State capture: Businessman caught paying himself R2.5m of SAA tender

26 August 2020 - 17:33 By Mawande AmaShabalala
It took a while but eventually evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr reeled in businessman Vuyisile Ndzeku when she confronted him with evidence that he had paid himself R2.5m after landing a fat tender from SAA.
It took a while but eventually evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr reeled in businessman Vuyisile Ndzeku when she confronted him with evidence that he had paid himself R2.5m after landing a fat tender from SAA.
Image: SAA

There's a popular saying among isiZulu speakers in SA when one is caught red-handed in their lying ways: “Wabanjwa mpukane.” 

Simply translated, this means: “You got caught.”

And this is how one can best describe how businessman Vuyisile Ndzeku got caught by state capture commission evidence leader, advocate Kate Hofmeyr, on Wednesday.

Ndzeku, a former director of JM Aviation SA, a company that did business with Swissport  — which itself scored billions worth of contracts from SAA — appeared before the commission to answer questions over allegations that he masterminded corrupt payments, including to SAA head of procurement Lester Peter.

After denying for most of the day that he had anything to do with the payments in question — one of which was to himself to the tune of R2.5m — Ndzeku would be forced to change his story when Hofmeyr cornered him at about 2.45pm.

At the centre of Ndzeku's grilling was the R1.5bn ground-handling contract awarded to Swissport by Dudu Myeni-led SAA in March 2016.

This was after SAA introduced the so-called “30% set aside” policy, which compelled companies that got business from the national carrier to ensure that 30% of that business benefited black-owned companies.

During negotiations in February, the commission heard, Swissport had rejected complying with the 30% rule, and thus the negotiations with SAA stopped.

It was during a time when a company owned by Daluxolo Peter was proposed by Myeni and former chairperson of SAA Technical, Yakhe Kwinana, to be the BEE partner to benefit from the 30%, Ndzeku told the commission.

Just a little over a month later, on March 15, Swissport was awarded the R1.5bn contract for five years.

During the contract signing, Lester, as SAA chief of procurement, as well as Ndzeku, signed as witnesses.

Then, eight days later, Swissport would pay R28.5m to Ndzeku's company, JM Aviation SA. On the same day, JM Aviation SA processed several payments:

  • R20m to Peter's company,
  • R2.5m to BM Kolisi Attorneys, and
  • R2.5m to Ndzeku's personal account.

Ndzeku, having vehemently denied having benefited personally from the funds, was shown his own bank statements reflecting the R2.5m.

Even with this evidence literally staring him in the face, Ndzeku insisted he “cannot remember” the money coming into his account. Commission chairperson Raymond Zondo was in disbelief.

It did not end there. Ndzeku also said he did not know why his company, in which he and two of his daughters were majority shareholders, paid R20m to Peter.

Furthermore, he claimed to have been in the dark about how the R2.5m paid to Kolisi Attorneys ended up going towards the payment of two sports cars from SAA procurement boss Lester.

This, he insisted, was because his business partner, with whom they started JM Aviation SA, was the one who issued the instruction for the payments. This despite his daughter Makhosazana Sokhulu having the sole powers to approve payments in the JM Aviation SA bank account.

Hofmeyr cornered Ndzeku about the R2.5m paid to his personal bank account.

“I put it to you that it was paid to you, Mr Ndzeku,” charged Hofmeyr.

Ndzeku replied: “That’s good, I am happy. What was that money for?”

Hofmeyr: “You could enlighten us.”

Zondo entered the fray: “Do you now accept that the money was paid to your account?”

Buckling under pressure, Ndzeku conceded: “I do, but I was thinking this money is going to the company. Maybe it was an agreement between JM and myself.”

Raising his voice, an agitated Zondo pointed out: “Mr Ndzeku, it cannot be that all the time you are going to say 'maybe'. Tell me what you know.”

Ndzeku would repeatedly say: “I am sorry to disappoint, chairperson, but I cannot remember.”

Hofmeyr jumped in: “Mr Ndzeku, only Ms Sokhulu, your daughter, could authorise these payments.”

And with that it was case closed as the commission moved on to other topics related to Ndzeku's role on matters of SAA capture.

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