The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) is planning to make more arrests regarding the R255-million allegedly defrauded from the Free State government through an irregular asbestos audit deal as authorities continue to act this week on a range of high-profile corruption allegations.
Seven defendants were released on bail, ranging between R50,000 and R500,000, in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on Friday after they were charged with over 60 counts of fraud, theft, corruption and money laundering in relation to an irregular contract awarded in 2014 to companies Blackhead Consulting and Diamond Hill Trading.
In the dock were: Blackhead boss Edwin Sodi, Free State human settlements department head Nthimotse Mokhesi, businessman Sello Radebe, former director-general of the national department of human settlements Thabane Zulu, former provincial human settlements MEC Sarah “Olly” Mlamleli, Free State human settlements supply chain manager director Mahlamola Matlakela and businessman Abel Manyeki.
The companies, tasked with identifying and removing asbestos from houses across Free State, only performed work worth R21-million while being paid R230-million.
Sodi has gone to court to claim another R25-million. The State Capture Inquiry has heard how Free State residents continue to live in homes with the dangerous asbestos fibres.
“The procurement process was done in a fraudulent and corrupt manner. In addition, certain public officials received gratification from the company and/or an individual amounting to several counts of corruption involving more than R2-million,” said NPA spokesperson Sipho Ngwema in a statement.
According to reports, protestors — supporting or condemning the accused — demonstrated outside the court. Some supporters claimed the charges against Mlamleli were politically motivated.
Mlamleli, who was removed as Mangaung mayor in a no-confidence vote in August, chairs the ANC Women’s League in Free State. She is also a member of the party’s provincial executive committee.
Hangwani Malaudzi, spokesperson for the DPCI, better known as the Hawks, suggested on SAfm that there would be more arrests in the case. He wouldn’t comment on whether the Hawks had senior politicians in its sights.
Former Free State premier and current ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule has been implicated in the dodgy asbestos-removal deal. He has denied the allegations.
Friday’s court hearing came after former ANC MP Vincent Smith pled not guilty in court this week to fraud and corruption charges relating to benefits he received from Bosasa, implicated in a wide range of State Capture claims.
The authorities appear to be acting on long-standing corruption allegations and have made a slew of arrests in various cases across the country, with more expected.
According to BusinessLive, former president Jacob Zuma’s ally, Thoshan Panday, has been charged with fraud, corruption and forgery in relation to R47-million in tenders he received to provide accommodation to SAPS members during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He is charged alongside former KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Mmamonye Ngobeni.
The NPA’s Investigating Directorate spokesperson Sindiswa Twala confirmed to Daily Maverick that Panday had been charged and was due to appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Friday afternoon.
On Friday, the Hawks made four further arrests, including an official in in Kwa-Zulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala’s office and three service providers, in regards to a R20-million catering contract.
Hawks KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Simphiwe Mhlongo told EWN the suspects “connived with officials in the premier’s office and they were giving each other tenders and they were not following the proper processes”.
Mail & Guardian reported on Friday that the Hawks are also planning to arrest Limpopo-based ANC politicians in relation to the looting of VBS Mutual Bank.
As the net closes in on senior ANC politicians and their associates in the business sector, the party will hold a national executive committee lekgotla this weekend.
The meeting is scheduled to discuss the economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, corruption allegations and the subsequent arrests, as well as the party’s resolution that members facing charges must step aside from their official roles, are likely to loom large. DM