Days of Zondo

SAX, Bribes and Audio Tapes: Former Cabinet ministers implicated in dodgy airline deal

By Jessica Bezuidenhout 19 June 2019
Caption
Illustrative image sources: Dipuo Peters on March 13, 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo b Gallo Images / Sowetan / Veli Nhlapo) / Former Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown, January 31, 2018 (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele) / Former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo on May 23, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla) /

A disgruntled businesswoman allegedly taped a meeting with an SA Express boss in which he claimed that the then ministers were to be paid bribes of R20,000 each.

The State Capture Commission has heard testimony about an audio recording that implicates former Cabinet ministers, Lynne Brown and Dipuo Peters as the alleged recipients of bribes relating to a R400-million contract between SA Express (SAX) and the North West government.

The recording allegedly also names former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, as well as the airline’s former CEO Inathi Ntshanga.

These startling claims were made by SAX security manager Timothy Ngwenya, who told the Commission he was given the recording by a disgruntled businesswoman after her company was shafted in the deal.

Ngwenya said that in May 2016 he received a call from Babadi Tlatsana, the owner of Koreneka Trading and Projects, which held a contract for ground handling at two airports in the province, at Mahikeng and Pilanesberg.

He met with her the next day, and she handed him documents and several audio recordings, one of which revolved around a meeting she had with the previous SAX commercial manager, Brian van Wyk.

The recording in which Brown, Peters and the others are named, appears to match some names that Van Wyk had allegedly scribbled on a piece of paper when he detailed the amounts payable to the various individuals.

During the meeting which Tlatsana recorded, Van Wyk claimed the CEO and then chairman of the board were privy to everything about the deal and that he was acting on “instructions”.

Ngwenya said Van Wyk had written the names down during his meeting with Tlatsana at a Spur restaurant.

He said he listened to the recording several times and that Van Wyk mentioned the names of the politicians and others and had said, “all of them,” were supposed to be paid.

In fact, there was a bit of a disagreement between them [Tlatsana and Van Wyk] because he had initially said the ministers were to get R10,000 each but later said it was in fact R20,000 each.”

Ngwenya reported details of Tlatsana’s briefing to his bosses, including Ntshanga, the Monday following his meeting that weekend.

Ngwenya said that months into his investigation he received a call from an unknown man asking for a meeting.

The meeting took place at a hotel near OR Tambo International Airport and Ngwenya said the man told him to drop the investigation because the money flowing from the deal had been used to fund ANC political activities.

The man allegedly offered him a R3-million bribe to kill the investigation in order to access about R20-million that Tlatsana was withholding from Van Wyk after she regained access to her company’s bank account.

Ngwenya told the Commission that the unidentified man had merely said:

Chief, I’m from Luthuli House and I’ve been given a mandate to talk to you pertaining to your investigation in the North West’”.

He said, ‘Listen, the money that was moved out of the North West was meant to finance the political activities of the ANC’.”

I told him I am not a politician, this had nothing to do with me.”

Ngwenya’s testimony emanates from a five-year deal that the North West government had signed with the airline to resume flights between two provincial airports – Pilanesberg and Mahikeng – to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

In terms of the contract, SAX had appointed a management company to handle ground services at the airports and this was the deal that Tlatsana’s company held.

However, as soon as the deal was in the bag, Van Wyk allegedly brought along a number of co-directors to help with the running of the business.

The Commission heard that some were relatives of Van Wyk’s life partner.

Tlatsana, who is scheduled to testify at the Commission, was essentially sidelined from the business and had been asked to hand the company’s banking credentials over to a new accountant.

She never prepared a single invoice and told Ngwenya she didn’t even know how to prepare one.

Tension developed between her and Van Wyk after she fired one of his deployees – apparently his boyfriend’s mother – and soon after, a new entity was formed that stepped into the role her company had played. She then approached Ngwenya.

The Commission heard that the new company, also linked to Van Wyk’s lover, was one of three that took over as the management company in the deal.

In terms of Tlatsana’s company’s deal with SAX, the company was to run the ground handling services and submit invoices for payment every 30 days to the North West government.

But, the Commission heard that the payments, up to a point, were instead made to SAX while only modest amounts flowed through to Tlatsana’s company.

Ngwenya conducted a preliminary investigation and testified that four invoices, totalling R31-million, were paid to Koreneka Trading, none of which appeared to be linked to the services covered by the contract.

Instead, they were for items that included airport refurbishment, facility upgrades and compliance management.

In one instance, SAX paid R14-million for items like an airport fire truck lease yet the invoices linked to it were for less than R10-million.

Ngwenya said he believes this was done to circumvent the board as anything above R10-million would have required the board to sign it off.

The then CEO, Ntshanga’s signature was present on all the expense authorisation documents while the payments were approved by Van Wyk, Ngwenya testified.

When he asked Ntshanga about this, Ngwenya said he was told that the North West had paid the money to SAX in error, hence it was later transferred to Koreneka.

I was disturbed by that. Why didn’t SAX return the money to the NW government so it could pay Koreneka directly?”

Ngwenya said he investigated the case up to a point and provided Ntshanga with a copy of his draft report and urged him to report the bribe allegations in terms of his duties under the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

It is not clear whether this was done.

The Commission is expected to hear further evidence about the deal and how Ntshanga, allegedly within days of his exit from the airline in March 2017, signed off on paperwork that paved the way for two new management companies, one at the Pilanesberg and another at the Mahikeng airport.

*The Commission resumes on Thursday with testimony by Arson Phiri, the current commercial manager at SAX and the chief financial officer of the North West department of community safety and transport, Kutlwano Phatudi. DM

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