#FSAsbestosGate: Order granted to seize assets

The NPA's Sipho Ngwema. Photo: Heidre Malgas
The Bloemfontein High Court has granted the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) an asset freezing order worth R300 million in connection with the controversial 2013/14 asbestos housing project in the Free State.

OFM News reports that, the NPA is in the process of evaluating the assets of the seven suspects accused of fraud, corruption, and money laundering for their respective roles in the controversial 2013/14 asbestos housing project in the Free State.

This overall value is made up of the tender’s worth, plus interest from date of the commission of the crimes up until 30 September 2020. OFM News’ Olebogeng Motse reports some of these assets, which include properties and vehicles, are located in Bloemfontein.

Following the suspects’ brief Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court appearance on Friday, the AFU paid visits to properties at the Lilyvale and Wild Olive Estates respectively, to evaluate the worth of those assets. These properties belong to accused number 12 in the matter, the recently ousted Mangaung Metro Mayor, Olly Mlamleli, and accused number one, the former head of the Free State Human Settlements Department, Nthimotse Mokhesi. Mlamleli and Mokhesi were joined in the dock on Friday by their alleged co-conspirators where it was confirmed they are facing a total of 60 charges, which include corruption, fraud, and money laundering.

All seven suspects were released on bail ranging between R50 000 and R500 000. The case has been postponed to 11 November 2020, when it is expected to be transferred to the Free State High Court for trial.

Mokhesi, businessman Sello Radebe, the former Director-General (DG) of the national Human Settlements Department Thabane Zulu, and Mlamleli were each granted R100 000 bail. Edwin Sodi, who is at the centre of the debacle as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Johannesburg company, Blackhead Consulting, will have to cough up R500 000 for bail, a sum he has agreed to. Sodi is reported to have handed himself over to authorities on Wednesday.

Only two accused raised concerns regarding their bail amounts, the first being an official in the supply chain division of the Free State Human Settlements Department, identified as Mahlomola John Matlakala and Kgotso Monyeki. These two are out on bail of R50 000 each, less than the R100 000 proposed by prosecutor Johan De Nysschen.

After Matlakala and Monyeki’s legal representatives raised concerns regarding the R100 000 bail amounts, De Nysschen responded that these are extremely serious charges that could land any of the accused in jail for up to 15 years, and warned that the R100 000 was the price they had to pay for their involvement. De Nysschen also revealed the investigation into the matter is between 80 and 85% complete and that he was ready to hand over the provisional indictment.

“The five companies at the centre of the matter are Blackhead Consulting, Diamond Hill Trading 71 (Pty) Ltd, 605 Consulting Solutions (Pty) Ltd, Mastertrade 232 (Pty) Ltd, and the Ori Group (Pty) Ltd”.

Sodi was awarded a tender by the Free State Human Settlements Department in 2014 worth R255 million, paid to his joint venture with Diamond Hill Trading, owned by slain Welkom native Ignatius “Igo” Mpambani.

In his testimony at the Zondo Commission this week, Sodi admitted failure to declare that his company had no accreditation to carry out the entire project and that he had invested in a residential property in Bloemfontein with the then department head, Nthimotse Mokhesi.

During his testimony, however, Mokhesi could not respond to questions as to why Sodi invested R650 000 in the house he lived in just months after his department awarded the joint venture the R255 million contract.

Zulu, on the other end, is said to have benefited from a R600 000 payment towards the purchase of a Range Rover made by Sodi in KwaZulu-Natal in December 2016. Mlamleli was the then MEC of the provincial Human Settlements Department. The tender was also subject to an investigation by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane who highlighted parts of the tender that contravened the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

Mkhwebane revealed the Free State was in possession of the Gauteng Department’s Legal Service Agreement, which had expired, and went ahead to pay the service provider despite the Auditor-General having declared the procurement as irregular, as early as July 31 in 2015.