South Africa

CORRUPTION CRACKDOWN

Weekend of arrests in KZN — now the wait for convictions

Thoshan Panday and Navin Madhoe at the Durban Magistrates’ Court. (Photo: Twitter / @MervynNaidoo)

A slew of arrests in KwaZulu-Natal on Friday relating to investigations dating back to 2009 are sure to restore some confidence in the country’s severely bruised justice system, but until convictions are secured, the National Prosecuting Authority and police can expect continued dissatisfaction from a public exasperated with the looting of public funds.

The most high-profile fraud and corruption case playing out in KZN may be the R430-million Durban Solid Waste tender scandal involving former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, but the biggest – and possibly most complex – known investigation in monetary terms that the Hawks are dealing with involves at current count the R700-million in alleged tender fraud within the metro’s water and sanitation department.

Arrests are yet to be effected in this investigation, which centres on a three-phase contract dating back to 2008 – the third phase ended in 2019 – for the erection of ablution facilities in the city’s informal settlements and transit camps.

As is the unsophisticated pattern of the fraudsters, contractors were grossly overpaid and services not rendered or poorly rendered. City officials, however, were gifted handsomely by their hand-picked suppliers, while eThekwini’s poorest residents were left with no or shoddy ablutions that had to be shared by up to 70 households, and in many instances had no plumbing or running water.

The Hawks conducted a second set of raids on properties and offices in September in this case, collecting documents and electronic devices, which have been sent for analysis. Once the case is ready, it will be sent to the NPA for a decision on prosecution and arrests.

But it was the re-arrest on Friday of Umhlanga businessman Thoshan Panday, who counts Jacob Zuma’s cousin Deebo Mzobe among business associates, that caught the media and country’s attention.

Panday appeared in the Durban magistrate’s court alongside Colonel Navin Madhoe on allegations of fraud and corruption involving police accommodation and supplies for officers working the 2010 Soccer World Cup beat.

Also named in the 130-page indictment are former captain Aswin Narainpershad and former KZN police commissioner, Mmamonnye Ngobeni.

All the accused have indicated they will plead not guilty to the charges.

Narainpershad and Ngobeni are expected to hand themselves over to police today, Monday 4 October, after the NPA issued a statement on Friday saying Ngobeni was considered “at large” – a claim she vigorously denied when speaking to Daily Maverick.

Although the R60-million fraud allegedly committed by Panday and his co-accused 10 years ago is small change compared to today’s professional looting standards, the case has well-known links to allegedly rogue cops and an at best deeply inefficient, at worst deeply corrupt and politically affiliated former KZN prosecutions head Moipone Noko, who is yet to receive her comeuppance.  

Former KZN Hawks’ head Johan Booysen gave a breakdown of the allegations in his book, Blood on Their Hands. The case as it stood back then significantly altered Booysen’s professional trajectory, as it did for other members in SAPS, who were wrongfully accused of being part of a “death squad” in order to stifle investigations into Panday, the rogue cops and possible links further up the political food chain.

Panday, Madhoe and Narainpershad are accused of 230 counts of fraud that allegedly took place between 2008 and 2010. Madhoe stands accused of trying to bribe Booysen – with cash allegedly supplied by Panday – to tamper with evidence and scupper the investigation that Booysen had started into the matter.

Ngobeni stands accused of trying to stop the investigation. She is also accused of taking a bribe from Panday at the time in the form of an expensive birthday party at an Umhlanga venue for her policeman husband.

She told journalists years ago that one of Panday’s businesses had been contracted to handle the event, and that subordinates in her office had come up with a list of potential service providers, from which Panday was chosen. Ngobeni claims she paid Panday from her personal funds.   

Madhoe and Narainpershad were both working in SAPS provincial supply chain management at the time of the alleged crimes, and according to the indictment, worked to keep quotes below R200,000 to circumnavigate the need for further scrutiny on the bids.

Another tactic used was to sit on acquisition needs so that they could later be pushed through as emergencies, again circumnavigating regulations. The procurement of emergency needs would then be funnelled to companies owned or controlled by Panday, and prices would be grossly inflated, with profits in some cases reaching more than 300%.

The case is being handled by the NPA’s Investigative Directorate (ID), established by President Cyril Ramaphosa in April 2019 to deal with high profile, hand-picked cases of serious corruption that have been identified via, among other routes, commissions and inquiries.

Booysen told Daily Maverick that he welcomed the “positive developments in rooting out corruption”, but added that Noko and NPA deputy director, Sello Maema who allegedly “shielded” the accused when they were first arrested “should be held to account”. He said their continued presence in the NPA would “undermine these efforts to bring corrupt officials to book”.

Noko was shifted to head prosecutions in North West province in 2019, but was also interviewed for the country’s top prosecution post, now the domain of Shamila Batohi. During his testimony at the Zondo commission, Booysen accused Noko of being a liar for denying she had anything to do with a decision to prosecute the bogus case against him. 

Ngobeni was based in the “backwater” of Ulundi before being made head of police in KZN.

She told Daily Maverick it was “nonsense” that she was “on the run” and that she had only been contacted by an investigator on Friday evening, and would report to the police on Monday. The ID had claimed it could not get hold of her as her phone was off.

KwaZulu-Natal government spokesman Lennox Mabaso told Daily Maverick that “all” of the officials arrested in the case had been suspended before being arrested, and were going through disciplinary processes.

Regarding the merits of the case, Ngobeni told Daily Maverick: “They can say all the rubbish and the nonsense like they normally do, and lie to the public and hide the real truth, why are they hiding the real truth?

“They must not only look into one side of the coin and hide the other side of the coin. Who were the people on the bid committee who authorised this, and where was I when all of that nonsense happened?

“I [took up my post as commissioner] late November in 2009, and the processes and everything was already in place. People must not take me for a scapegoat. People must come clean and say what their role was, but we will meet in court, let’s see how it goes there.”

Panday’s brother, Visham, consistently punting his brother’s innocence throughout the protracted saga, told Daily Maverick that Thoshan would “never get a fair trial”.

“Batohi is in the firing line so she wants to get off her comfortable chair and bring this up after nine years. It won’t work. It doesn’t work like that.

“This is about political scores with my brother. We have three presidents in the country – Ramaphosa, Batohi and Booysen.”

The Sunday Tribune reported Thoshan Panday saying over the weekend: “What about minister Bheki Cele? Why has he not been charged?” Panday is alleged to have further claimed that it was the police minister in his then capacity as police commissioner who signed off on the deal for one of Panday’s companies to provide meals and lodgings for officers on the Soccer World Cup beat.

The allegations are sure to be tackled if the matter gets to trial, but in his book, Booysen said that it was Cele who encouraged him to continue with investigations into Panday:

“Bheki Cele instructed me to take charge of the investigation and not to entertain interference. I knew that he and General Ngobeni had once been very close; I wasn’t sure what had prompted this. There must have been other dynamics at play.”

Interestingly, although Visham Panday has been quoted in the media as Thoshan’s brother and family spokesperson, Thoshan has denied the relationship. When contacted by Daily Maverick, Thoshan said:

“In the first place, he is not my brother. He is a distant relative. And good luck, and goodbye. Please refrain from any contact with me. I do not want to engage with any journalist.”

Daily Maverick sought independent verification from people close to the Pandays, who confirmed Visham and Thoshan were “tight” as brothers but downplayed their personal relationship in public.

The second lot of semi-high profile arrests on Friday relates mostly to cover quoting on catering tenders in the office of the premier (OTP) dating back to 2013, and stretching to 2016. There are 16 accused in this case – five of them officials and the rest companies and service providers, some linked to the officials.

The first lot of arrests in the R24-million fraud case took place in July. The OTP officials arrested thus far are the supply chain manager (who appeared on Friday), chief financial officer, a personal assistant to one of the managers, an administrative clerk and a senior administrative assistant. The officials have all been released on bail, as have the service providers.

All of the accused are facing charges of fraud and contravention of Section 21 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, read with the Riotous Assemblies Act for, among other things, “colluding with officials to control the outcomes of the tender process at the office of the premier”.

The service providers and officials allegedly conspired, with the officials receiving kickbacks.

KwaZulu-Natal government spokesman Lennox Mabaso told Daily Maverick that “all” of the officials arrested in the case had been suspended before being arrested, and were going through disciplinary processes.

“They are probably five or six months into suspension now,” said Mabaso. He had said earlier in the arrests that “some” of the officials were on precautionary suspension.

The suspensions were the result of an internal forensic report, he told Daily Maverick, which could not be officially made public as it would jeopardise the case.

Asked how many other officials in the premier’s office were linked to the scam, or other fraud allegations being internally investigated, Mabaso responded:

“At some point the premier will address issues of ethics and good and clean governance, and then he will release how many officials are undergoing disciplinary and suspension in various provincial departments.”

This would take place “in the next few weeks”, he said. DM

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