
It is said that some of the missing parts may have been sold to some private helicopter owners without the knowledge of either the DWNP or the parent ministry. A DISS team that recently went in search of the missing helicopter were able to find only a few remnants of it in South Africa.
Even so, the then Permanent Secretary (PS) at the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism, Jimmy Opelo, has told this publication that there was never a report on any missing helicopter following procurement of the choppers.
Opelo, who is now PS at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, describes obtaining the helicopters as a “must get” at the time because elephants were terrorising villages. “I am not aware of any missing or stolen helicopter,” he said in an interview. “What I do know is that procurement was done for the helicopters to help patrol elephants and scare them off since the situation was getting out of hand.”