/ 15 January 2016

Ex-Land Bank head in court soon

Ex Land Bank Head In Court Soon

Details of how a former Land Bank chief executive and senior government officials allegedly plundered millions of rands from a fund meant to empower black farmers will be laid bare when their trials resume this year.

The alleged looting of the AgriBEE fund, a black economic empowerment initiative the Land Bank administered on behalf of the department of agriculture, happened between 2007 and 2008 but the officials were only arrested in 2011.

According to the state’s charge sheet, AgriBEE officials were requested on two occasions to approve and release millions of rands for a project they were told was to benefit senior ANC officials.

Former Land Bank chief executive Philemon Mohlahlane allegedly instructed the officials to pay R3?million to a fictitious project called Babagolo (Sepedi for “elders”), supposedly to provide exit packages or “pensions” for senior ANC government officials.

And according to an earlier Independent Online article, Mohla­hlane claimed he wanted to donate part of his alleged R22?million Land Bank loot to sponsor the ANC’s 2007 national conference.

It appears from the charge sheet, however, that Mohlahlane invoked the ANC’s name as a ploy to create the impression that it was a funding vehicle for the ruling party and to prevent officials from asking questions.

“When they go to the portfolio committee, they should not be grilled”

Mohlahlane is accused alongside Rubben Mohlaloga, who was an MP and chairperson of the agriculture portfolio committee at the time of the alleged theft.

The former chief executive allegedly also told an AgriBEE fund manager that Mohlaloga “had to be paid so that, when they go to the portfolio committee, they should not be grilled”. It is not clear whether the official paid the money.

Mohlahlane is the first accused in two separate cases involving about R22?million allegedly stolen from the AgriBEE fund.

In one case he is accused alongside Mohlaloga and others, and in another he is accused alongside former Gauteng MEC Dan Mofokeng.

The third case involves Sondaga Samuel Malatji, a former acting deputy director general in agriculture department, his wife and a company the state alleges the couple used to launder the funds. They are accused of stealing R2?million.

According to the charge sheet, the millions were used to buy luxury cars and prime properties.

The fund was established to facilitate broad-based black economic empowerment in agriculture and to help small and emerging black farmers access much-needed finance to grow their businesses. Its operational manual prohibits politicians, while in office, and government employees from receiving grants from the fund.

“Political protection”

Malatji, who sometimes chaired agriculture advisory committee meetings, used the same project (Babagolo) to allegedly swindle money from the AgriBEE fund.

The committee’s main function was to consider and decide on applications for funding, meaning he had high authority to approve or refuse grants. The committee included stakeholders in the agricultural sector, including the Land Bank.

Malatji allegedly instructed a businessperson to pay R2?million for Babagolo and “political protection”.

Mohlahlane, Mohlaloga and Polokwane attorney Dinga Rammy Nkhwashu face corruption and theft charges relating to allegations that in 2008 they swindled R6?million from the fund.

According to the charge sheet, in February 2008 Mohlahlane instructed the fund’s manager to release R6?million for a project for then agriculture minister Lulu Xingwana called Youth in Agriculture. But there were no documents to support this payment. There are no allegations against Xingwana.

After the payment Mohlahlane allegedly instructed Khutso Mosoma, the AgriBEE fund manager, and others to create a fake project and a paper trail for the payment and transaction.

It is not clear how much each Mohlaloga and Mohlahlane allegedly received, but the state says the stolen money was used to buy two BMWs with a combined value of R866 000 for Mohlaloga, and a farm worth R2.2?million for a company owned by the Tjia Family Trust. Magwadi Goliath Tjia was a senior manager in the office of the Limpopo premier at the time, and a trustee of the trust.

All the accused are expected to appear in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Pretoria within the next three months.

* The caption and image accompanying this article were changed subsequent to publication as they originally identified Khutso Mosoma as an accused in the matter. In fact, charges against him were dropped. We regret the error.

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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.