SOE CONTRACT CORRUPTION
SIU Special Tribunal freezes luxury properties of two top executives linked to Transnet
In a victory for Transnet, the luxury properties purchased by two of the company’s former and current senior managers, using kickbacks and bribes from sullied contracts, have been frozen and are now controlled by a curator. Working with the Special Investigating Unit, Transnet plans to recover R26m in the coming weeks from former employees who improperly benefitted from contracts.
Zakhele Thabo Lebelo was the chief executive of a division at Transnet that owns and manages a portfolio of offices, retail, residential and industrial properties worth more than R30-billion. Transnet, a state-owned freight and logistics company, leases some of its properties to generate regular rental income.
Lebelo resigned with immediate effect on 28 November 2018 in the face of disciplinary action. Several forensic investigations implicated him and other executives in wrongdoing, including improperly benefitting from multimillion-rand Transnet contracts.
Phathutshedzo Brighton Mashamba has held various positions at the Transnet division formerly led by Lebelo. From 1 June 2014, Mashamba was a regional manager responsible for running the Transnet-owned Carlton Centre, an iconic property in downtown Johannesburg. On 1 November 2018, he became a manager of Transnet’s properties based on the coast. It was only recently, on 16 May, that Transnet suspended Mashamba for profiteering from Transnet contracts.
While employed by Transnet, Lebelo and Mashamba ensured that two obscure companies — Superfecta Trading and BBDM Bros Advertising Agency — received lucrative contracts from the state-owned company. Superfecta was a contracted supplier to Transnet Property (a division that Lebelo led) and BBDM Bros Advertising Agency was a tenant at a Transnet-owned property.
From February 2016 to August 2019, Superfecta Trading earned more than R64-million in payments from Transnet for doing business with its property division. Meanwhile, following its lease with Transnet, BBDM Bros Advertising Agency was paid more than R73-million from March 2015 to June 2018 by Transnet in an arrangement known as tenant installation allowances. In this arrangement, BBDM Bros Advertising Agency modified or spruced up (at its own cost) the space it was leasing from Transnet, and then claimed expenses from the state-owned company.
Using kickbacks to purchase luxury properties
But these were not ordinary or lawful payments, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), which investigates unlawful conduct by workers at any state institution, has found. Also confirming this finding is the Special Tribunal, which acts as a court and adjudicates matters arising from SIU investigations.
Lebelo and Mashamba were “instrumental” in Superfecta Trading and BBDM Bros Advertising Agency being awarded Transnet contracts “on terms extremely favourable to these entities” and prejudicial to Transnet, documents from the SIU and Special Tribunal show. And for their hard work in channelling Transnet contracts to Superfecta Trading and BBDM Bros Advertising Agency — even though their job descriptions prevented them from being intimately involved in awarding contracts at the state-owned enterprise (SOE) — Lebelo and Mashamba were rewarded handsomely.
Superfecta Trading “gifted or donated” to Lebelo three apartments in a building called The Capital On Bath, located in Johannesburg’s swanky suburb of Rosebank. The apartments were housed in Lebelo’s family trust, also managed by his wife, Alletta Mokgoro Mabitsi.
Meanwhile, Mashamba received R2-million from a former director of Superfecta Trading, whom the SIU only identified as “Mr Khoncha”. Mashamba used the gifted R2-million to purchase a property in Gauteng’s township of Diepsloot in June 2018 through a company known as Red Lip Communications, owned by his wife, Matlhodi Phillicia Mashamba. The Diepsloot property was transferred to a new owner in June 2022 based on a sale agreement which had been concluded the previous month. The Mashambas used R1.5-million of the proceeds from that sale to buy a new property in Dainfern, an up-market suburb in Johannesburg.
Separately, Mashamba and his wife also received at least R4.5-million from BBDM Bros Advertising Agency. Of this amount, the couple used R1-million to purchase a residential property in Beverley, Johannesburg, which they later sold and a portion of the proceeds from the sale funded their Dainfern property. The balance of the money from BBDM Bros Advertising Agency — R3.5-million — was paid in five tranches between 25 June 2015 and 16 February 2016, to another company of Matlhodi Phillicia Mashamba, Eva Looks.
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The comeuppance of the former Transnet senior officials
The SIU and later the Special Tribunal have found that the various payments made to Lebelo and Mashamba for the benefit of themselves and their relatives were “in conflict with their duties and relationships of trust as employees of Transnet”. In short, they abused their authority at Transnet to receive bribes or kickbacks to ensure that Superfecta Trading and BBDM Bros Advertising Agency continued to benefit from the SOE’s contracts.
The Special Tribunal has ruled that Lebelo and Mashamba used proceeds from unlawful activities to purchase their luxury properties in terms of rule 24(2) of the Tribunal Rules, which deals with prohibited activities.
And because of this, the Special Tribunal has ordered that the properties purchased by Lebelo and Mashamba (and their wives) be frozen, pending another civil case that the SIU has brought to have the properties/assets forfeited to the state.
The order prevents Lebelo and his wife, and Mashamba and his wife, from selling, leasing, donating or transferring their luxury properties in Rosebank and Dainfern. The properties are now under the care of a curator, Aviwe Ndyamara, who will safeguard them until they can be sold to recover money unlawfully awarded by Transnet. While in the hands of Ndyamara, the Lebelo and Mashamba families will have to ensure that the mortgages tied to the properties are maintained, and the applicable rates and taxes on the properties are paid up. They also have to pay costs associated with Ndyamara safeguarding the properties.
To further recover Transnet funds, the Special Tribunal has also frozen pension benefits that are due to Lebelo for his employment at the SOE. This is aimed at compensating Transnet for “losses it suffered as a result of misconduct, fraud and dishonesty on Mr Lebelo’s part as alleged”. The pension benefits will remain frozen until the SIU’s civil case is concluded.
Working with the SIU, Transnet plans to recover R26-million in the coming weeks from former employees who improperly benefitted from contracts. But there is a long way to go as State Capture cost Transnet more than R41-billion. DM/BM