Ace Magashule linked to R230m asbestos slush fund

Slain tender mogul told to dole out cash

31 March 2019 - 00:05 By PIETER-LOUIS MYBURGH

A trove of leaked e-mails and documents implicates ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule in a huge government contract in the Free State, and link the former premier to a businessman who was gunned down in Sandton nearly two years ago.
The leaked files suggest Magashule tapped into the proceeds of a contentious R230m "asbestos audit" deal awarded by his province's department of human settlements in 2014.
Ignatius "Igo" Mpambani, a tender mogul and a key figure in the saga, was shot dead in June 2017 while driving his Bentley down Bowling Avenue in Sandton. Mpambani had almost R1m in cash in the car. Bank records, e-mail communication, spreadsheets and related documents that belonged to the slain tender mogul reveal that some of Magashule's staffers instructed Mpambani to make payments after the human settlements department had transferred money to him for the asbestos audit.
The leaked documents are unpacked in a new book, Gangster State, Unravelling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture. These provide insight into Magashule's murky dealings with businesspeople who worked with the Free State government.
In 2014, Mpambani's company, Diamond Hill, formed a joint venture with Blackhead Consulting, a Gauteng-based engineering firm owned by businessman Edwin Sodi.
Later that year, the provincial human settlements department appointed the joint venture to determine the location of low-cost houses with unsafe asbestos roofs.
The department spent R230m on the project. It was paid to the venture in eight tranches between December 2014 and August 2016. A spreadsheet from the leaked documents suggests the two businessmen intended to carve up the proceeds in accordance with a "cost of business" schedule.
The spreadsheet lists the names or initials of entities and people who were due to receive money from the venture.
One "AM" was set to receive R10m, and an "MEC" was to be paid R2.5m.
The documents don't directly reveal the identities of "AM" or "MEC", but subsequent transactions point to the involvement of Magashule and Mathaba Leeto, the Free State's MEC for sport.
The contract is being investigated by the public protector after a complaint by the DA.
The timing of some of the requests to Mpambani from Magashule's staffers suggests the then premier may have been aware of when the venture was due to receive its payments from the department.
On March 26 2015, the department transferred R25m to the venture's account at FNB. About two weeks later, on April 10, Mpambani withdrew R300,000 in cash from an FNB branch in Rivonia before driving to Bloemfontein. Files show payments Mpambani made along the way, for tolls and a booking for a guesthouse in Bloemfontein.
Later that evening, Mpambani received an e-mail from Ipeleng Morake, who worked in the office of the premier. It included student numbers and bank details for eight students studying at the Central University of Technology, the University of the Free State and North-West University.
The following day, the businessman transferred about R240,000 to several bank accounts, using the student numbers as references for the payments.
Another request from Magashule's office reached Mpambani on May 6 2015. Moroadi Cholota, the premier's personal assistant, wrote: "Following the discussion with Ipeleng Morake, Premier requested you pay full amount of R470,000 and the remaining amount of R30,000 to one of the SRC President in Cuba [sic]." Cholota's e-mail included an invoice for tablet devices valued at R470,000.
A day after Mpambani and Sodi's venture received a fifth payment of R36.5m from the department, in August 2015, Cholota forwarded an e-mail to Mpambani that had been sent to Magashule by an acting Bloemfontein high court judge, Refiloe Mokoena. Mokoena wanted Magashule to help her source funding for her daughter's fees at the Lycoming College in the US.
"This was the initial request send [sic] to the Premier," Cholota wrote. Mpambani transferred $4,000, which at the time amounted to about R51,000, to the US college's account the following day.
Mokoena, who was later hired by sacked South African Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane, was suspended as Sars legal head over her role in the illegal R42m VAT refund granted to the Guptas.
In August 2015, Mpambani paid a further R300,000 for new tablet devices after a request from Morake.
The leaked documents also reveal sequences of events that suggest Magashule tapped into Mpambani's asbestos audit funds for party-political purposes.
On January 19 2016, Magashule met then president Jacob Zuma in Pretoria, according to the former premier's official diary obtained through a Promotion of Access to Information Act request. It is not clear whether Magashule was accompanied by Thabo Meeko, the ANC's spokesperson in the Free State, but Meeko tweeted the following later that day: "ANC Free State to convene the mother of all marches in defence of President Zuma, on 06 Feb 2016."
On January 28, the Free State human settlements department transferred R10m, payment No6, to the Diamond Hill-Blackhead Consulting venture.
On February 3, Mpambani withdrew R500,000 in cash from an FNB branch in Sandton and again drove to Bloemfontein. The next day, he used R230,000 of the asbestos audit's proceeds to pay three transport companies for "shuttle services", according to his bank records. He flagged the payments "Igo-Cosatu", "bus service-rally" and "WI Mangaung".
An employee at one of the transport companies confirmed that it had transported members of the ANC Women's League to the ANC march in Bloemfontein on February 6. Mpambani also transferred R50,000 to a bus company in May 2016, marking the payment as "bus shuttle service".
Sodi told the Sunday Times the allegations were "sad and unfortunate".
"I cannot believe the author pursued this, especially after we answered all his questions and gave him full access to all of our bank accounts. From the beginning we played open cards with the author. I will definitely be taking legal action."
Mokoena told the Sunday Times: "If the money was paid by the businessman, did he steal the money from government or was that his money for the tender he won? You should ask that. What if the money was a donation from an uncle or a blesser? I am not going to answer if the money was paid or not, we will deal with that later."
Meeko said he would not deny nor confirm that Sodi and Mpambani had donated money to the party.
"The ANC, when in need of money, will issue requests to business people for contributions to help the party so that it can fulfil its work," said Meeko. "As far as we know, [Magashule] conducted himself within the party disciplines."
ANC spokesperson Dakota Legoete said the party had not heard of the claims and would not comment on hearsay.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.