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NPA stays mum on premier's role

Glynnis Underhill, Niren Tolsi

The state has charged several top ANC officials in a fraud and corruption case involving Uruguayan businessman Gaston Savoi.

The state has charged several top ANC officials in a fraud and corruption case involving Uruguayan businessman Gaston Savoi, but whether National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Menzi Simelane believes KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize has a case to answer remains unclear.

“We decline to respond to this question at this stage,” said Simelane’s spokesperson, Mthunzi Mhaga.

Mkhize denies being implicated in the tenders-for-kickbacks scandal involving Savoi’s company, Intaka. But the events in question took place while he was the KwaZulu-Natal minister of finance and economic development. Twenty-three people have been charged with corruption and fraud including Mike Mabuyakhulu, the KwaZulu-Natal minister for economic development and tourism; Peggy Nkonyeni, the provincial legislature speaker, and the ANC Northern Cape chairman, John Block.

After their arrest last week, Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni appeared in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrates’ Court on Monday on charges, which included racketeering, corruption, fraud and money laundering. The charges arise from allegations that the accused defrauded the KwaZulu-Natal health department by inflating the prices of water purification equipment that Intaka ­supplied to hospitals.

Mkhize’s spokesperson, Ndabezinhle Sibiya, described the allegations in newspaper reports about the premier by “so-called sources within the Hawks and the NPA” as “disturbing”. “We are of the view that, if the premier is a suspect or the state intends to charge him, they must deal with him directly rather than making such public statements. We expect a level of professionalism from both the Hawks and the NPA.”

Mkhize has been drawn into the scandal by two Sunday newspapers, which reported that he signed two documents leading to the provincial government spending R44-million on the equipment supplied by Intaka.

City Press said it had obtained a letter, written by Mkhize in July 2005, in his capacity as provincial finance minister, in which he argued passionately for the ­purification plants to be purchased from Intaka.

The newspaper also claimed that his signature appeared on an internal memorandum, with that of Mabuyakhulu and three department heads, motivating for the plants to be installed without going out to tender.

In a recent speech to his provincial cabinet, Mkhize reportedly referred to warrants signed by the NPA for the imminent arrest of Nkonyeni and Mabuyakhulu.

“Most unfortunately, these media reports have created an impression that the so-called ‘imminent arrests’ are orchestrated by certain leaders in an attempt to achieve political ­objectives ahead of regional, provincial and national elective conferences — We regard this as scurrilous gossip, and those who are responsible for it are trying to sow division within the ANC.”

Earlier this year a report authorised for declassification by Lieutenant General Richard Mdluli, suspended head of police crime intelligence, found its way to the media. In it, unproven allegations of a plot to oust Jacob Zuma as ANC president next year named known Zuma loyalists, among them national police commissioner Bheki Cele and Mkhize, of working to oust him. Both vigorously denied the allegations.

Last week Simelane told the Sunday Times that claims that Mkhize was likely to be a state witness were untrue. There would be no Section 204 witnesses (who are usually granted immunity) in the case.

Sibiya said that, apart from one meeting with the Hawks, Mkhize had never held discussions or meetings or brokered any deal with a law enforcement agency, including the NPA, regarding the Intaka case.

If Mkhize was needed as a witness, he would only give evidence relating to his role at the time, he said.

The premier does not appear on the witness list tabled in court.

Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni were granted R100 000 bail each on Monday. Appearing with them, former health director general Ronald Green-Thompson posted R40 000 bail. Savoi appeared on the same day in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrates’ Court, but in a different courtroom.

The many charges in the indictment include the following:

  • Nkonyeni is accused with others of unlawfully, and with intent to defraud, informing the provincial health department that the installation of the oxygen self-generating unit at Rietvlei Hospital would reduce costs for the department. The state claims that she and the other accused knew that there was no ­benefit to be gained.

  • Nkonyeni is accused of defrauding the provincial government by informing the department that the water purification plant quotations were “genuine and independent quotations”.

  • Nkonyeni is accused of accepting two bribes of R500 000 each from Savoi in 2007 to influence others to award a tender or order for the supply of the water purification plants.

  • Mabuyakhulu, minister of local government and ANC treasurer at the time, faces a charge of corruption relating to the alleged R1-million “donation” Savoi gave former treasury head Sipho Shabalala. The money is said to have been laundered through the trust account of attorney Sandile Kuboni. Both Shabalala and Kuboni have been arrested and charged.

  • Mabuyakhulu is also accused of corruption relating to another R1-million allegedly given by Shabalala to “assist Savoi and Shabalala to avoid prosecution”.

Risk specialist suspended
Suspended Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) security and risk specialist Terence Joubert appeared at a disciplinary hearing last week for allegedly using his office laptop in 2007 to make a presentation intended to sell water purification systems for Gaston Savoi, the businessman arrested in the fraud and corruption scandal rocking South Africa.

Joubert declined to comment, but National Prosecuting Authority sources said that he requested and received permission from the security and risk management department to take on the extra work for Savoi, who was not under investigation at the time.

Joubert’s involvement with Savoi’s company was apparently short-lived, as he was not paid for his presentation on the water purification systems, the M&G has established.

When the AFU began its initial investigation into Savoi four years later, Joubert allegedly gave “invaluable assistance”.

However, he was unexpectedly suspended from his job last month pending a disciplinary hearing. The hearing was postponed last week to August 17 and 18.

Joubert was also accused of booking out guns to escort the AFU to Kimberley when Northern Cape ANC leader John Block appeared in court. NPA spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke said she could not discuss an internal disciplinary hearing that was still in process.

AFU boss, Willie Hofmeyr, and his deputy director, Knorx Molelle, are also facing charges, the validity of which have been called into question.

NPA boss Menzi Simelane has stripped Molelle of his powers as head of the KwaZulu-Natal unit.

In addition, the M&G has learned that the AFU offices in Durban have mysteriously lacked email and internet connections for more than a month.

Makeke said that it was not just the AFU in Durban that was affected and that other NPA offices based in the same building faced the same problem.

“We’re not specialists in information technology and we are just as frustrated by the problem,” she said.


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