/ 3 December 2020

This is how the SIU catches crooks

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Count them: Special Investigating Unit head Andy Mothibi. (Paul Botes)

All the Special Investigating Unit’s provincial heads and their teams are working on Covid-19 corruption cases. Every Monday they have to report back to the head of the SIU, advocate Andy Mothibi, about the progress they have made. 

The SIU is wading through cases involving billions of rands meant to save lives from Covid-19 that have instead been stolen — on top of all the other corruption, fraud and money laundering cases the unit is working on.

According to Mothibi, this is a premium project and President Cyril Ramaphosa must be updated every six weeks. Currently the team is investigating more than 1 000 cases and this number continues to grow. 

“We have had to reallocate resources from other projects. We need more resources. But we have made do with what we have at the moment. We need about R384‑million to keep doing our work. If we get that we would be perfect. But our budget has been cut by R21‑million,” said Mothibi. 

Still, the team continues to pursue those swindling the state. The Mail & Guardian understands that several high-profile arrests are imminent relating to matters at the state-owned power utility, Eskom.

Mothibi would not be drawn, only stating that arrests and significant consequences are expected soon in state-owned entities, notably Transnet and Eskom. 

“One executive at Transnet forfeited about 38 cars and five houses after we got a final order a week or two ago. Now we are going to proceed with a criminal case and then the civil case. And that will happen in other cases as well.”

Mothibi said this is the same route his team will take with Gauteng’s personal protective equipment (PPE) scandal. Next week the unit is expecting to get a final order to seize assets from a number of those accused in the scandal. 

A few months ago the court interdicted the Gauteng health department from making further payments to Ledla Structural Development and 39 other companies that the SIU alleges were involved in fleecing the state. 

The same order also interdicted the Government Employees Pension Fund from releasing pension money and benefits to the former departmental chief financial officer, Kabelo Lehloenya, pending the institution of civil proceedings before the special tribunal.

The SIU is also going after alleged criminals’ pensions, ensuring that, even if they resign from their positions, as many have done before, the SIU has some assets to seize should they be found guilty. 

Beitbridge. (Phil Magakoe/AFP)

A special court

Cases are moving faster because of the special tribunal, which started its work last year, and which is able to act more expeditiously than the ordinary courts. 

Currently the value of matters before the ordinary courts total R9.9‑billion and those matters before the special tribunal involve amounts adding up to R6.9-billion. 

The special court has more than 50 matters brought by the SIU before it. 

“Everything now is taken to the special tribunal,” said Mothibi. “People who have been implicated possibly do not like it, because they do not want the process to be speeded up. In the high court you should see all the delays we have to go through. That Transnet matter was in the special tribunal. If it was in the high court, it would have taken years,” advocate Mothibi said.

Beitbridge ‘washing line’

When President Ramaphosa signed off on the proclamation to investigate how R40-million was spent on a border fence at the Beitbridge border post by the department of public works, two investigators were already assigned to the department. 

The team was sent to investigate how and why the country landed up with a “washing line” as a border fence. 

Mothibi explained that it took about two weeks for the matter to be concluded and that seven officials were implicated, including the special adviser to the public works minister, Patricia de Lille. 

“We also got an expert on fencing to tell us the quality of the fence. We had already issued a report. But the national assembly’s standing committee on public accounts wants us to investigate the alleged directives that the minister gave. We and the national treasury are still busy with that part. It’s been about a month,” said Mothibi.

He also said that the unit was following up with the department of public works to ensure that all implicated officials are subjected to disciplinary action.

Eskom’s internal conflicts

There are several proclamations on which the SIU team is currently working. Once the proclamations were signed off the team sat down and put together a project plan to identify the different aspects of the investigation.

Due to the technical environment of Eskom the team has to rely on experts who can explain aspects of electricity generation. 

“We found a lot of overpayments to some companies. We relied on the experts who understand the environment who could easily pick up these overpayments. 

“For instance, Eskom has this internal adjudication board that deals with disputes. But what we found is that Eskom was not adequately represented at that dispute resolution board and hence, the companies [that lodged payment disputes against Eskom] almost had it their own way every time. 

“A dispute would be presented, and Eskom had to pay.  But we have found that in some instances it was deliberate. They would not put across Eskom’s side of the case, and that was how the corruption was perpetrated.”

He said his team found about 5 000 employees who had conflicts of interest.

“We have also now launched a civil litigation matter jointly against some of the former board members, [a] former minister, [a] former CEO. It’s about R3.8-billion that we are seeking to recover,” Mothibi said.

Finding the Gupta billions

Mothibi says one of the biggest contracts under the SIU’s scrutiny was awarded to Gupta-connected Optimum Coal. The contract was set aside earlier this year. The unit is now in the process of recovering assets that could have fled with the Gupta family two years ago. 

“The company is under business rescue right now. We know the family has fled. I said to the team we need to kick in the asset recovery. We need to kick in the legal processes. We have information of where some of the assets are. We are working closely with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and department of justice. We are using mutual legal assistance [an international legal collaboration mechanism].”

He explained that last December the unit and law enforcement units visited the UAE for a United Nations Convention against Corruption conference. “But we were also engaging the legal authorities there about what we need.”

The Royal Bhaca Covid case

With more than 200 Covid-19 cases being investigated in Gauteng, one that made headlines was the Royal Bhaca Projects case. 

“We found that the contract was irregular. In our findings, although they allege that Royal Bhaca was withdrawn, we found that they brought in another company called Ledla Structural Development and that’s the one that now got the contract.”

But the unit found that Ledla was allegedly a proxy of Royal Bhaca, owned by Thandisizwe Diko, the husband of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko.

“We froze the accounts of about 38 companies. We received an interim order and [on 8 December] the judge will make a final judgement.”

Ledla is one of the companies whose assets the SIU hopes to freeze. 

“We had finalised the administrative part of the investigation against the former MEC [of health, Bandile Masuku].” But the investigation is ongoing as the unit builds the criminal case. We would like to make sure that the investigation is done effectively, so that when NPA makes a decision to charge, it would be on the evidence that would return an appropriate charge. And of course, we prefer that those people must be found guilty. So the evidence should be the one that supports the verdict of guilt.”