Some players accused of murky dealings by UDM leader Bantu Holomisa have been in the soup before.
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He got himself into the ANC on the strength of his 1980s coup against Stella Sigcau’s Transkei homeland regime, and got himself expelled two years into democracy by making claims of bribery against Sigcau – then his Cabinet senior – and of ANC funding sleaze.
Bantu Holomisa built his United Democratic Movement on that anti-corruption ticket. But his trademark exposés have become few and far between, with the notable exception of his 2011 charge that Pansy Tlakula was conflicted when the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which she headed, rented new offices. Public protector Thuli Madonsela found against Tlakula, who later resigned.
Holomisa’s claim this week of millions in state pensioners’ savings being diverted to the ruling party suggests he is back to his trademark self. It is also a high-stakes gamble, given the severity of the allegations and the paucity of his evidence so far.
Holomisa has directed his allegations to Madonsela once more, in a letter on Monday. They are:
- In the second week of December, the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) transferred R40?million to Deutsche Bank. The money was “meant to fund salaries of the ANC staff members” and the party’s January 8 birthday celebrations.
- This month, the PIC transferred R2?million to fund manager Harith Fund Managers “for the benefit of the ruling party”.
- The PIC is about to fund the R1.5?billion acquisition of a 25% stake in Total South Africa by the companies Kilimanjaro Capital and Sakhumnotho. The PIC decision may be irregular.
The PIC is a public entity that invests state pensioners’ retirement savings.
The ANC hit back, saying Holomisa had a reputation for “grandstanding”. Treasurer general Zweli Mkhize said the ANC “has no knowledge of these transactions, nor any record of such monies being paid”.
The PIC also issued a firm denial, saying it was “considering several options to counter the intentional damage” to its reputation.
Harith said through spokesperson Pule Molebeledi: “It is simple; it is categorical; it is false … There was no payment from the PIC to Harith, full stop, and the same with the ANC” during December and January.
Holomisa had no further details this week, but insisted the public interest factor was enough to justify an investigation, which could establish the truth by following the money.
Madonsela’s office said the complaint was referred to assessors, who would advise her whether to investigate.
“Not backed by anything tangible”
Madonsela has a conundrum. She may conclude the claims are so bald as not to justify the intrusion. She chose not to probe, for example, whether Tlakula was romantically involved with a shareholder in the property company that provided the IEC offices, as the claim was “not backed by anything tangible”.
But she may also decide that because the claims have some basis in verified fact, and some of the players have a history of allegations, a preliminary probe is justified.
Indeed the Kilimanjaro Sakhumnotho Consortium is to buy control of Total South Africa’s 25% BEE partner with PIC funding, it confirmed in a statement on Thursday.It said, however, that it obtained the funding “having complied with all of PIC’s funding requirements including the conduct of comprehensive due dilligence investigations”.
Deutsche Bank gained a reputation for proximity to the ruling party when it was led until the mid-2000s by Martin Kingston, who was close to then ANC treasurer Mendi Msimang. Kingston was related to him by marriage and later joined him in business.
Deutsche Bank remains involved with the PIC, which used the bank last year to underwrite its sale of 25?million Vodacom shares. In 2015 the PIC did R2.4-billion in “scrip lending” transactions with the bank.
Deutsche Bank this week said it had investigated Holomisa’s allegations and “has found nothing to support them. The allegations are without foundation.”
The names of Harith Fund Managers and its chief executive, Tshepo Mahloele, are no bolts from the blue either.
Before he founded Harith, Mahloele led the PIC’s Isibaya Fund, which controversially warehoused Telkom shares for the Elephant Consortium in 2005.
ANC luminaries and the party itself allegedly benefited hugely when Mahloele’s office allowed early profit-taking by an opaque company in the Elephant structure.
In 2012 amaBhungane revealed how the ANC stood to benefit from a R1-billion share deal with Capitec Bank’s empowerment consortium, funded by the PIC. The consortium, which included individuals and entities connected to the ANC, was put together by Mahloele, who had left the PIC by then, and ANC fundraiser Zwelibanzi Nzama. Mahloele and the PIC denied impropriety.
Harith then featured in amaBhungane’s 2013 “Oilgate 2” exposé, in which state oil company PetroSA hired it as transaction adviser in a bid to buy Engen. PetroSA fired multinational HSBC from the job, incurring a hefty cancellation fee, before installing Harith at much greater cost, bypassing procurement processes. Harith denied wrongdoing, but PetroSA terminated the contract.
After Elephant and Capitec, the apparent ease with which ruling party-aligned interests could access PIC funding was highlighted in two major transactions.
In 2013 the PIC helped Iqbal Survé to buy control of Independent Media by stumping up most of the R2?billion price tag with a R500-million co-investment and an R800-million loan.
The latest annual report of the Government Employees Pension Fund, whose money the PIC invests, suggests Survé’s company has not yet serviced the loan.
In 2014 the PIC paid $270-million (about R3-billion then) for a 30% stake in Camac Energy, a near-bankrupt oil and gas firm led by Nigerian-American Kase Lawal. Lawal was exposed by the Mail & Guardian in 2003 for a Nigerian oil deal designed to benefit prominent ANC members.
The PIC concluded its purchase of the Camac stake a day before the 2014 elections, despite doubts that Camac had fulfilled all conditions.
Might the PIC bet on Camac have been motivated by the ANC’s need for election funding, perhaps through a “donation” from Lawal?
Camac denied it had donated to the ANC, but Lawal said nothing and the ANC answered ambiguously.
On Wednesday the PIC’s stake in Camac (now Erin Energy) was down to about $103-million – less than 40% of the $270-million it invested. – Additional reporting by James Wood
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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.