/ 26 March 2021

R2.3-billion VBS Mutual Bank heist trial to start soon

Local municipalities lost more than R1.2 billion when VBS Mutual Bank collapsed.
An unlawfully appointed municipal manager in Limpopo, who “irregularly” deposited R50-million into VBS Mutual Bank, continued to advertise lucrative tenders despite a high court order against him.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is ready to pull the trigger in the alleged R2.3-billion VBS Mutual Bank heist, with the trial date expected to be set in August. 

On Friday, at the Johannesburg specialised commercial crimes court sitting in Palmridge, prosecutor Hein van der Merwe said the matter will now move to the Pretoria high court for a pre-trial conference. 

“The matter will be transferred to the Pretoria high court on 2 August. The trial date will be set on 2 August,” Van der Merwe told the court. 

NPA spokesperson Sipho Ngwema told the Mail & Guardian earlier this month that the state wanted the trial to begin in October, and hoped it would run for 16 weeks. 

Fourteen accused are expected to face 188 counts of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and racketeering. Van der Merwe said the state had finalised and handed over the indictment to the defence lawyers, who all confirmed this, as well as the pre-trial conference date. 

The first eight accused were arrested in June last year. Phillip Truter, the bank’s former chief financial officer, pleaded guilty and received an effective seven years’ imprisonment. Truter, according to van der Merwe, agreed to turn state witness and spill the beans on the alleged plunder. 

The other seven were 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.

Two weeks ago, the Hawks arrested seven other accused. They are Robert Madzonga, the former chief operating officer; former Limpopo ANC leader Kabelo Matsepe; Daniel Msiza, the ANC’s Limpopo treasurer; and Mulimisi Maposa, VBS’s former managing director of retail; as well as Ralliom Razwinane, Takunda Mucheke and Tshianeo Madadzhe, all four of whom were commission agents that benefited from the alleged illegal deposit of municipal funds in the bank. 

All 14 accused, who are out on bail ranging from R10 000 to R100 000 each, have indicated that they would plead not guilty to all charges, and said the state had “a weak case” against them. 

In the charge sheet, the state claims that an intricate scheme was hatched in the alleged two-year looting spree from April 2016 to March 2018. 

“Fictitious transactions” and “front companies”, according to the charge sheet, were used in the siphoning of funds that bankrupted VBS. 

So elaborate was the plunder, the state asserted, that Matodzi, Ramavhunga, Truter and Mukhodobwane allegedly stole R262-million in 12 days during March 2017, “by creating fictitious credits” in 35 VBS accounts.

Truter is expected to reveal how this was done, including how the financial statement for the year ending March 2017, which was signed off by KPMG, reflected that the bank was solvent, when it allegedly was not. 

All accused are expected to appear at the Pretoria high court on 2 August.