Hawks arrest Free State ‘asbestos project’ players

The Hawks have arrested several people, including prominent businessman Edwin Sodi, involved in the theft of more than R200-million from the Free State department of human settlements under the guise of an asbestos audit in that province. 

Up to seven people picked up in three different provinces are expected to make appearances at the Bloemfontein high court for charges related to fraud and corruption as well as contravention of the Public Finance Management Act, the Mail & Guardian has learnt. Five companies are scheduled to appear alongside them on Friday.

The arrests came a day after Sodi — a director in one of the companies, Blackhead Consulting — appeared before the commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture, where he was questioned about payments made to civil servants, and prominent politicians in the ANC. 

Since early August the commission has heard evidence from people involved in the 2013 project to audit houses that had asbestos in their ceilings with a view to eradicate it. 

Others arrested, the M&G has also learnt, include the department’s former head, Nthimotse Mokhesi, and former national human settlements director general Thabane Zulu. 

Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation head General Godfrey Lebeya said the arrests were a culmination of investigations that started in February, and which included collaboration with the commission chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

“There are seven people that we want to fetch there, if we find them … We’ve had our warrants for some time,” Lebeya said on Wednesday morning. 

He added the Hawks were careful to avoid a repeat of what happened in the arrest of former Bosasa chief operations officer Angelo Agrizzi in February 2019, while he was still expected to return to give further evidence at the commission. At the time Agrizzi’s legal representatives intimated that  the arrests were designed to intimidate his client. 

“We are working closely with the commission. We look at the impact of whatever action we are taking,” he added. 

Lebeya said the identities of the arrested would only be released once they appear in court. “Some of them are witnesses and some of them are suspects, so we will wait.”

Evidence put before the Zondo commission on this matter thus far includes that Sodi paid R600 000 to a car dealership where Zulu bought a Range Rover, and made a further R650 000 payment towards a property purchase by Mokhesi. 

Both officials in their capacity were found to have acted in ways that allowed a joint venture between Blackhead Consulting and Diamond Hill to obtain a tender worth R230-million to carry out work that in the end cost R21-million. 

Various investigations, including by the public protector and the auditor general, flagged the projects as far back as five years ago, but payments continued until last year. 

According to Sunday World Blackhead Consulting has netted up to R2-billion in state contracts.

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Sabelo Skiti

Sabelo Skiti is an investigative journalist.

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