South Africa

Is John’s head finally on the Block?

By Mandy De Waal 28 March 2013

The ANC’s leader of the Northern Cape, who is also that government’s finance MEC, seems to be the province’s Houdini – wrangling his way out of all manner of charges of malfeasance. But John Block’s back in the dock on not one, but two cases. Will the charges stick this time? By MANDY DE WAAL.

John Block’s agonisingly slow march to justice on multiple charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering has taken another shuffle forward, but two steps back.

The fraud, corruption and money laundering trial involving the leader of the ANC in the Northern Cape and the province’s MEC for finance, economic affairs and tourism has been set to begin in the Northern Cape High Court on Monday 28 October 2013. Block will be appearing with the Northern Cape’s social development MEC Alvin Botes, ANC MP Yolanda Botha, a local businessman and three officials from the SA Social Security Agency.

In these court cases (yes, there’s more than one) Block faces charges of corruption, money laundering and fraud of over R100 million related to a lease scam that he was allegedly involved in between 2005 and 2009.

This case involves thirty leases, and includes the leasing of property to the Department of Social Development and the South African Social Services Agency in Kimberley, Upington, Springbok, Kuruman, and Douglas for massively inflated rentals, to enable kickbacks to be paid out. The National Prosecuting Authority alleges that Block’s take in this matter was well over R1 million.

Once this trial is done (the NPA says it will run from October to December 2013), Block will be back in court on 31 January 2014, to face charges of fraud and racketeering to the tune of some R42 million, this time related to the purchase of water purifiers and oxygen tanks.

Block’s co-accused in this case is none other than Uruguayan businessman, Gaston Savoi, who was fingered in a massive tenders-for-kickbacks scandal that was operated through his company, the Intaka Health Group. In this leg of the scandal water purification systems at a market value of just over R700,000 were procured from Intaka for about R5 million a pop.

Savoi’s company performed this neat trick repeatedly, making millions for the health procurement company. The key to doing this trick was a network of well-placed political connections, ANC cronies and government officials.

But back to Block, whose criminal records appear to have taken flight. From City Press comes news that records of the ANC provincial leader’s corruption trials from 2003 have gone missing, after Kimberley regional court president Khandilizwe Nqadala allegedly declared: “I cannot allow a chairperson of the ANC to go to jail.”

This shocking statement was revealed during a preliminary investigation of judicial misconduct against Nqadala, in which the central complaint was that the regional court president was a friend of Block’s, but that this conflict of interest didn’t deter Nqadala from presiding over one his cases. Nqadala denies being close to Block.

The court records that appear to have gone missing relate to how Block was let off the hook in 2003 when he was the Transport MEC for the Northern Cape and spent taxpayers’ money to take himself and his wife to the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town, where the couple languished in the Cape Grace – five-star luxury, of course. They hired a Mercedes-Benz to travel around in. Other Block excesses from that period include his using taxpayer’s money to send his wife to a cosmetics course in Johannesburg, and the hiring of a vehicle for his girlfriend so she could be transported to a funeral.

In this case Block put on his sorry face and declared ‘mea culpa’. This was all it took for Nqadala to happily let him off the hook, saying that all the ANC man needed to do was to pay the funds back and everything would be forgotten. The transaction happened without Nqadala even calling a key witness in the case to the stand to testify against the accused.

At the time, both the Northern Cape government and the ANC welcomed him back into the fold, despite a forensic investigation that led to him resigning as the Transport MEC and ANC provincial chair, and saw the case of corruption initiated against him.

Government authorities at the time declared that the investigation had cleared him of impropriety, despite the fact that Block had confessed to multiple abuses of public funds to “spoil” his wife and girlfriend. There are many who say that by refusing to hold Block accountable for these transgressions, the state only fuelled the politician’s appetite for corruption. What started as small “mistakes” expanded into the large scale allegations of fraud that will see Block have his day in court.

The ANC’s provincial leader is no stranger to corruption controversy. In 2010 a Northern Cape High Court ruled that a salt mining company Block was a director of had extracted salt from the Kalahari using a fraudulent mining licence. The case saw a criminal investigation involving forgery opened by Kimberley’s directorate of public prosecution.

The ruling party’s response to Block’s dramas? The man’s supporters in the Northern Cape say it is all a political conspiracy, while his allies in the ANC Provincial Executive Committee say that the cases are “politically motivated”. And re-elected him the ANC Chairman in Northern Cape in a 496 out of 553 votes landslide.

Justice must now run its course – but the outcome of this trial will reveal much about who’s winning (or losing) the war against corruption. DM

Read more:

  • Judge denies protecting Block on IOL

Photo: Northern Cape ANC leader John Block, flanked by his wife, Noluthando (black dress) and under the watchful eye of his mother, Zodwa Bosman (head dress), speaks to a crowd of his supporters outside the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 after he was released on bail of R 100,000 related to fraud charges. Picture: Andre Grobler/SAPA

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