The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) is to probe black empowerment mining tycoons accused of cheating the Mpumalanga government out of millions of rands in royalties and share dividends. Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency (Mega) chairperson Phillip Dexter declined to name either the individuals or the companies on Wednesday, but confirmed he had requested the probe after crooked employees were caught colluding with mine owners.
‘Crooked officials tried to tell us that the mines’ assets were worthless and that we should write off large loans we’d made to them. We kept digging and found at least one case where the taxpayer has been cheated out of royalties and dividends for the equity shareholding we had in their operations,â€ said Dexter.
‘We are uncertain exactly how much money is involved because the matter needs more detailed investigation and we have therefore added it to the SIU’s wider mandate to recover about R124-million in fraudulent or irregular loans made by Mega’s predecessor, the MEEC [Mpumalanga Economic Empowerment Corporation].â€
Mega’s loan book, inherited from the MEEC, stood at R400-million, said Dexter, with grants worth R124-millionÂ confirmed as fraudulent, irregular or questionable expenditure in ‘clearly definedâ€ cases where MEEC directors, senior managers and their relatives fraudulently received money intended to help poor rural entrepreneurs.
SIU spokesperson Narusha Moodley said the unit sought to recover all irregularly disbursed funds between 2000 and 2006, including losses on any mismanaged MEEC projects or money paid out for questionable services or procurement contracts.
Dexter said the SIU’s probe and planned asset forfeiture raids would not just target public employees. He said suspects included one high-profile director of a listed company.
The probe will cast its net wider than just the recipients of irregular loans or contracts. It will also seek to hold politicians and directors accountable.
One of the most senior MEEC figures who may be forced to explain himself is disgraced former chairperson Sylvester Sithole.
Sithole was caught claiming travel and other expenses for meetings that either never occurred or that he simply did not attend. He also chaired board meetings, some of which did not have a quorum, where dodgy loans or contracts were approved.
Sithole has refunded the ‘overpaymentsâ€, but an unrelated SABC audit has added to the questions about his integrity by citing his law firm, Sylvester Balinseni Sithole (SBS), as receiving R6,1-million in ‘suspicious paymentsâ€.
The audit claims SBS overcharged the SABC by at least R1-million, including instances where ‘false narratives were attached to an invoice, double invoicing and prima facie fraudulent invoicesâ€. Sithole is named in the report for inflating his rates from R331 to R2Â 500 an hour and then billing SABC for up to 22,5 hours work a day and up to 256 hours a month.
‘This is all in the past. I don’t know why people are now targeting me. I have repaid all the travel stuff to MEEC and I have been cleared,â€ said Sithole.
Mpumalanga insiders question the timing of Dexter’s probe, claiming that he is a supporter of President Thabo Mbeki in the ANC presidential race, while at least some of those accused of receiving irregular loans are close to contender Jacob Zuma.
Former MEEC deputy chairperson Nora Fakude-Nkuna has hosted Zuma at her White River mansion and was named in the Schabir Shaik corruption trial as ‘lendingâ€ R140 000 to Eric Malengret, who was building Zuma’s Nkandla rural homestead.
Dexter said there was no connection between his involvement in the probe and the ANC succession race. ‘It’s rubbish. There is no connection, except unfortunate timing.â€ — African Eye News Service