A bar on progress

Vusi Pikoli’s surprise appointment to the top job at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) followed shortly after a corruption probe prevented one of the leading contenders for the post, former Limpopo premier Ngoako Ramatlhodi, from being admitted to the Bar, effectively ending his bid.

The NPA Act requires that the organisation be headed by a person with “legal qualifications that would entitle him or her to practise in all courts in the Republic”.

As a result, what sources describe as “intense political pressure” emanating from both African National Congress headquarters and the office of Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Brigitte Mabandla to secure the post for Ramatlhodi came to naught.

The Pretoria High Court file dealing with Ramatlhodi’s application to be admitted as an advocate and an internal NPA document claiming that Ramatlhodi had received R100 000 from a businessman who benefited from a controversial tender under his watch, give a taste of the drama that preceded the unexpected announcement a fortnight ago that Pikoli, the former justice and constitutional development director general, would head the NPA.

In May last year the Mail & Guardian reported that Ramatlhodi was being tipped to replace Ngcuka, but that “a graft probe may spoil [his] chances”. The main corruption allegation against Ramatlhodi is that he had an undeclared interest in Nicoh, the Limpopo empowerment partner of Cash Paymaster Services (CPS). The CPS-Nicoh partnership won the multimillion-rand contract from Ramatlhodi’s administration to pay out social grants.

Ramatlhodi and others implicated in the allegedly corrupt transaction have denied their guilt. But evidence in an NPA document obtained by the M&G appears to suggest that Ramatlhodi may have some explaining to do.

The document, an internal application prepared to have the investigation upgraded from “preparatory” to formal and dated May last year, says Ramatlhodi’s lawyer conveyed assurances that Ramatlhodi “never had any interest in the concern known as Nicoh” and that he had “no business association with any of the individuals involved in Nicoh”.

The document continues: “Despite the above denials of financial relations, it has been established that R100 000 of the purchase price of a fixed property in Faerie Glen, Pretoria, recently purchased by Mr Ramatlhodi, was paid by [the Puroma Family Trust].”

The document connects this trust to Solly Mohale, a Nicoh director.

Deeds office records confirm that Ramatlhodi bought a smallholding in Faerie Glen for R1,3-million in July 2003. The property was paid for in cash and no bond was registered.

The document says that “cane furniture king” Habakuk Shikoane, who was also involved with Nicoh, made an affidavit in which he states that Mohale and another person intimately involved with the deal told him that “the former premier [was] to share in the benefits because of the fact that [he] assisted in securing the tender”.

Ramatlhodi this week confirmed receiving the R100 000 from Mohale, but said the money did not constitute a kickback. He said he asked Mohale, whom he described as a friend, to loan him the money because he did not want to take out a bond on the property. He said he has not repaid the loan, but there are terms on which he will repay it.

“The transaction was above board. Mohale wrote me a cheque and I will be repaying him. I am selling my house in Magoebaskloof and I will use the proceeds from that to repay his loan,” he said.

Mohale could not be reached for comment.

Rudolph Mastenbroek, the author of the document and NPA deputy director at the time, this week declined to discuss it, but other sources familiar with the investigation confirmed its authenticity. Numerous suspicious transactions are currently the subject of forensic enquiry, they said.

It appears to have been the cloud over Ramathlhodi’s head as a result of the investigation that put his application to be admitted as an advocate on hold.

The former premier filed his application on July 5 last year, weeks before Ngcuka announced his resignation. In a first affidavit in support of the application, Ramatlhodi declared that “there are no criminal proceedings pending against me” and that “I am not aware of any fact that could negatively affect this application”.

At that stage, both noseweek magazine and the M&G had already aired allegations against Ramatlhodi, and his lawyers had engaged the NPA on the matter.

In a subsequent affidavit, Ramatlhodi admitted there were allegations against him, including “that I had taken R5-million in pension backhanders”, but denied the allegations. He also conceded having been fined R3 000 by Parliament for not disclosing “dormant” close corporations he had “forgotten about”.

The court papers indicate that Ramatlhodi’s application was postponed in early December when Judge Willie Hartzenberg, who was to preside over the hearing, asked for more information about the investigation by the NPA. On December 13 Ramatlhodi’s application was finally placed before Hartzenberg, but the judge postponed it indefinitely, pending finalisation of the corruption investigation.

Pikoli’s appointment was announced on January 21.

Asked about the court’s decision, Ramatlhodi said: “I am aggrieved and I am sure we will be taking that process further. My lawyers are looking at that.”

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