'Robert asked me to pay R100K to Telkom executive'

Politically connected millionaire businessman Robert Gumede’s ex-wife has told the Mail & Guardian how she transferred R100 000 on his instruction to the account of a company belonging to a senior Telkom executive’s wife.

The money was transferred in October 2004—two years after Gumede’s Gijima Afrika Smart Technologies (GAST) was awarded a multimillion-rand tender by Telkom to manufacture smart cards, and 10 months before the tender was extended by Telkom in August 2005 for the first time.

Zongi Gumede, ex-wife of the IT tycoon, says Gumede told her the Telkom executive—procurement specialist Thapelo Petje—needed money “urgently”.

Petje formally signed the original phonecard tender on behalf of Telkom in favour of Gumede’s company and was involved in motivating for the extension of the contract in August 2005.

Petje was chairperson of the steering committee that decided to award the initial tender to GAST, though a more senior executive approved this decision.

Gumede, who recently bought into the Golden Lions rugby union, described the 2002 Telkom tender award as a “kick of life” for his company, which was struggling financially at the time. GAST is a separate company from the listed Gijima group.

Gumede’s ex-wife, whom he divorced in May 2007, has now for the first time confirmed documentary evidence that she made two electronic transfers from the account of her business, Tulazo Trading CC, to the bank account of Pakwells Petje, a Pretoria luggage shop owned by Petje’s wife, Nomzamo.

Zongi Gumede said, as far as she is aware, neither she, Gumede nor anyone else had received any goods from Pakwells Petje for the R100 000.

This raises questions about why Robert Gumede made the payment.

Gumede and Petje, who left Telkom in late 2005, have provided what appears to be an innocent explanation for the payment and Petje has emphasised that the tenders were awarded not by him, but by a committee.

They have also attacked Zongi Gumede’s credibility, citing the couple’s messy divorce—which Gumede termed “acrimonious from her side”—and Gumede has launched a campaign that portrays the M&G as engaged in a witch-hunt against him.

But Gumede and Petje’s versions must be tested against investigations by the M&G which give rise to questions about both their explanations—and their truthfulness on one key point: whether or not Gumede and Petje were friends in November 2002.

The R100 000 payment

The M&G provided Zongi Gumede with a Nedbank statement of Tulazo Trading, a close corporation registered in May 2003 with her and Robert Gumede’s two younger sisters as members. The statement shows two electronic transfers of R50 000 each—made on October 22 and 25 2004—from Tulazo Trading’s Nedbank account to “Parkwells”.

The M&G found the bank statement among files kept by the former lawyer of British businessman John Sterenborg, Robert Gumede’s business partner before they fell out in 2002.

Zongi Gumede confirmed that she made these transfers from her laptop at GAST’s premises in Heriotdale and said “Parkwells” referred to luggage company Pakwells Petje.

Pakwells Petje is the trading name of Le Monde Luggage, a closed corporation registered in November 2001 with Nomzamo Petje as the only member.

“My ex-husband [Robert Gumede] asked me to transfer the money on his behalf,” Zongi Gumede said. Asked why he used Tulazo Trading’s account to make the transfers, she said: “He did not want it to go through his account for personal reasons.”

Gumede says this is nonsense and that he asked his wife to use her internet banking facility to make the payments because he was not in Johannesburg to make the payments himself and they were required urgently.

This explanation is contradicted by Zongi, who recalled her husband being with her in Johannesburg when he requested her to transfer the money.

Gumede, according to Zongi, reimbursed Tulazo Trading “some time in November 2004”.

Asked whether she ever suspected the payment to be a bribe, she said: “No, I saw it as my ex-husband helping out a friend.”

Friends or not?

Zongi Gumede confirmed that she and her ex-husband were “family friends” of the Petjes and that Robert Gumede introduced her to them in 2002—the same year in which Telkom awarded the phonecard tender to GAST.

She also confirmed that Thapelo and Nomzamo Petje attended their son’s birthday party in Johannesburg on November 3 2002. Asked whether they attended other functions hosted by the Gumedes, she said: “They came to most functions we had.”

This flatly contradicts what Thapelo Petje, who became MTN’s general manager for procurement after leaving Telkom in December 2005, told a section 417 inquiry into the liquidation of the company in which Gumede and Sterenborg were partners.

At the hearing in July 2006, chaired by senior advocate Arnold Subel, Petje stated under oath “I do not know him [Gumede] personally” and that he was not a family friend of Gumede.

“The only time I met with Mr Gumede was when I was signing this [tender] document,” said Petje in response to a question about having a personal relationship with Gumede by Sterenborg’s counsel, Mike van As.

Petje said Van As suggested they were friends because both he and Gumede were black.

Robert Gumede also denies any personal relationship. He said: “It was not until late 2003 that I got to know Mr Petje. My relationship with Mr Petje was professional as we never attended get-togethers (dinner, lunch or house visits) with each other. Anything contrary is a lie.”

This claim is contradicted by a picture obtained by the M&G showing a smiling Petje at the November 2002 birthday party of the Gumedes’ son, held at Robert Gumede’s Sandhurst house. Zongi Gumede has confirmed that Petje attended the function and has identified him as the man in the picture with her ex-husband.

Confronted about the November 2002 picture, Petje and Gumede both changed their versions, admitting that the Petjes had attended the Gumede child’s birthday party and baptism.

After follow-up questions, Gumede said the event happened nearly 10 years ago and he now remembered that the Petjes “indeed were one of the hundreds of couples who were invited to the party”. Both still insisted they were not family friends and that they did not know each other before the Telkom tender was awarded.

Thapelo Petje also now admits he attended the child’s baptism and party, claiming the event was attended by 400 guests, mainly business associates of Gumede and his companies.

The explanation

Explaining the R100 000 transfer Robert Gumede said: “The payment was a donation towards a non-profit organisation, Aloga Financial Services, who was hosting a conference in Mamelodi township.” Aloga, of which Thapelo Petje is a co-founder and director, is a Christian-based micro-finance organisation. Its chair is advocate Moses Mphaga.

Delegates to the conference in 2004 included international micro-finance partners of the main United States-based parent body, Christian Technical Services.

Mphaga said Aloga had the task of raising money to supply corporate gifts, including “T-shirts, fleece-jackets, bags and stationery”.

“I approached Mrs Petje ... to assist in procuring and supplying the merchandise through her company — which was already in that business,” Mphaga said.

He said Nomzamo Petje advised him the merchandise would cost about R250 000 and he approached Gumede to make a donation.

“Mr Gumede undertook to donate an amount of R100 000 ... on condition the amount be directly deposited into the supplier’s account. This, according to Mr Gumede, would ensure that the money would be utilised for the intended purpose,” Mphaga said.

Gumede’s claims about the urgency of the payment are puzzling because the conference took place from August 5 to 14 and the payments were only made in late October.

According to Mphaga, Aloga failed to raise the entire R250 000: “Le Monde and Mrs Petje took a loss, for which we are grateful,” the advocate said.

This suggests that when Robert Gumede transferred the R100 000, Nomzamo Petje was down considerably on the R250 000 outlay. She also confirms making a loss, even after Gumede’s donation.

Some doubt has been cast on the claimed cost of the supply of “T-shirts, fleece jackets, bags and stationery”.

According to an official account of the conference, 95 delegates attended, putting the claimed expenditure on conference knick-knacks at about R2 500 per person.

One delegate, American theologian Paul Borthwick, attended the Kopano conference as a guest speaker. He described the conference as “very modest”.

“Different countries bring the bags, T-shirts and other goods. I still have my bag. It is made of cloth and is beautifully printed. It is a bit like a glorified shopping bag from a supermarket.” No luxury items were provided to delegates, he said.

The explanation by Robert Gumede and Mphaga is unfamiliar to Zongi Gumede. She said she had never previously heard of Aloga, the 2004 Christian conference or Mphaga, and that Robert Gumede never told her the payments were for a charity conference.

At the time of the payments, Zongi Gumede’s company—Tulazo Trading—was specialising in providing precisely the services needed by the Kopano conference, and she says she would have expected her husband to give her the business.

Asked whether Robert Gumede, while married to her, referred business to Tulazo Trading, she answered: “Yes.”

In contrast to Tulazo’s business, Pakwells Petje specialised in selling luxury luggage, handbags and leather jackets by brands such as Cellini and Busby. An industry insider said a normal cloth conference bag costs between R80 and R100.

Zongi Gumede said the first time she came to know of Mphaga was about a month ago, after discussing with Robert Gumede the possibility of speaking to the M&G. “He [Robert] then told me he was going to instruct advocate Moses Mphaga to send a letter to the Mail & Guardian on my behalf not to call me again.”

Zongi Gumede refused the offer, but subsequently received a call from Mphaga advising her that she should ask the M&G for written questions and that he would assist her with the response. She again refused the offer of assistance.

The police investigation

Robert Gumede has emphasised that the allegations about the R100 000 payment were referred by Sterenborg to the police for investigation in February 2007, but that no wrongdoing on Gumede’s part was ever shown.

“I find it bizarre that after the police have investigated and the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] has on three separate occasions declined to prosecute, yet you still persist and rehash the allegations that Sterenborg could not sustain.”

In May this year the third state prosecutor to deal with the case, Tom Dicker, informed Sterenborg—after Sterenborg had made more representations to the NPA—that he would not prosecute Gumede.

In his letter, dated May 13, Dicker said Zongi Gumede “was approached and requested to make a statement and she declined to do so. She cannot be compelled to give evidence against Mr Gumede, neither can Mrs Petje.”

Zongi Gumede confirmed she was contacted by a policeman “but I chose not to meet with him”. At the time she was still legally married to Gumede and could not be compelled to testify against her husband.

In his letter to Sterenborg, Dicker said a bank statement reflecting two payments of R50 000 each was obtained but on its own is “of little consequence. There is no evidence supporting any allegation of any unlawful payments to Mr Petje or any other person for that matter —”

The police detective initially assigned to the Gumede case, Captain Jacq Velloen of the Johannesburg commercial crimes unit, was taken off the case and himself probed in connection with his conduct of the investigation.

According to Sterenborg, Velloen told him he had obtained 37 lever arch files of Gumede’s bank statements, bank statements of Telkom executives and information from the Reserve Bank, and that he had had meetings with Zongi Gumede and Subel.

“During the meeting in March 2009 ... we confronted Captain Velloen in the presence of his commander [Schickerling]. We asked whether any of the evidences he had reported to us existed. He answered: ‘no’,” Sterenborg said in a statement to the M&G.

According to NPA spokesperson Charlene Labuschagne, the Johannesburg office of the director of public prosecutions decided there was insufficient evidence to sustain a prosecution against Velloen, but recommended that departmental steps should be instituted against him by the police.

Gauteng police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Lungelo Dlamini told the M&G: “A criminal case against the captain has been closed. The case was discussed with the director of public prosecution who declined to prosecute. Internal investigation has been finalised and trial proceedings for a misconduct are in a process.”

Velloen declined to comment.

This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.


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