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Casino 'bribe' plot thickens

Mandy Rossouw, Adriaan Basson

Former ANC bigwig Saki Macozoma has been dragged into the fallout from allegations that Free State Premier Ace Magashule solicited a R3-million bribe.

Former ANC bigwig and business mogul Saki Macozoma has been dragged into the fallout from allegations that Free State Premier Ace Magashule solicited a R3-million bribe to approve a casino deal with the assistance of Durban businessman Vivian Reddy.

In a week characterised by frantic moves to contain the fallout, Reddy, a close ally and benefactor of President Jacob Zuma, accused Stanlib chairperson Macozoma of masterminding the disclosure of corruption allegations made in court papers by Johannesburg businessman Bongani Biyela.

Macozoma, Biyela’s business partner in the Safika group, vehemently denied any involvement in the saga, saying Reddy was “resorting to the same tactic that seems to be the refuge of political scoundrels in South Africa”.

“I have said before that the only thing these elements have not accused me of is witchcraft ... If he [Reddy] politicises his problem, draws in the ANC and President Zuma by accusing the latter’s perceived political enemies, then he will inveigle all of them into a position where they fight his battles.”

Read Ace Magashule’s response

Read Vivian Reddy’s response

Read a letter from Bongani Biyela’s lawyer

Biyela and his business partners successfully applied to the Free State High Court last week to force the Free State Gambling and Racing Board to adjudicate the sale of their shares in Gold Reef Resorts to Tsogo Sun.

This came after Magashule wrongfully instructed the gambling board that it had no power to approve the deal.

After the revelation of Biyela’s claims about an alleged bribery agreement facilitated by Reddy and Bloemfontein lawyer Kenosi Moroka, Reddy accused Biyela of lying and said Macozoma was behind the allegations to discredit him and the ANC.

Macozoma is a member of the Congress of the People (Cope).
In other developments this week:

  • Reddy attempted to place an advertisement in the Mail & Guardian under Biyela’s name, in which Biyela denies implicating Reddy in corruption. Biyela told the M&G he has not authorised the advertisement;

  • Reddy wrote about 45 letters to decision-makers and business leaders pleading his innocence;

  • The ANC accused the M&G of conducting a “campaign” against Magashule; and

  • The Free State Law Society launched an investigation into Moroka’s alleged role in soliciting a bribe
  • .
The police said that it had not yet received a complaint about the alleged bribery. Through his lawyers, Biyela said his intention was not to lay criminal charges but was motivated by “purely commercial reasons”.

In an interview with the M&G Reddy accused Macozoma of putting pressure on Biyela to make the corruption allegations. He said Biyela told him this at a meeting at the Sandton Intercontinental Hotel on Monday. Biyela confirmed the meeting, but their versions of what was discussed differ radically.

“Biyela said there was great pressure put on him by Saki and that he met with Saki on this. These are people who are totally against the ANC. He [Macozoma] informed the M&G about this. This is a whole set-up to discredit me,” said Reddy.

But Macozoma denies putting pressure on Biyela. “I am a shareholder at Safika Holdings but I am not operational. Biyela does not report to me as a non-executive chairman.”
In a letter sent by Biyela’s lawyer to the M&G he confirms the meeting but denies Reddy’s version of events.

At the Sandton meeting, Biyela said, he refused Reddy’s request to place an advertisement in the M&G exonerating him. “Our client [Biyela] responded to this request by stating that everything he had to say on the matter was set out in the affidavit and that he had nothing more to add and nothing to change from the affidavit.”

Reddy allegedly also asked whether Biyela was prepared to “meet other people” regarding the matter, to which Biyela stated “he would be happy to do so, but made it clear that he stands by the affidavit and would not add or amend anything thereto”.

In his lawyers’ letter Biyela also reveals a text message sent to him by Reddy on Thursday.

It reads: “Good Morning [sic] Bongani, it saddens me that you are now wrongly implicating the President in this whole issue. The M&G is anti-ANC. You are playing into their hands. Your close friend at the M&G is abusing the info you give him.

“You agreed to the advert and letter wording if [sic] you had a change of mind all you had to do was call me to discuss it & I would have reworded it. Not [sic] but you now lie to the M&G. You treat me like an enemy yet I have always assisted you & made time for you.

“The M&G are now going to make a big story out of a small issue. Call your friend there and put a stop to it or I have to tell the truth to protect my integrity.”

Biyela’s lawyer also attached a letter to Reddy in which Biyela demands that Reddy apologise for submitting a false advertisement to the M&G and for his “misrepresentations” to the newspaper.

The ANC officially denies investigating the bribery claims, but it is understood that the issue is being discussed by the party’s top structures.

Although the M&G was reliably told that Magashule was in Johannesburg this week and that his trip included a visit to Luthuli House, ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte denied this.

Duarte said “the ANC is not prepared to try any South African citizen by media” and that the party’s disciplinary procedures were clear. No ANC structure has made any allegations against Magashule.

The Free State Law Society confirmed that it is investigating the claims against Moroka, who allegedly acted as Magashule’s intermediary. Moroka serves on the law society’s board, but “will not be involved in the investigation”.

In response to the M&G‘s questions Magashule intimated that Moroka may have abused their relationship. During his career Magashule met “thousands of people ... who may now claim to have special access to his office and influence over him”.

Magashule will not take legal action and will instruct his attorney either to dispose of his business interests or place them in a blind trust.

The Free State gambling board approved the disputed casino deal on Friday last week.

The ad that never was
In a bizarre incident this week, Reddy placed an advertisement in the M&G, supposedly issued by businessman Bongani Biyela, clearing him of involvement in alleged bribery - and Biyela insisted he had nothing to do with it.

Last week the M&G reported on a court action in which Biyela alleged that Reddy facilitated a R3-million bribe for Free State Premier Ace Magashule to smooth a casino transaction in which Biyela and the Free State Gambling Board were involved.

On Tuesday Reddy’s Durban-based company, Edison Power, asked the M&G‘s Cape Town advertising department to place an ad in the paper to “set the record straight”. Edison undertook to pay the R38 000 price for the placement.

The advertisement insisted that Reddy had not acted improperly. The full text read: “The fact is that I sought his assistance as a long-standing friend to help me resolve a business issue. Vivian Reddy did not act in any manner whatsoever to attempt to solicit any bribe as implied in the article. The article is misleading and impacts in [sic] the integrity and dignity of an outstanding South African, who has my greatest respect. The article questions [sic] ‘did President Zuma’s friend help grease Ace Magashule’s palms?’ The answer is no!”

It said it was “issued by Bongani Biyela 30th June 2009”, but carried no signature.

Contacted on Tuesday, Biyela reacted angrily and dispatched a lawyer’s letter to the M&G distancing himself from the contents of the advertisement.

Wrote Biyela’s lawyer, Madelein Burger of Webber Wentzel in Johannesburg: “The advertisement is clearly a fabrication and its publication in the Mail & Guardian will harm our client’s reputation and dignity. Our client requests that the Mail & Guardian not publish the advertisement in any manner that suggests our client issued it or associates himself with its contents.”

Reddy insisted the advertisement was drawn up with Biyela’s full consent, but withdrew it and replaced it with a statement under his own name. He gave the M&G a copy of an email in which he discusses the advertisement and thanks Biyela for “agreeing to rectify the situation”. There was, however, no reply from Biyela.

Reddy also claimed that at a meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in Sandton Biyela informed him that he had told Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Nhlanhla Nene, that he (Reddy) was innocent. Biyela denies saying this.

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