South Africa

Scorpio

First ‘Zondo arrests’: Hawks nab businessman Edwin Sodi, former top officials over Ace Magashule-linked asbestos deal

 (Photo by Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle),(Photo by Gallo Images/Papi Morake) and Nthimotsi Mokhesi (Photo by Gallo Images/Papi Morake)

The high-profile arrests of several key figures in a contentious R255m asbestos audit deal may be the clearest signal yet that South Africa’s age of impunity is well and truly over. Scorpio has learned that the Hawks have arrested several individuals involved in the contract, including high-flying Gauteng businessman Edwin Sodi and top former government officials.

The alleged masterminds of a scheme that saw the Free State’s department of human settlements (FSHS) fork out more than R200-million for an unlawful asbestos audit project have been arrested. 

Scorpio has learned that the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, or the Hawks, on Wednesday arrested businessman Edwin Sodi, former FSHS department boss Nthimotse ‘Tim’ Mokhesi and former national human settlements director-general Thabane Zulu. 

It is understood that the Hawks also arrested other individuals, but Scorpio has not been able to confirm this. We’ll update this story as more information becomes available.

The asbestos deal has, since August 2019, received considerable attention at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. The latest development marks the first arrests relating to a matter presented to Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the commission’s chairperson.

The arrests relate to a contract the FSHS awarded in late 2014 to a joint venture between Sodi’s company, Blackhead Consulting, and Diamond Hill Trading, a company that had been owned by murdered businessman Ignatius “Igo” Mpambani.

Members of the media outside a building in Rosebank, Johannesburg, the Hawks on Wednesday morning arrested several people in connection with the Free State asbestos audit scandal. Photo: Sipho Ngwema/Facebook

Although the contract for the asbestos audit was valued at R255-million, the FSHS ended up paying the joint venture R230-million between late 2014 and August 2016. 

This reporter’s book, Gangster State, first revealed details of a suspicious spreadsheet Mpambani had created before Blackhead Consulting and Diamond Hill started receiving their first payments from the Free State’s housing department. 

The spreadsheet detailed what appeared to have been suspicious payments the joint venture intended making to several role-players involved in the saga, including top government officials. 

The letters ‘AM’ are among several initials included in the spreadsheet. Leaked documents and emails from the late Mpambani’s businesses showed that then Free State Premier Ace Magashule’s office had on several occasions been in contact with Mpambani during and after the asbestos project. Magashule’s then personal assistants on more than one occasion requested money from Mpambani after the joint venture received payments from the FSHS. One email showed that these requests had been made on Magashule’s instruction.

The Zondo Commission subsequently heard that Sodi had paid R600,000 to a car dealership as a deposit for a Range Rover acquired by Zulu, a former Director-General at the national department of human settlements.  Zulu’s former department played a key role in securing approval for transferring an earlier asbestos audit contract from the Gauteng department of human settlements to its counterpart in the Free State. 

Evidence recently presented to the commission also detailed a contribution of R650,000 Sodi had made towards a property Mokhesi bought in Bloemfontein. Mokhesi was the head of department (HOD) for the FSHS at the time it awarded the asbestos audit contract to Sodi and Mpambani’s joint venture.  

A Public Protector report released in May 2020 found that the contract had been unlawful. 

The PP report also confirmed the shocking financial wastage at the heart of the deal — of the R230-million paid to the Blackhead Consulting-Diamond Hill joint venture, only R21.3-million went towards covering the costs of the project. Those involved in the scheme had therefore made off with more than R200-million in pure profit. 

The contract had been classified as irregular by the Auditor General as early as July 2015, but Mokhesi’s department nevertheless continued making payments to the joint venture.

The Hawks’ spokesperson in the Free State, Warrant Officer Lynda Steyn, said the DPCI would release a statement on the arrests later on Wednesday. DM

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All Comments 16

  • Hermione Cronje just made good on her statements that SA would start to see significant arrests before the end of September. Hopefully, the Free State “House of Cards” will now start to implode leaving the ace exposed.

  • Great first steps, but only just that at present! Let’s not just arrest the lieutenants, the dons at the top must follow, who think they are untouchable and act with brazen impunity. There are many of these scumbags in leadership positions in government, cabinet, NEC, Parliament and Luthuli House. Plus those scumbags enjoying very comfortable retirement on ill-gotten gains. Let this be the start of brand SA taking the corrective path!

  • Walk before you can run. Nothing to celebrate as yet. Remember the debacle regarding attests on the Vrede Dairy farm a few years ago. Cronje’s promise was about this one, not the asbestos one. Biggest one right now is people who were, or still is, close to Zuma. If the latter gets away with the treat not to attend the Zondo commission hearings, all will be lost. And the Hawks/NPA and Judisiary will all lose credibility which will have dire consequences

  • This is progress! There are many more arrests to come. Invest in orange jump-suits! A growth industry. Let the ANC feel the pain of their duplicity!

  • If the Hawks/NPA really want to nab suspects, I am afraid this list is pretty mediocre, and certainly not the main brains. Sodi will get away easily, as he did not award the contract to himself, but purely (and publically) expressed his so-called donations as a member of the ANC. Until and when Ace Magashule and Zwane are arrested, these so-called news-worthy arrests means absolutely nothing. Which will be postponed, on postponement, in any case. Low profile arrests means nothings for the restoration of state capture

  • It is encouraging but convictions need to follow. Unfortunately, the ANC strategy has always been to throw a minnow or two under the bus to satisfy the public. When we see Ace and Zwane arrested and convicted we will know that SA may be on a corrective path. Until then it is probably merely window dressing.

  • first reported in 2015…. 2020 finally apprehended…… We need to speed up these processes
    Justice delayed is a crime against society

  • Good to see some evolution, from Auks (which waddle and peck ) to Hawks (which swoop and snatch), but still waiting to see some martial eagles that can reach the top of the trees……….and catch their favourite prey