First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
Ace Magashule and 15 co-accused (including five companies), will have to answer to charges of fraud, theft, corruption, money laundering and more before a judge in the Bloemfontein High Court in August. The state’s application for a transfer to the higher court from the magistrate’s court was granted on Friday.
Magashule was joined in the dock by Johannesburg businessman and owner of Blackhead Consulting, Pheagane Edwin Sodi; director supply chain management in the Free State Department of Human Settlements (FSDHS), Mahlomola John Matlakala; Fourways businessman Sello Joseph Radebe; Pretoria businessman Abel Kgotso Manyeki; former director-general of the national Department of Human Settlements, Thabane Wiseman Zulu; and a former Free State MEC for human settlements and former mayor of Mangaung, Sarah Matawana Mlamleli.
They appeared alongside five companies: Blackhead Consulting, Diamond Hill Trading 71, 605 Consulting Solutions, Mastertrade 232, and Ori Group.
Accused number one, FSDHS head Nthimotse Mokhesi, was not in court on Friday, for medical reasons.
A warrant of arrest was held in abeyance until the next appearance.
Three more senior Free State government officials – Nozipho Molokoe, the CEO of the FSDHS from late 2015 to 2017; Bertus Venter, an attorney and the longest-serving advisor in the Office of the Premier; and Thabiso Makepe, the Chief Engineer of the FSDHS from 2014 to 2017 – were arrested, charged and released on R50,000 bail each during Friday’s appearance.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) lays out the State’s case in a 59-page indictment.
The State says various payments were made by the department to a joint venture (JV) of Diamond Hill Trading 71 and Blackhead, for which the late Ignatius “Igo” Mpambani and Sodi were the account holders.
The JV was appointed by Mokhesi as a service provider on a contract worth R255-million. Mpambani, Sodi’s business partner, was murdered in Johannesburg in 2017.
The department made payments worth R230-million to Mpambani’s Blackhead consulting between 2014 and 2016. From Blackhead, the funds then flowed to the other accused companies, coinciding with payments allegedly made either on instruction by Magashule or after a request made on behalf of the other accused.
“It is alleged that in August 2015, Magashule corruptly accepted gratification of R53,550 paid on his request towards the tuition fees of the daughter of a then acting judge Refiloe Mokoena,” says the indictment.
“It is further alleged that in June 2015, Magashule accepted payment of R470,000, paid on his instruction to M-TAG Systems for … 200 electronic tablets from Mpambani.
It goes on to charge that “in June 2015 Magashule accepted a payment of R30,000, paid on his request to SWC Nkate from Mpambani”, and in late 2015 or early 2016 “a payment of R250,000, on his request, was made by Mpambani to Astra Travel towards travel expenses of a delegation to Cuba.
Magashule also allegedly failed to report corrupt transactions, in contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act 12 of 2004, the NPA states.
The money alleged to have been paid out by Sodi on Magashule’s request coincided with payments made to Sodi and Mpambani’s JV by FSDHS for the asbestos contract.
The NPA’s indictment says Molokoe, who held a position of authority at the time, either corruptly or wrongfully failed to report the corrupt transactions between BlackHead, Diamond Hill, Mastertrade 232 and the Ori group.
The State argues Molokoe ought to reasonably have known or suspected that crimes were committed in the awarding of the R255-million contract, including payments that flowed between some of the accused. The R1-million payment is alleged to have been made by Sodi to former national Human Settlements Department director-general Thabane Zulu. Zulu previously testified at the State Capture Commission that he received R600,000 from Sodi towards the purchase of a Range Rover. He denied the transaction was untoward.
The NPA said the CFO was “directly responsible … for the overall management of the Finance Directorate” and was obligated “to ensure that financial procedures are being adhered to”.
Attorney Venter faces similar charges for failing, as head of the legal department in the premier’s office, to report any corrupt activities or transactions on the contract handed to Sodi and Mpambani. “He had intimate knowledge of all procurement contracts,” said the NPA.
“He had knowledge of the notice of possible court action against the FSDHS and subsequent court action in the Free State High Court. Serious allegations were made by the applicants amounting to inter alia dishonesty, irregularity and illegality in the procurement process…”
Venter, it said, had “a legal duty … to report the possibility and/or suspicion of corrupt/illegal activities and/or fraud and/or theft,” the state alleges. Engineer Thabiso Makepe was “responsible for establishing and maintaining appropriate internal controls”, the indictment says.
Addressing a media briefing at his Bloemfontein home on Friday afternoon, Magashule said: “You can go to Israel and the prime minister of Israel is in court but he is still a prime minister because he is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by a competent court of law.”
There have been calls for him to step aside as ANC secretary-general because of the charges, as mandated by the ANC in conference and by the Integrity Commission. Magashule has not stepped down. Before his court appearance, he said the ANC was dealing with the matter.
He thanked his supporters and law enforcement officers who, he said “gave everyone the most deserved dignity this time”.
Magashule did not address supporters who had gathered around Hertzog Plein in Bloemfontein, where they gathered after his appearance in court, in contravention of Covid-19 regulations.
“The crowd that gathered today even under these lockdown restrictions seems to have done everything impossible to comply,” Magashule said later. DM168
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