/ 12 March 2021

‘We are all innocent,’ VBS eight tell court

8 Vbs Bank Suspects Appear At Palm Ridge Magistrate's Court
A chorus of innocent pleas from those accused of the R2.3-billion looting of VBS Mutual Bank rang out on Friday, as the state asserted its readiness for trial. (Photo by Gallo Images/OJ Koloti)

A chorus of innocent pleas from those accused of the R2.3-billion looting of VBS Mutual Bank rang out on Friday, as the state asserted its readiness for trial. At the Johannesburg specialised commercial crimes court, sitting in Palmridge, prosecutor Hein van der Merwe said the state had “a very strong case” and had finalised its probe in this leg of the VBS investigation. 

Van der Merwe revealed this during the first appearance of Danny Msiza, the ANC’s Limpopo treasurer; Mulimisi Maposa, former managing director of VBS responsible for retail; Robert Madzonga, former chief operating officer of VBS; and Kabelo Matsepe, the former ANC youth leader in Limpopo.

 Other accused are Ralliom Razwinane, Takunda Mucheke and Tshianeo Madadzhe, all three of whom are accused of being “party to the solicitation of deposits by various municipalities into VBS and influenced various municipal officials to make such investments and reinvestments”.

This follows their arrest by members of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, popularly known as the Hawks, in a simultaneous search and seizure operation in Gauteng and Limpopo provinces on Thursday.

They are facing 188 counts of racketeering, corruption, fraud, theft, and money laundering. 

Sipho Ngwema, spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), confirmed to the Mail & Guardian on Friday that the state would be asking for a court date for the trial, which they hoped would begin in October and run for 16 weeks. 

On Friday, in court, the newly arrested suspects all indicated that they would be pleading not guilty when the trial began.

Madzonga, who gained infamy a few years ago for posting about his opulent lifestyle with his then wife, Khosi, was emphatic when he professed his innocence in an affidavit read out in court. 

“On my arrest, I informed the police officers that I know nothing about the alleged offences. The state’s case against me is weak and has no reasonable prospect of success. 

“It must not be forgotten that I am presumed innocent until proven otherwise. I have faith in the South African justice system,” Madzonga contended. 

But prosecutor Van der Merwe refuted claims of a weak case against the accused. 

“The state has a very strong case against the accused. The investigation is finalised. So whatever is contained in the [charge sheet], the state is confident that it will be able to prove,” Van der Merwe said. 

Earlier on Friday, Charlotte Ngobeni, the current municipal manager of Collins Chabane municipality in Limpopo, appeared in the same court on fraud and corruption charges for depositing R120-million of municipal money into VBS. This, the NPA alleged, was in contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act. 

The NPA said that Ngobeni received a raft of luxury items and money from some of the aforementioned accused for her help in depositing municipal money into VBS. 

“Ngobeni received R51 196 for accommodation, meals, beverages, spa treatments and spa products purchased at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel and Spa in Morningside from Moshate FNB account. This account belonged to Kabelo Matsepe,” the NPA said. 

“Around 30 January 2018, Matsepe purchased a Tag Heuer ladies’ wristwatch at Arthur Kaplan Mall of Africa worth R28 500, paid for from the Matsepe FNB account. Motsepe gave the wristwatch to Ngobeni in Polokwane on 30 January 2018.”

Ngobeni, who has been municipal manager since May 2017, also said she would plead not guilty and was released on R50 000 bail. She was also arrested during the Thursday-morning blitz, and will return to court alone on 6 May. 

The other seven newly-arrested suspects join seven others, who were arrested in June last year, in a single court matter. 

The seven arrested in June are: Tshifhiwa Matodzi, the former VBS chairperson, Andile Ramavhunga, the former chief executive, Phophi Mukhodobwane, the former treasurer, Sipho Malaba, who was an auditor at KPMG, Lieutenant-General Avhsahoni Ramikosi, who was a non-executive director, and Ernest Nesane and Paul Magula, both of whom were representing the Public Investment Corporation as non-executive directors on the board.

In October last year, the other accused in the matter, the former chief financial officer of the VBS Bank, Phillip Truter, pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering. He was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment, with three years suspended. 

Commenting on this week’s arrests, Hawks head Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya said: “Now that the attendance of a suspected organised criminal group is secured in court, attention needs to be given to those who contributed to the looting from various municipalities, as well as undue beneficiaries.” 

Magistrate Phillip Venter said it was in the interest of justice that the accused be let out on bail. 

Madzonga, Raziwane and Maphosa were each granted bail of R50 000; the remaining four accused were each released on R100 000. They all return to court on 26 March, together with the seven arrested last year, on which date the NPA will request an October court date for the trial to begin.