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Suspended PIC executive Vuyani Hako under scrutiny for R4.5m in ‘suspicious transactions’

Suspended PIC executive Vuyani Hako under scrutiny for R4.5m in ‘suspicious transactions’
Signage for the Public Investment Corporation outside a commercial office building in Pretoria, (Photo: Guillem Sartorio / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Suspended PIC chief operating officer Vuyani Hako. (Photo: Supplied)

The Public Investment Corporation’s chief operating officer, Vuyani Hako, has been on suspension since June 2022. Now, amaBhungane can reveal that, among other allegations, a lifestyle audit revealed more than R4.5-million in unexplained transfers to Hako’s home loan accounts.

Forensic investigators appointed by the state-owned asset manager, the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), have recommended reporting suspended chief operating officer Vuyani Hako to the police. 

This comes after a lifestyle audit, triggered by a whistle-blower report, uncovered “suspicious transactions”, with transfers exceeding R4.5-million into Hako’s home loan accounts.

Hako, who occupies the fourth most powerful position in the PIC, was placed under precautionary suspension in June 2022 after allegations of misconduct were made against him. He remains suspended 18 months later.

At the time of his suspension, the PIC – which oversees close to R2.6-trillion in assets, primarily of government employee pension savings – provided no detail about the nature of the allegations, merely stating that it was in the “best interest of both the employee and the employer to ensure that an independent inquiry can proceed unencumbered”.

Now, confidential board audit committee documents obtained by amaBhungane reveal that before his suspension, the PIC received at least five whistle-blower reports in which Hako was accused of nepotism and corruption. 

pic hako

Suspended PIC chief operating officer Vuyani Hako. (Photo: Supplied)

The documents show that in response to the whistle-blower reports, the PIC instituted various investigations, including a lifestyle audit by Fundudzi Forensic Services which uncovered a series of “suspicious” payments and transfers into Hako’s bond accounts beginning the month after he was appointed COO – in December 2020 – and continuing until November 2021.  

These payments – which according to investigators came from Hako and an in-law – went directly into Hako’s bond accounts to settle loans for two of his properties in East London and Centurion. 

A report of the audit committee’s in-camera meeting states that when investigators questioned him about these payments, Hako “failed” to explain the source of the funds. 

As a result of these suspicious and unexplained transactions, Fundudzi recommended that the PIC lodge a criminal case against Hako in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

The Act makes it an offence not to report suspicion of corrupt activity to the police.

The audit committee resolved to recommend Fundudzi’s forensic report and recommendations to the full board for adoption, minutes from its meeting show.

In response to amaBhungane’s questions, the PIC would not confirm whether a case had been opened against Hako, nor did it provide clarity on other allegations made against him, saying only that the COO was “under precautionary suspension while the allegations against him are being investigated and are yet to be concluded.” 

“Mr Hako remains a PIC employee and is entitled to the same protection of his rights as any other employee, including entitlement to confidentiality for any matter or process between the employer and employee,” said the PIC in an email.

“The PIC must follow due process,” it added, emphasising that “it would go against applicable policies and labour legislation for the PIC to publicly disclose any detail or make public comments about any aspect of confidential labour proceedings that are still under way.

“Legally, this would undermine the PIC’s own case and therefore the PIC is not in a position to respond in further detail.”

Hako also declined to respond to detailed questions.

Forensic evidence

A confidential report on the proceedings of a board audit committee meeting in November 2022 sets out a summary of the forensic auditor’s case against Hako. 

It states that in 2021 Hako paid off his home loans with Rand Merchant Bank for two properties bought in 2015 and 2018 using money he could not adequately account for.

Fundudzi Forensic Services, the company the PIC appointed to conduct a lifestyle audit on Hako, reported that Hako made repayments of at least R1.9-million for the two properties over a few months. 

Over a period of six months, an additional R2.7-million allegedly flowed from accounts belonging to a relative of Hako’s by marriage.

Fundudzi said Hako “failed” to provide the source of the R1.9-million transferred into his accounts; he claimed that the payments made by his relative were for “the rental of his property based in Mthatha”.

But investigators said there was “no agreement and/or lease agreement detailing rental arrangements”.

Suspicious transactions

“The PIC should register a criminal case against Mr Hako in order to determine the source of the total amount of R4,521,905 paid and/or transferred into his bond accounts,” Fundudzi recommended. 

Fundudzi emphasised that the payments were deemed “suspicious transactions and require further investigations in terms of section 34 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (Precca)”.

In simple terms, Section 34 of Precca places a duty on the relevant individuals to report suspected or actual acts of corruption, fraud or bribery involving transactions of R100,000 or more.  

Estate agents consulted by amaBhungane said that the typical rent for houses in Fort Gale, Mthatha, where Hako reportedly claimed he had received R2.7-million in rental income, ranged from R13,000 to R15,000 per month.

This is significantly lower than the over R440,000 per month that Hako received and raises further questions about the explanation he reportedly provided to forensic investigators.

Source of funds?

A separate document, flagged as a “Report of Tax Crime”, was leaked to amaBhungane alongside internal PIC documents, though its origin is not clear, nor is it certain that it formed part of any PIC investigation.

The document speculates on the source of Hako’s extra cash, alleging that “it is very likely that… all or some of the monies are traced from a company called Mazwe Financial Services”.

Mazwe was the recipient of a R180-million payment in 2021, part of a controversial R294-million loan facility approved by the PIC that also triggered a forensic investigation in the same year, but that report purported to find no irregularities in the approval process.

Hako, who was acting CEO, signed the resolution to approve Mazwe’s funding application, which had been struggling to gain momentum within the PIC since 2018.

Responding to questions sent by amaBhungane, Mazwe’s CEO Xolisa Bebula emphatically denied these allegations, characterising them as “false, malicious and unfounded”.

Hako would not be drawn into commenting on the transfers made to his bond accounts but stated that he had not had sight of the whistle-blower and forensic reports referred to in our questions. 

“I cannot therefore be expected to respond to the allegations contained in the report/s which I have never seen or read,” said Hako.

“My attorneys have written several letters to both the PIC and its attorneys raising concerns about my prolonged suspension. In addition, my attorneys also referred the dispute of unfair labour practice relating to unfair suspension to the [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration],” he added.

Blowing the whistle

Hako, who was previously the executive head of properties, was appointed as the organisation’s operations chief in November 2020. Documents show that after he was appointed as the COO, he remained the head of properties in an acting capacity. 

Before Hako’s appointment, the PIC had been operating without a COO since 2015, when the PIC underwent a restructuring process.

The position was officially removed in 2017 when the board, chaired by former deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas, amended a clause in the company’s memorandum of incorporation that outlined how the COO and chief investment officer (CIO) should be appointed.

When the commission of inquiry looking at allegations of impropriety in investment decisions at the PIC completed its work in 2019, one of its recommendations was that these two roles, with the addition of a chief risk officer, should be reinstated to strengthen governance in the organisation.

The commission, led by retired Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Lex Mpati, found that the removal of the COO and CIO roles had created a “centralised operating model with a significant concentration of decision-making responsibility, power and influence in the hands of the CEO and the CFO”.

But in April 2021, six months after Hako was appointed COO, the PIC received a whistle-blower report through its internal reporting line that accused him of wide-ranging abuses of power. 

The allegations focused on incidents that supposedly took place when Hako was acting CEO between March 2019 and July 2020, as well as during his time as the head of properties.

The authors of the whistle-blower report accused Hako of manipulating the appointment of senior staff members to exert control over investment decisions, among other claims.

When the PIC’s internal audit team looked through the various allegations, it found that a number of them were either without merit or too vague to investigate.

However, a memo submitted to the board’s internal audit committee and signed by the PIC’s head of internal audit Lufuno Nemagovhani recommended that a lifestyle audit be conducted on Hako to determine whether “there are any suspicious activities”.

“The lifestyle audit will inform whether a forensic investigation is required on some transactions or not,” reads the memo dated October 2021.

The Wedge 

The allegations from whistle-blowers kept piling up and, according to a confidential report submitted to the board by the audit committee chairperson, forced the PIC to consider whether Hako should continue to act as the head of properties.

The confidential report, seen by amaBhungane, detailed the proceedings of audit committee meetings held between October 2021 and May 2022. It stated that in November and December 2021, the PIC’s internal audit team received more complaints of impropriety against Hako involving two transactions in properties.

One of the whistle-blower reports was related to a project to refurbish the Wedge Shopping Centre in Morningside that supposedly led to the PIC’s biggest client, the Government Employee Pension Fund (GEPF), incurring fruitless and wasteful expenditure. 

The renovation of the shopping centre seemingly happened without the requisite approvals.  Moreover, a whistle-blower report claimed that Hako “told his team not to inform the GEPF about the matter. Staff were too scared to talk about the matter”.  

Isago

The other complaint was related to the PIC’s contentious decision to buy a 60% stake in an empty piece of land located on the N12 highway between Klerksdorp and Stilfontein (known as the Isago@N12 transaction) for an inflated price of R510-million. 

In its 2020/2021 annual report, the PIC’s client, the GEPF, said it had valued the land at just R178-million. 

In a previous article, amaBhungane shared details about a court dispute involving the landowners, Isago@N12 Development, and a retired military veteran who helped broker the deal with the PIC.

The case revealed a dubious commission arrangement, signed in 2015 between Isago and the veteran, providing for a 35% facilitation fee based on the money the PIC invested in the vacant land.

The veteran’s fees were supposedly for leveraging his “connections” to facilitate the land sale.

The deal was finalised in 2018 during Hako’s time as the head of properties. 

The audit committee report recorded that a whistle-blower report had included allegations that “Hako had struck a deal to pay a bribe of R100-million to a specific military colonel.”

The audit committee resolved to appoint a forensic firm to look into the allegations regarding both the renovations at The Wedge and the Isago transactions, according to the documents.

The PIC would not answer questions about the progress or outcome of these two forensic investigations, nor reveal whether they had found any evidence of wrongdoing against Hako. 

Suspension 

The documents reveal that as early as February 2022, the audit committee had asked the CEO of the PIC, Abel Sithole, to remove Hako as the head of properties pending investigations into the allegations made against him. 

Sithole’s response seems to have been discussed in May, and the report of the audit committee chairperson states that the “CEO noted the suggestion from the Committee and stated that Mr Vuyani Hako will continue acting as Executive Head: Properties as the person he was considering to act [in that capacity] was also subject to an investigation.” 

Unimpressed with Sithole’s response, the committee requested that the matter be discussed with the board. 

A few days later, Hako was suspended.

Disciplinary action 

Hako did not respond to our detailed questions, saying it would not be “prudent” to ventilate the allegations levelled against him through a “media inquiry or a so-called court of public opinion initiated by amaBhungane.”

“I prefer to deal with and answer to the allegations levelled against me in a disciplinary process provided by my employer, the PIC,” said Hako. 

Hako said that he was unaware of multiple whistle-blower reports received by the PIC, asserting that there “was only one so-called whistle-blower report referred to when I was placed on precautionary suspension.”

Hako did confirm that the PIC has commenced a disciplinary hearing against him, which is ongoing. However, he would not elaborate on the process or the charges brought against him. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Nicobarnard says:

    Surely this is a case the Receiver of Revenue should also investigate?

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Partners In Crime?

  • Jagdish Makan says:

    What is it with these so called …appointees ? Can’t seem to keep their fingers out of the cookie jar.
    I mean millions and millions in corrupt transactions. Are they not ashamed? it’s sickening. Politicians and business leaders no difference, all eating at the trough

    • Iam Fedup says:

      RMB should also be hanging their heads in shame. They will hassle little people like you and me to bring in 100 bits of proof just to pick up a credit card, but allow wholesale thievery to thrive. Please don’t think that they are innocent bystanders: they knew it all along, and if they didn’t, they are even bigger fools than we thought.

      • Gordon Pascoe says:

        Haha, the RMB credit card thing bugs the life out of me too. My wife ordered a card from Shyft online and it was delivered to our home the very next day, so phone calls for urine and blood samples, no telling you to remain at home the whole day waiting, zip. Simply delivered without all the fuss.

    • J vN says:

      Stealing.
      It’s just who they are.

  • Paul T says:

    R100m to a miltary veteran @ 35%? That is a large chunk of change for an individual to extract for their own benefit. Was that money possibly destined for a large, money-hungry organisation that has military veterans as members? Just speculating…

    • Ayanda Nonkwelo says:

      These so-called military veterans appear to believe that the country owes them. Some of these ostensibly military veterans were simply idle in these ostensibly military camps. When they return to the country, they believe they have the right to plunder the state’s resources. How can you possibly pay a 35% “facilitation fee”? Under this ANC government, corruption has been institutionalised. This is terrible!!!

    • Gerrie Pretorius says:

      My guess – the biggest portion was ‘donated’ to the anc by these so-called veterans. They are always the “fall-back” receivers of corruptly gained money, aren’t they?

  • Denise Smit says:

    And it seems to be so easy to grab huge amount of money from the GEPF. How far will this police investigation go? The same as the state capture cases? No where

  • Mike vd Walt says:

    How is it possible that it takes this long for an employee to be dismissed after suspension? In the meantime the Tax-payer must still contribute to this individual being paid whilst he is doing nothing and effectively being on a fully paid holiday!!! In the private sector 99% of the disciplinary cases of suspended employees will be wrapped up within 1 week. Even if the employee is dismissed, he can still be criminally charged. At least he is not on a paid holiday.

  • Mike Monson says:

    No doubt he’s eligible for a senior position in the ANC

  • Iam Fedup says:

    I’m going to butcher a quote from Ross Perot here:

    I come from an environment where, if you see a snake, you kill it. In the ANC, if you see a snake, the first thing you do is go hire a consultant on snakes. Then you get a committee on snakes, and then you discuss it for a couple of years. The most likely course of action is — nothing. You figure, the snake hasn’t bitten anybody yet, so you just let him crawl around on the factory floor. We need to build an environment where the first guy who sees the snake kills it.

    So who will ride us of these tiresome, thieving snakes?

  • Vincent Britz says:

    Just another corrupt ANC politician stealing the taxpayer’s money to fill there own pockets! And you can be 100% guaranteed that nothing will come of it.

    • Francois Smith says:

      He had to tick those boxes before getting the job. Imagine a hard working honest ANC cadre! It will lead to questions like: If you could get an honest hard working person at the PIC’s head, why could you not get one for president of the country or for Ministah of Police or for Eskom or for Prasa or for…
      At present the argument is: We cannot find honest cadres.

  • Alley Cat says:

    On suspension for 18+ months at full pay?? I am applying for this job. Also, I get so irritated when I read “The Act makes it an offence not to report suspicion of corrupt activity to the police”? It is bad enough trying to report an accident for insurance purposes, I just cannot imagine trying to report one of these crime?
    My other favourite quote from the article… “Vuyani Hako will continue acting as Executive Head: Properties as the person he was considering to act [in that capacity] was also subject to an investigation.” So they couldn’t find anyone less corrupt? The robin hood syndrome of the ANC. Rob from the poor to pay the rich!

  • Jennifer D says:

    When an employee is suspected of a criminal act, why suspend him – and it appears that he remains an employee and must therefore remain on the payroll. There must be rules in government service whereby if you are unable to account for excess monies in your account that you are fired? Why are these people suspended on pay. It would be very interesting to do a study on the number of so called “suspended” employees and the cost of that to the country. 18 months on suspension – that is shameful.

  • phophi says:

    The looting carnage will never stop until ANC is eliminated from government for good. But knowing the voting pattern of the illiterates, that will remain just a dream!!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    We are the public servants unions quiet?

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Eighteen months already suspended, and on full salary….Wow! Seems like the PIC are in no hurry to conclude investigation / hand to SAPS……but there seems to indications of others heavily involved.
    SIU would have done a whole lot more

  • Henry Coppens says:

    He will just be reemployed as a faithfull cadre bucking an odious western capitalism system. For being faithful, important cadres need to have access to funds for personal purposes, not to overdo it mind you. It takes so long for the disciplinary process for the simple reason to allow the ‘accused’ time to enjoy the ‘fruits of his efforts’ at full benefits because ‘ it is our turn to eat’. Why would the unions kick up a stink? They are part of the criminal ( by western standards) ANC-SACP-Unions syndicate. You don’t stab one of your own in the back. Cadres are put there specifically NOT to be honest – to siphon funds for themselves and the tripartite syndicate system. Honesty??? Just a mindset from an unAfrican, western judicial system.

    This is Africa. Samora Michel, on being criticised by Tony Blair for the way he was running Mozambique, said ‘In Africa we do things differently’

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    Incredible!! Alleged theft in June 2022 and 18 months later the PIC’s “due process” has achieved what….ZERO! In the interim this individual has been on suspension on full pay! Yet again, we have a classic case of ZERO CONSEQUENCE for those in high office and politically connected.

  • Jan Vos says:

    ‘Suspicious transactions.’ Hah! Call it by its correct name: CRIMINAL transactions.

    There. Fixed.

  • Charles Steyn says:

    I am a military pensioner at the GEPF. These people just keeps on steeling non stop…! Petty thief criminals get judged and locked up quick quick. I would like to ask this PIC dude, mind you, not the first. How do you stand up in the morning looking at yourself in the mirror. You must have no conscience at all. Just greed, steeling from your own old aged. Sies man!! PIC should have been privatised long time ago. It was established when people were at least honorable, serving the people.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    18 months to finalise a forensic investigation. Right! If they haven’t found anything yet, there is either nothing to report, or there is something and they are keeping it quiet.

    Based on the report, there is possibly a dozen or so suspicious transactions. That’s all. The state has all the tools to follow the money. They can look into anyone’s bank account. Large unexplained transfers. Won’t be hard to find the source. But anyway, it must be bliss to continue being paid a COO salary and sit at home. No worries.

  • Gary De Sousa says:

    It still amazes me that after a year and a half suspension the investigation is not completed and the guily diget not in jail.
    How hard is it to follow the money trail?

  • annevandermerwe1210 says:

    Ahhh abd like all other well-known matters of fraud and corruption this one is also just going to disappear and the top structure of the PIC can continue to use the pension funds as their own personal piggy bank. It must be nice to know that you have a pond of 2 – 3 trillion rand to dip into if you need something. Nothing will happen to Hako because all of the top structure’s hands are in the jam pot.

  • Michael Thomlinson says:

    I think what boggles us ordinary folks’ minds is just how brazen and without conscience these individuals are. Steal from pensioners – no problem. Steal from poor people – no problem. Steal from the tax payer – no problem. Do they think they will get caught? Maybe, but then you have enough money to litigate forever and still keep the proceeds while having a holiday (suspeniosn) on full pay.
    The comrades are big fans of Russia but have not taken note of how Stalin operated: A quick investigation where you would be found guilty. Sentence would be passed and you would be executed on the same day while your family would be sent to the Gulag. So, no waste of public funds and a big deterrent to the next wannabe thief. We need this here LOL.

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    If only someone had warned us about the ANC back in the early 90’s
    Oh wait…
    😬

  • Zirk Gous says:

    I note that on the insistence of the PIC Audit Committee i) forensic investigations were conducted into the Isago (Palmietforntein) + The Wedge transactions and ii) ‘unimpressed with Sithole’s response’, Hako was suspended. Compliments to the Audit Committee. Now also act decisively: i) publish the outcome of the two investigations and ii) visibly act against the officials named

  • Dominic Rooney says:

    Eighteen months on full salary + perks ! Ramaphosa not the only one unable to make decisions.

  • Gavin Hillyard says:

    Corruption, theft, fraud and graft will come to an end in SA. Either when there is nothing left to steal, or when the ANC, a useless excuse for party is removed. I wonder which will come sooner?

  • Max Köhler says:

    The speed with which these investigations take place is astounding. One can not help but wonder if someone hopes it all will just be forgotten amidst all other crises we experience

  • Hedley Davidson says:

    No one cares anymore . Why – because nothing happens , and none of the looters go to jail . They look at the ‘ non supply chain ‘ from initial investigation until incarceration and they all know it is a joke , as at each step of the way people can be paid off to make things disappear .While the charade continues Bathoi continues to ‘ build capacity ‘ , by the time she is finished there will be nothing left . I suggest shut down the entire criminal justice system – on second thoughts it may as well not exist as it does nothing anyway .

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    This is the worst gutter journalism I have ever seen in my life. I have the questions that the journalist sent to Vuyani Hako and the responses Hako sent to the the journalist and the article is no near the reality of the situation as one understands it. It is laced with lies and half truths and no full account from the person who these journalistic thugs are besmirching his name from the information they gleaned from the a staff member who was fired at the PIC. The PIC has structures to approve transactions and these journalists do no ask what was the role of these structures and refer to forensic reports that have no legal status at all. The embedded journalist called Tebogo has no ethics at all. He has chosen to ignore the questions he sent to Hako and his responses neither has he asked the PIC about the bid adjudication committee and the legal advisors of the PIC on whose advice Hako acted. The writer because is a legal illiterate does not ask the PIC a fundamental question why has the matter dragged for so long. He has taken on a wrong case and a wrong person and he is goi ng to regret.

    • David McCormick says:

      Thanks for correcting this misleading article Mr Ngcukana. As you know the facts, please explain;
      1. Why Mr Hako has been suspended for eighteen months?
      2. Where did the R4.5 million paid into Mr Hako’s property bond accounts come from?
      3. Why the PIC paid R510 million for a property valued at R178 million by the GEPF in 2020/21?

      • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

        He opposed a R13 billion write off by the PIC and they ultimately wrote of R6 billion. Some people we suspect got R1oo million each from the write off. He also stopped the funding of unlisted transactions which is the source of corruption in the PIC. This with many politicians with many deals to be funded that we are going to name in the near future was what broke the back of the camel. They waited for the CEO to be on sick leave and suspended him for what was approved through processes and advice of Edward Nathan. The Fundudzi lies are going to be a subject of litigation because they are just pure lies and the Gobodo report has long been dealt with. They suspended him for what happened six years ago. In his letter he has corrected a lot of lies to the journalist and I have it.

  • Andries Gouws says:

    Don’t blow things up out of proportion! What is R4,5 million among friends?

  • Wayne Holt says:

    My my my… amnesia is a pandemic in Africa when it comes to accountability

  • y.martin118 says:

    Time we get the lifestyle audit
    S starting from Local – national government incl. SOEs….it is needed asap especially with the high levels of corruption

  • Andrew McWalter says:

    Abel Sithole’s response to the audit committee is disturbing on a number of levels. Not only deciding to keep Hako on despite the numerous “red flags” against this decision, but that Hako’s replacement was also presently under investigation. Astonishing! My take on this is that the entire executive ought to be subjected to independent lifestyle audits without further delay. Too many unsatisfactory responses for comfort are nesting in this cabal of “executives”.

  • Deon van Vuuren says:

    He has been suspended since 2022, we are entering 2024 already and he has been on paid suspension. With the salary that they are paid, the loss is already more just in salaries than what he is charged for. Makes no sense, as it cannot take this long to do a disciplinary hearing.

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