Tribunal rules SIU can seek to recover money from Mkhize’s family

The Special Tribunal on Wednesday granted an application by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to add five more legal entities linked to the family of former health minister Zweli Mkhize to the list of those from whom it seeks to recover money in the Digital Vibes scandal.

This includes Cedar Falls Properties, a company in which Mkhize’s wife May is the sole director.

The other companies the SIU will now add as respondents in bid to recover the proceeds of the contracts are All Out Trading (Pty), of which Mkhize’s son Dedani is the sole director, Sirela Trading, of which he is a co-director, and Tusokhule Farming, the company that owns his shares in the Cedar Falls farm.

Mkhize was forced to resign his cabinet post after impropriety in two contracts awarded to Digital Vibes came to light and Wednesday’s ruling extends the list of family members in the sights of the SIU to his daughter-in-law.

The unit will seek to recover R650 000 from Sithokozile Mkhize, who is married to Dedani, for money received to shopfit her nail salon in Pietermaritzburg.

The money flowed via Mateta Projects, which is owned by Welcome Mthethwa, the husband of a former ANC staff member at Luthuli House.

According to the SIU, Mateta Projects received R10.6-million from Digital Vibes and parcelled the money out to the then-minister’s family and their companies, and the son of Tahera Mather, Mkhize’s friend who managed the Digital Vibes deals with the health department.

In its application, it stated that its ongoing investigations “unearthed a further flow of funds from Mateta Projects to various members of the Mkhize family and companies associated with them”.

The unit alleges that the payments amount to bribes “for the illegal exercise of constitutional obligations and/or abuse of authority by former minister Mkhize for influencing the awarding of the impugned contracts to Digital Vibes”.

It said that had the money been paid directly to Mkhize’s son and daughter-in-law and their companies, the transfers would have raised suspicion. Hence the bank account of Mateta Projects served to “obscure” the source, effectively an exercise in money-laundering.

According to the SIU, Mateta paid R570 000 to All Out Trading over four months in 2020 and a further R350 000 to one Talha Gani, who then transferred the sum to All Out Trading. Mateta also paid R3.7-million to Sirela, from where transfers then flowed “for the alleged benefit” of May and Dedani Mkhize.

This included a payment of R1.88-million in service of a loan with Ithula Bank for May Mkhize’s acquisition of the Cedar Falls farm.

“Hence the SIU alleges that the payment was made for the benefit of Dr May Mkhize,” the tribunal noted in its ruling.

Mthethwa opposed the joinder, insisting that the money was received by Mateta for work done by Digital Vibes as part of a Covid-19 project with the department.

The SIU is seeking to have the two contracts — one with the National Health Insurance concluded in November 2019 and an extension for a Covid-19 media campaign that followed five months later — set aside for lack of compliance with regulatory rules in a review application.

The department paid over R150-million to the company in respect of both contracts, and the SIU is seeking to recover the money from the former minister, Digital Vibes directors Mather and Naadhira Mitha, and the owner of the company Radha Hariram. 

It secured a freezing order against various accounts in June last year, and subsequently filed a first joinder application against former department of health official Khubane Ngobese.

It alleged that she received R6 000 as inducement to authorise departmental payments to Digital Vibes. On Tuesday, parliament’s joint standing committee on ethics and members’ interests cleared Mkhize on a complaint that he breached the executive ethics code on two counts. 

The committee found it could not hold him responsible for alleged financial benefit, in the form of payments of R300 000 and R160 000, received by his adult son Thamsanqa, because the code defines immediate family members as spouses, permanent companions or dependents.

It could also not fault Mkhize in relation to payments of R6 720 for electrical work at his property in Bryanston, which allegedly constituted improper benefits, because his son was the person who liaised with the maintenance company and paid the invoices.

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