Raid on Mandela charities blocked

Ismail Ayob. (Gallo)

Ismail Ayob. (Gallo)

The Hawks have launched a financial investigation into the misappropriation of former president Nelson Mandela's funds, including scrutinising the bank account statements of some of his close family members, trustees and employees of his charities.

The Mail & Guardian has seen a letter from the Hawks, the police's serious economic offences unit, demanding financial records from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the Nelson Mandela Trust. The same letter has been sent to the directors of companies established to manage royalties from the sale of Madiba's art. It follows a plan by the investigators to raid the offices of those involved, which was thwarted by senior police management.

In April this year, the directors, lawyers George Bizos and Bally Chuene and former human settlements minister Tokyo Sexwale, opposed a legal challenge by Mandela's children and grandchildren, with the exception of his grandson Mandla, to remove them from their positions.

Although it was expected that the Hawks would send the same letter to Mandela's children who had brought the application against the directors, Makaziwe Mandela and Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, the M&G could not establish whether they had received the letter.

Mandla Mandela said he knew nothing about it.

On Thursday, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund chief executive officer, Sbongile Mkhabela, through her spokesperson, Oupa Ngwenya, confirmed that she has received a letter demanding her organisation's financial records.

"We can confirm receipt of a letter from the SAPS, which was subsequently handed to Mr Mandela's lawyers," Ngwenya said.

"The account Nelson Mandela Children's Fund has with Nedbank is public knowledge and has been accounted in the financial statement for year ended 31 March 2013 and is included as note four on page 46 of the annual report. The funds kept in the bank account are being utilised in implementing programme[s] of the fund."

Danielle Melville, a spokesperson for the Nelson Mandela Foundation's chief executive Sello Hatang, also acknowledged receiving the Hawks' letter.

"We confirm receipt of a letter from the SAPS regarding [bank account] statements. The matter has been referred to Mr Mandela's lawyer, Bally Chuene," said Melville.

Chuene said on Thursday that the Mandela Trust has not yet received the letter but he confirmed that both the Mandela foundation and children's fund had forwarded the letters to him, as their lawyer, for his attention.

Hawks spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko said it was not their policy to comment on interaction with their "clients" and their investigations.

The Hawks letter, which was sent out on Friday last week, relates to the criminal charges of fraud, forgery and uttering laid by Mandela against Ismail Ayob, the struggle icon's once-trusted friend and personal attorney for over 30 years. The charges were also laid against Ayob's wife, Zamila, who has since died, and his business partner Ross Calder.

According to two senior police sources, the letters were sent after a plan by investigators to raid the offices of those approached was shot down by the police's top management, including the director of the Hawks, Lieutenant General Anwa Dramat. They were concerned about the embarrassment it could cause.

But one of the sources said a raid could not be entirely ruled out.   

Mandela is recuperating at his home in Houghton after he was discharged from a Pretoria heart hospital two weeks ago.

"If they do not comply with our letter to produce the financial records, we will apply for a search warrant and possibly raid their offices, houses and business premises," a Hawks source said.

"However, we do not want to disgrace the former president and call attention to his house in Houghton because he is frail at the moment and needs some privacy and proper rest. But if we do not get any co-operation we will have no other option but to act and raid his charities, whether this will create a furore or not."

The criminal investigation into Mandela's millions covers the period from 2003 when the former president became aware that Ayob had set up a number of companies linked to some of the trusts for the marketing and selling of Mandela's art. He had allegedly reproduced these on a large scale, complete with Mandela's signature.

Ayob was later removed from the Nelson Mandela Trust after an acrimonious court battle with the former president.

In the court action earlier this year, Mandela's two daughters filed an interdict in the South Gauteng High Court to remove Bizos, Chuene and Sexwale as trustees and directors of Harmonieux Investment Holdings and Magnifique Investment Holdings because they were allegedly not properly appointed. The action was supported by Mandela's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and they were assisted by Ayob.

The main purpose was to channel the proceeds of Mandela's handprints into the accounts of companies for Mandela and his children. It is estimated that the proceeds amount to more than R15-million.

The case was removed from the roll at the end of July and it has since emerged that Ayob is no longer representing Mandela's daughters. The M&G was unable to confirm claims that they withdrew from the case because of the Hawks' investigation.

Ayob did not respond to requests for comment.

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012). Read more from Charles Molele


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