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Bobby Motaung case linked to ANC feuds

AmaBhungane Reporters, Lungile Dube

ANC sources claim the fraud charges brought against Bobby Motaung are largely politically motivated because he is a Jacob Zuma supporter.

In the dock: Bobby Motaung. (Gallo Images)

The Kaizer Chiefs boss appeared in the Nelspruit Regional Court on Thursday on charges of fraud and forgery in connection with the 2010 Mbombela Stadium contract in a case seen as having potentially far-reaching political implications.

Some ANC sources have claimed that it is being driven by opponents of President Jacob Zuma. According to this view, the case is intended to put pressure on Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza, a staunch Zuma loyalist, to reconsider his support for the president in the build-up to the ANC's Mangaung elective conference in December.

There have been persistent rumours of a relationship between Motaung's company, Lefika Emerging Equity, and Mabuza's support network in the province. The Mpumalanga ANC went to great lengths to protect council employees accused of stadium-related corruption in an investigation initiated by Mbombela municipality speaker Jimmy Mohlala, who was later murdered.

In Mpumalanga's paranoid political climate, ANC sources construed an alleged meeting between sacked national police commissioner Bheki Cele and Mabuza as part of an attempt to pressure the premier.

Three independent sources told the Mail & Guardian the meeting took place. But Cele's spokesperson, Vuyo Mkhize, said that although Mabuza had indicated a wish to meet Cele, they had not met.

Lobbying and counter-lobbying
Mabuza's spokesperson, Zibonele Mncwango, referred the M&G to ANC provincial spokesperson Siphosezwe Masango, who said he knew nothing about a meeting.

But he added: "There will be a lot of lobbying and counter-lobbying between now and December. I can confirm that Mpumalanga as a province is a strong Zuma base."

Motaung and his Lefika co-director, Herbert Theledi, were released on R50 000 bail and instructed to return to court on October 15.

Police were to transport the company's former chief executive, Chris Grib, to Nelspruit for a separate court appearance. Grib, who fled to Dubai in 2009, was arrested in Cape Town on Wednesday. Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela said he would face the same fraud, forgery and theft charges and that a charge of uttering could be added at a later stage.

At the time of writing, detailed charges had not been put to the suspects. However, they are understood to relate in part to alleged fraud in the securing of a tax clearance certificate used to land a contract for the R1-billion Mbombela Stadium project. A prosecutor told the M&G that a wider range of alleged transgressions by Lefika were under consideration.

The case has also put the murder of former municipal speaker Mohlala back on the agenda. Protesters dressed in ANC T-shirts and chanting "Dubula u Bobby" (shoot Bobby) outside the Nelspruit court carried a large of poster of Mohlala. "Who killed Jimmy?" stated another poster.

Withdrawn
Mohlala was shot dead in January 2009 after allegedly blowing the whistle on corruption in the stadium contract. He was allegedly about to lay criminal charges when he was shot dead at his home in KaNyamazane, outside Nelspruit.

Five men were charged with the murder, but the charges were subsequently withdrawn and the crime has never been solved.

An M&G exposé in 2008, before Mohlala was murdered, revealed an attempt by the provincial ANC to stifle his whistle-blowing.

Former municipal manager Jacob Dladla was found guilty during an internal disciplinary hearing and dismissed in March 2009 after a Mohlala-initiated investigation into his alleged wide-ranging misconduct in relation to the stadium contract.

However, the ANC's Ehlanzeni region instructed its councillors to take a resolution to clear him of all the charges and pay him R1.5-million.

Asked whether the Hawks were investigating further charges relating to the Mohlala murder, Polela said: "For now, this is a totally different case."

In January 2009, the M&G exclusively revealed that the South African Revenue Service was investigating Lefika under the VAT Act for alleged tax evasion and "corrupting a (subsequently suspended) Sars employee who gave them a tax clearance certificate so that they could get more business".

The newspaper was leaked a letter from Sars asking the Mbombela municipality to submit documents relating to about R100-million it had paid Lefika between July and December 2006. However, the investigation by the Mbombela council also revealed a wide range of other alleged transgressions by Motaung's company. They included:

The alleged failure to declare a conflict of interest when Lefika was appointed to the committee responsible for awarding the stadium contract to Basil Read and French multinational Bouygues Travaux Publics.

Lefika's relationship with Basil Read started in 2006 after it, Mogale City, Kaizer Chiefs and the Gauteng government entered into an agreement to build a stadium for Chiefs in Krugersdorp and Basil Read was appointed contractor.

Lefika said that dealings between it and Basil Read over the Amakhosi Stadium constituted "a usual professional relationship between contractor and principal consultant".

However, in August 2007 the Financial Mail reported that Lefika and Basil Read would develop the stadium together, suggesting a joint venture rather than a client-contractor relationship.

Allegations that the council paid Lefika R43-million in a transaction irregularly authorised by Dladla.

Allegations that in December 2008 Lefika had written a fraudulent letter to First National Bank, requesting an overdraft. In the letter, Lefika allegedly claimed that it had submitted an invoice to Mbombela municipality that would be paid early in the new year. This was apparently backed up with a document on a Mbombela letterhead. The municipality later distanced itself from any such undertaking.

At the time, Motaung refused to comment on the allegations in detail, telling the M&G that "there have been all sorts of allegations against Lefika and the matter is with our legal department".

The Mbombela council appointed Lefika on April 4 2006 to carry out the design, contract administration, supervision and commissioning of the Mbombela stadium, a Fifa 2010 project. The stadium project was highly unusual in having two external companies involved in the design and project management. In other similar projects, the pattern was a single design and professional consulting consortium that, together with the responsible municipality, managed the construction - which was bid for separately.

In the Mbombela case, Lefika was appointed as the design and professional consortium, whereas Platinum Sports Consulting were appointed project managers.

There were rumblings about Lefika's appointment, with sources in the architectural field saying it was "suspicious" and that the company should have been disqualified after it failed to attend one of the compulsory site attendance sessions.

Both Lefika, represented by Grib, and Platinum Sports Consulting, the project managers, scored Basil Read highest for the stadium construction in terms of overall costs versus points. The cheapest bid came from a Chinese consortium, although there may have been other, defensible reasons for rejecting it.

Strongly linked
During the adjudication, the council's deputy finance manager, a Ms A van der Merwe, resigned from the bid adjudication committee because of unhappiness with the process.

In part because of Bouygues's French connection, the massive stadium project was seen as having ties with the faction associated with then-president Thabo Mbeki.

The key empowerment players in Basil Read, Bulelani Ngcuka and Mzi Khumalo, were also strongly linked to the Mbeki camp.

Commentators argue that although Mabuza was also considered an Mbeki loyalist at the time, he had since shifted allegiance and was now regarded as one of Zuma's key provincial backers.

Grib is an ex-Stocks & Stocks construction executive, whereas Theledi is a Bushbuckridge businessperson who made his fortune selling textbooks and stationery to the old KaNgwane homeland.

Theledi was also a shareholder of Real Africa Investment Holdings, part of the RealAfrica Group set up in 1994 by Don Ncube, also seen as close to Mbeki. His other main business interests were in Amalgamated Healthcare and Amalgamated Logistics, which had major  provincial medicine distribution contracts.

Motaung and Theledi were also partners in the Nthwese consortium, which became a 28.3% shareholder in Blue Label in 2006.

Motaung and Blue Label are also tied together in an initiative called ZOK Cellular, which sells branded prepaid vouchers to Zion Christian Church members and Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs supporters. A percentage of the profits is supposed to be ploughed back into the community.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

 

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