The crazy story of Kalahari hijacking takes a tragic turn
- Theresa Mallinson
- 26 Dec 2010 12:00 (South Africa)
Controversial businessman Sandile Majali, one of the co-accused in the Kalahari Resources hijacking case, was found dead in his Sandton hotel room on Sunday afternoon. So far, information surrounding his death, and the probable cause thereof, is somewhat scarce. It was initially suggested that he died of natural causes, although police are now awaiting the results of tests on medication found in his hotel room. Majali was just 48 years old. By THERESA MALLINSON.
The police have opened an inquest into Majali's death, and the results of the above-mentioned tests will determine which route the investigation will take, according to Gauteng police spokesperson Lungelo Dlamini. It is understood that Majali's family is busy preparing a statement about his death in conjunction with his lawyer, John Ncebetsha.
Majali was never far from the headlines during the last few years: in late 2003 his company Invume channelled R11 million from PetroSA into ANC coffers and, at the time of his death, he was involved in two court cases. The first was brought against him by Absa, which applied to liquidate two of Majali's companies to recoup money he allegedly owed the bank; and the second was the Kalahari Resources hijacking (see below). Majali was out on bail, and due to reappear in the specialised commercial crimes court on 18 January. During Majali's bail hearing in September, the state indicated that the businessman was under investigation pertaining to further allegations of corruption and money-laundering. DM
The Kalahari Resources hijacking - an increasingly crazy story
When Kalahari (not the desert) was hijacked in late August, the situation seemed just plain crazy. Turns out, it really was crazy – in a certifiable way. It emerged in court on Friday morning that Haralambos Sferopoulos and Stephen Khoza, two of the five accused in the fraud case, have both spent time at Sterkfontein Mental Hospital and run an organisation that believes it more or less owns South Africa. And just how does Sandile Majali fit into the picture? By THERESA MALLINSON
In South Africa we’re all-too-familiar with the grim reality of car hijackings, and even building hijackings. But the company hijacking of Kalahari in late August heralded a whole new level of crime, one that could turn out to be a systemic threat to the country. It appears that the controversial businessman Sandile Majali has some strange bedfellows: the delusional folk running the so-called South African Community Government Union (Sacgu).
This Section 21 company claims it is the majority shareholder in all companies in South Africa. Continuing this curious logic, Sacgu asserts it has the authority to remove any directors it chooses. This is just what it did on 27 August, when Haralambous Sferopoulos, acting under the auspices of Sacgu, and in his capacity as a Cipro agent, electronically removed siblings Daphne Mashile-Nkosi and Brian Amos Nkosi from their directorships of Kalahari Resources, replacing them with himself, Stephen Khoza, Elvis Bongani Ndala, Sandile Majali, Maria Louisa Carter, Robert Emilio Rizzo, Nothando Innocent Nkosi, and Linda Welhencia Dlamini. As well as Sferopoulos, Khoza, Ndala, Carter, Rizzo and Dlamini, also listed on the organisation’s website as members of Sacgu.
Outside of cloud-cuckoo land, Sacgu’s claim regarding its legal authority is simply, er, crazy. According to Deon Lambert, a senior associate at law firm Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs, which represents Kalahari: “[Sacgu] has absolutely no legal basis whatsoever. It’s the most bizarre thing we’ve ever seen [and] has us all dumbfounded,” he told The Daily Maverick.
It’s owing to a flaw in the Company and Intellectual Property Registration’s Office security that Sferopoulos was able to effect his looney plan. To get her company back, Daphne Mashile-Nkosi had to go to court, with the entire SA government, including ministers responsible, sitting on the sides, doing nothing. After discovering the fraud, Kalahari Resources filed an urgent application with the South Gauteng High Court, against the eight directors, Cipro and the Cipro registrar. On 16 September, acting Judge Fayeza Kathree-Setiloane ruled in favour of Mashile-Nkosi and Mashile, ordering that Cipro reinstate them as directors on its website, and that the eight people who had been listed as directors be removed. The fraudulent directors were also ordered to pay costs.
But in addition to the civil matter, Mashile-Nkosi also laid charges of fraud against the eight “directors” at the Sandton police station, and this is where it starts to get even more interesting, if that’s possible. Earlier this week five of them – Sferopoulos, Khoza, Ndala, Majali and Dlamini – were arrested, and appeared in the Johannesburg specialised crimes court on Friday morning in a bail hearing. While Dlamini was granted bail, the other four applicants are still in custody, after magistrate Ashlika Ramlaal ruled in favour of the prosecution, who asked for a postponement of the bail hearing so they could place Sferopoulos, Khoza, and Ndala under mental observation, and continue investigation into allegations of corruption and money-laundering against Majali. The bail application will return to court on 26 October.
During proceedings on Friday, the prosecution claimed that Sferopoulos and Khoza have both previously been detained as involuntary patients at Sterkfontein Mental Hospital. Sferopoulos had been on leave from the institution from 27 August. It seemingly didn’t take him long to start causing mischief in the “outside world”, as this was the very day he made the changes on the Cipro database. Khoza, meanwhile, allegedly escaped from Sterkfontein more than a year ago, and has been at large ever since.
How did Majali find these people? His lawyer, John Ngcebetsha says that Majali met Khoza, whom he was referred to as someone who could help him conduct investigations into Kalahari’s affairs. Majali was apparently concerned about certain aspects of Kalahari’s financial management, and accused Mashile-Nkosi of failing to convene a Kalahari shareholders’ annual general meeting for the last two years, among other allegations.
Majali has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the affair, in September issuing a press release, saying: “I wish to categorically state that, I had no part in the removal and/or appointment of ‘new’ directors of Kalahari”. Ngcebetsha too insists that his client had no knowledge of his appointment as a Kalahari director. “[Majali] was appointed as a director unbeknown to him,” said Ngcebetsha. This is why Majali did not contest Kalahari’s court application to have the original directors reinstated.
However, Sacgu disputes these facts and has accused Majali of lying in the affidavit he submitted to the South Gauteng High Court. The papers Sacgu filed for an appeal in the civil case, asked for Majali to “be convicted of perjury for missleading[sic] the court and contradicting his own facts, as appeared in the answering affidavit of [Majali’s] to the extent of denial”. Quite a mouthful, but it seems Sacgu is accusing Majali of lying about the extent of his association to the organisation.
The prosecution, in turn, submitted that “it is the State’s contention that they [the accused] acted in concert”. Prosecutor Shaun Abrahams also alluded to the fact that Majali had given Sacgu his power of attorney, and said that he had the documentary evidence to prove so, which he submitted to the court.
Majali has different legal representation from the four other accused, and it’s clear the two factions have very different stories as to the extent of their relationship. If Sferopoulos and Khoza are declared mentally fit to appear in court, Tuesday’s bail hearing is going to be very interesting indeed; if the state can prove that Majali handed over his power of attorney to Sacgu, his story that he had nothing to do with the appointment of fraudulent directors to Kalahari will expose him as an outright liar.
The national prosecuting authority is currently investigating Majali in unrelated cases concerning corruption and money-laundering, and he’s had a pretty litigious past, although has never been convicted. Perhaps the NPA should’ve called in the reinforcements from Sterkfontein earlier. It’s Majali’s miscalculation in associating with this bunch of loonies in order to further his own ends that could just bring him down. DM
Update: Sandi Majali was granted bail in the early hours of Saturday morning, after his laywer brought an urgent application before the Johannesburg High Court. “It was granted at 1am and I confirm he slept at home last night,” said Ngcebetsha. “We submitted that it was a civil dispute between my client and Kalahari Resources,” he said.
Majali was given R10,000 bail, in addition to which he has put up his residence in Sandton as security for his bail, which must be furnished within seven days. He must report to the Sandton police station twice a week, on a Monday and a Friday, between 8:00 and 20:00. In addition, he cannot leave Gauteng without the permission of the investigating officer. He must also appear before the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on Tuesday when the bail hearing for the other applicants resumes.