New claims could seal Nkuhlu's fate

The future of disgraced former Department of Public Enterprises chief director Andile Nkuhlu hangs in the balance as Zama Resources’s former secretary Michelle McMaster prepares to depose a new affidavit explaining why the company paid tens of thousands of rands to Nkuhlu.

Nkuhlu resigned last week after a Public Service Commission (PSC) report found he had failed to disclose R154 000 in benefits from Zama and other sources before a decision to award a R335-million forestry privatisation bid to Zama. Nkuhlu had chaired the bid evaluation committee.

The Office of the Public Protector was due to meet PSC investigators on Thursday to chart the way forward after McMaster made a statement to Gary Pienaar of the protector’s office explaining that she had lied to the PSC.

It is understood that in her statement she has claimed she was “instructed” not to say certain things to the PSC and that she lied to protect the forestry deal and because she feared for her safety.

Stan Sangweni, the PSC’s head, confirmed that McMaster had earlier refused to make a voluntary statement, citing fears for her safety. She had to be subpoenaed.

In her initial statement she sought to downplay evidence that Nkuhlu had been aware of the origin of the payments. She has now indicated she wishes to make a full disclosure to the commission or to the Scorpions.

Pienaar told the Mail & Guardian that a senior member of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) had inquired about McMaster’s latest statement. It is understood that the NIA has been monitoring the case on behalf of the public enterprises department since the first allegations of payments to Nkuhlu emerged months ago.

Though Sangweni said he would have to await the full statement from McMaster, Nkuhlu might be charged with bribery or corruption.

According to South African law, “Bribery is committed by a State official who unlawfully and intentionally agrees to take any consideration in return for action or inaction by him in an official capacity.”

The PSC report made no finding on whether Nkuhlu had acted corruptly, but it provided a welter of circumstantial evidence to suggest he was in cahoots with Zama and had repeatedly extracted money from the company.

The PSC report found that Zama had paid R15 000 and R40 000 into Nkuhlu’s account. It found further that McMaster had paid R5 000 into his account and that Zama CEO Mcebisi Mlonzi had paid a further R1 000.

The report also found that Nkuhlu had received deposits from other sources, including R20 000 from a P Solomon, described as “alleged to be an employee of Denel”. The M&G could not trace this person and the public enterprises department is investigating the identity of the donor. Nkuhlu was involved peripherally in the disposal of state equity in Denel.

Nkuhlu made no mention of any of these gifts in the yearly disclosure form he signed.

According to Nkuhlu’s bank records, he rarely checked his balance, except for the period between August 13 last year and January 12 this year—the period the deposits were made into his account—when he made 32 enquiries.

Investigators compared the times of Nkuhlu’s balance queries with his phone records. Almost every time he checked his account, he phoned Mlonzi or McMaster shortly afterwards.

Nkuhlu and McMaster denied to the PSC that he called about payments.

The commission’s conclusion that Nkuhlu did not influence the award of the deal to Zama is contradicted by much of the evidence before it, including claims that:

  • Nkuhlu had told another member of the bid evaluation committee, Lael Bethlehem, that her line of questioning to Zama had been “unpatriotic” when she had raised concerns about aspects of its bid;

  • When she raised these questions during the formal meeting with Zama, Nkuhlu had overruled her;

  • Nkuhlu again overruled Bethlehem when she attempted to probe allegations of dirty tricks by Zama;

  • Transaction adviser James Patterson wanted an investigation of the shareholding in Zama, but was overruled by Nkuhlu;

  • Patterson raised concerns about the process and believed that Nkuhlu was pushing for a “political decision”;

  • Nkuhlu had made repeated private contacts with Zama, even after a formal decision that contact should only take place through Patterson.

    The public enterprises department was due to hold a press conference on Friday, after a meeting with Zama and Indian company Paharpur, the reserve bidder. It is expected that the bid process will be cancelled and started again from scratch.

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