/ 22 October 2020

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

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(From far left): Sybil Ngcobo, Mmakgosi Mosupi, Valdis Romaano and Obakeng Mookeletsi. They appeared in the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on Thursday. (Supplied)

The recent blitz of arrests for government-based fraud and corruption amounted to a combined R1.4-billion by Thursday; the latest arrests have taken place in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape. 

In Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, 49-year-old Pumza Gambula was arrested on two counts of fraud for allegedly swindling the OR Tambo district municipality of R4.8-million related to Covid-19-awareness workshops the state said she did not conduct. 

Pumza Gambula during her appearance at the Mthatha magistrate’s court. (Supplied)

She was arrested by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, better known as the Hawks

From March to June, Gambula’s company, Phathilizwi Training Institute, which has also been charged, submitted two invoices to the district municipality using alleged fraudulent documents. 

“The state alleges that the accused [Gambula] and their employees visited the wards in these municipalities, however, members of the community were asked to write down their names for Covid-19 social grants.  

“No Covid-19 awareness workshops were conducted,” the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said.

“Attendance registers attached to the invoices as proof of services rendered contained names of people who were not staying in some of the wards that were visited by the accused as part of their ‘door-to-door awareness campaign on Covid-19’. 

“These documents were widely circulated on social media leading to massive national outcry,” the NPA added.

NPA spokesperson Sipho Ngwema told the Mail & Guardian that there was a possibility of more arrests being made in addition to that of Gambula. 

“The investigations are ongoing and more arrests could be made in this matter,” he said when asked about why the employees were not arrested. 

Gambula was released on R20 000 bail, and indicated she would plead not guilty to the two fraud charges. 

A billion rand in Gauteng

Meanwhile, at the Johannesburg specialised commercial crimes court, four senior Gauteng department of health employees made their first appearance to face charges of corruption (amounting to R1-billion) and contravening the Public Finance Management Act. 

The accused are: Sybil Ngcobo, former head of department and its accounting officer; Mmakgosi Mosupi, former chief director of information and communications technology; Valdis Romaano, former director of supply-chain management; and Obakeng Mookeletsi, deputy director general for executive support. 

This related to a 2007 open tender to procure electronic systems for the department’s human-resources department. The tender was estimated to cost R630-million, but ballooned to more than R1-billion. 

The charge sheet, which the M&G has seen, said the price inflation was caused by a number of allegedly fraudulent deviations, and that more than R1-million in bribes were paid. 

Ramaano is accused of having received R952 358 towards the refurbishment of his house, while Mookeletsi received a direct payment into his personal bank account. 

The alleged bribes were paid by two company directors, both of whom are known to the M&G, and are listed on the charge sheet, but could not be arrested as yet because they are out of the country. 

“The criminal investigation by the Hawks is subsequent to an investigation by the SIU [Special Investigation Unit] that was authorised by the [then acting president Kgalema Motlanthe] on 14 May 2010,” Ngwema said. 

“The SIU was to investigate the procurement and contracting for goods and services in respect [of] the provisioning of a health information system and electronic health records … by the [Gauteng department of health] during or about December 2007. 

He added: “They also had to investigate all the irregularities surrounding the contract.”   

Ngwema said that arrests of officials who held more senior positions, whose names are known to the M&G, were expected as investigations continue. 

All four accused indicated they intended to plead not guilty. Ngcobo was released on R8 000 bail, while her three co-accused were each granted bail of R25 000.

The accused are expected back in court in December.