/ 20 March 2009

Land Bank chief’s vanishing act

Sacked Land Bank chief Phil Mohlahlane was involved in an extraordinary property deal in which he abandoned a R2,7-million lump sum on an upmarket property he had offered to purchase.

The money, which has murky origins, has been sitting in the account of the property owner, Sean Roelofsz, for the past 16 months after Mohlahlane vanished and could not be contacted to pay the transfer fees. The transaction — or attempted transaction — has been reported to the Financial Intelligence Centre.

Mohlahlane is the former deputy director general in the Agriculture Department responsible for the multimillion-rand AgriBEE fund intended to give support to emerging black farmers.

He was fired in December last year without official reasons being given. However, the Mail & Guardian has established that his dismissal was linked to his alleged misuse of the AgriBEE fund.

Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana transferred Mohlahlane to the troubled Land Bank in mid-2007 after the resignation of chief executive Alan Mukoki.

The Land Bank board instituted a forensic investigation into the AgriBEE fund’s dealings at the end of last year. The report, compiled by audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, is yet to be released.

The fund has been at the centre of the bank’s turmoil since Mohlahlane took over its reins. Xolile Ncame, the former finance chief of the Land Bank, last year accused Xingwana of meddling in the fund’s affairs by removing files relating to the fund from the bank’s offices.

Now a dodgy property deal involving Mohlahlane, former Gauteng housing minister Dan Mofokeng and Polokwane attorney Matuba Maponya has led to further concerns about the appropriation of money meant for developing black farmers.

At the centre of the Mohlahlane dispute is a hectare of prime property in the upmarket Saddlebrook Estate in Kyalami, Gauteng, that has a farm-like atmosphere where owners are able to stable horses on their own stands. Houses in the estate sell from R7-million upwards.

According to Pam Golding agent Tony Santana, in late 2007 Mohlahlane showed an interest in buying Saddlebrook property. He expressed interested in two other plots before finally making a R2,7-million offer for plot 115 on November 11 2007.

The M&G is in possession of Mohlahlane’s offer to purchase, signed by him and seller Sean Roelofsz.

At the time Mohlahlane earned just over a million rand per year as acting Land Bank chief. As DDG he earned less than a million rand per year.

Santana confirmed that a cash deposit of R2,7-million was made into Pam Golding’s account.

”I supposed he [Mohlahlane] would pay a 10% deposit on the property. He said: ‘No, my attorney will put the money in your account.’ An attorney from Polokwane subsequently deposited the full purchase price,” Santana said.

The M&G has identified the Polokwane attorney as Matuba Maponya, who transferred the full amount from his trust account to Pam Golding on November 9 2007 — two days prior to Mohlahlane signing the offer to purchase.

Maponya’s involvement is curious. Between October and December 2007 at least R16-million was transferred to his trust account from the AgriBEE fund under Mohlahlane’s control.

According to payment schedules in the M&G‘s possession, an amount of R7-million was paid to Maponya for the ”Dipala Tema” project and R9-million for ”farming acquisition by Tswelepele farming enterprises”. It is unclear whether any of these projects exist.

After signing the offer to purchase, Mohlahlane abruptly disappeared. According to estate agent Santana only the transfer costs (about R180 000) were due, but they couldn’t get hold of Mohlahlane to pay.

”We couldn’t get him, we couldn’t get the costs. He never came through with costs. We put him on terms, he was in breach of the contract.”

The deal was eventually cancelled and costs were paid to Pam Golding and the transfer attorneys from the R2,7-million. The balance was paid over to seller Roelofsz.

According to Santana it was ”all very unusual” and they reported the transaction to the Financial Intelligence Centre.

Enter another character in the mystery — Mofokeng — who tried to take over the Saddlebrook transaction and also benefited from the AgriBEE fund with a sweet R3,5-million grant to his company Nzhelele Resources Africa for a feedlot.

Mofokeng, who was Gauteng housing minister in the cabinets of Mathole Motshekga and Tokyo Sexwale from 1994 to 1999, is said to be a close associate of Mohlahlane. Both men, as well as Maponya, live in Polokwane.

The company register shows that Mofokeng registered a shelf company, Mayborn Investments 12, on December 3 2007 with himself as the sole director. On the same day, Mayborn’s ”board of directors” resolved that Mofokeng was ”authorised and mandated to represent and to act on behalf of the company in respect of the transaction relation to Saddle Brook (sic) Estate”.

Mofokeng signed as chairperson and Mohlahlane and Maponya as witnesses.

When Mohlahlane wanted to transfer the offer to purchase from his name to Mayborn, Roelofsz became suspicious and balked.

This was after the Saturday Star revealed on December 15 2007 that Mohlahlane had been using an illegitimate ID document to buy the Saddlebrook property.

Roelofsz confirmed to the M&G that the R2,7-million minus commissions was still in his account. Neither Mohlahlane nor Maponya have instituted legal proceedings to recover the money.

He subsequently sold the property to an unrelated buyer.

Mohlahlane did not want to comment on the Saddlebrook deal when approached by the M&G. He said the deal was part of a labour action he had lodged against the Department of Agriculture and therefore ”sub-judice”.

When asked for comment, Mofokeng replied via SMS: ”I owe you nothing. Go to the law enforcement offices to lay charges. Make sure your facts can be are [sic] correct. I reserve all my rights”; and later: ”I am not involved in mudslinging games. I am a private citizen with full rights and protected by the constitution. I hope that you can substantiate your allegations. I have no doubt that you understand what I am saying. Enjoy your day”.

Maponya cited attorney-client privilege as the reason he could not comment.

Refusing to comment, the Agriculture Department also cited the ”sub-judice” rule.