The office of the former premier of the Free State, Ace Magashule, allegedly made numerous “onerous requests” to a late Welkom businessman for payments of monies for different purposes, the commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Wednesday.
The said businessman was Phikolomzi Ignatius “Igo” Mpambani, who acceded to these requests by effecting payments using monies allegedly gained “fraudulently” through a contract his company scored from the Free State department of human settlements without it being put to tender.
Mpambani, who was fatally gunned down on June 2017 in a mafia-style shooting in Sandton, scored a R255 million contract with the department on December 2014, the commission heard.
Former Free State economic development MEC Mxolisi Dukwana told the chair of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that the key characters in these “onerous requests” and subsequent positive responses were Mpambani, and two officials at Magashule’s office, namely Ipeleng Morake and Moroadi Cholota, who acted on behalf of the former premier.
Dukwana said Mpambani was in constant communication with Cholota, who, on behalf of Magashule, made the requests for monies that no business could have sustained.
The commission heard that on July 17, 2015, suspended SA Revenue Service (Sars) executive Refiloe Mokoena sent an email to the office of the premier requesting the settlement of her daughter’s university fees.
“I have no idea [why Mokoena would make such a request],” Dukwana said, explaining that had Mokoena’s daughter been awarded a provincial government bursary then such communication would be directed to the director-general and it was “strange” to communicate this directly with the office of the premier.
On August 12, 2015, Choloto subsequently sent Mokoena’s request to Mpambani, requesting the university fees be paid.
“I don’t understand why it would go to Igo [Mpambani],” Dukwana said.
On August 17, 2015, Mpambani sent Cholota a proof of payment of an amount of $4,000 (US dollars) towards the university fees, which the latter acknowledged receipt of the next day.
Other correspondence viewed by the commission revealed that Mpambani was requested to pay R470,000 and another R30, 000 to a students’ representative council president in Cuba.
A request with the official stamp of the office of the premier was on January 28, 2016, sent by Cholota to Mpambani for the latter to pay R250,000 to a travel agency, a request Dukwana described as “very strange”.
Dukwana alleged that during Magashule’s tenure as Free State premier a system that “undermined the system of good governance” took root in the province, leading to “abnormal things” happening with impunity.
“This is a person who gets a tender … immediately after that, these requests are made,” Dukwana said.
Zondo noted that this request could have not been a payment for the premier’s official travels and that possibly Magashule’s office was facilitating the payments on behalf of someone else, which the chair said raised questions.
The commission heard that Mpambani’s joint venture, a business arrangement he had entered into with an Edwin Sodi, received a letter of appointment for an asbestos eradication project on December 1, 2014, which stated the auditing and assessment of houses with asbestos roofing in the province should be complete by March 31, 2015.
The commission further heard that despite the above-stipulated date of the conclusion of the project, other payments were envisaged beyond May 2015.
A service letter agreement between Mpambani’s entity and the department dated August 2017 was also dealt with at the commission.
Considering the “onerous requests” to Mpambani, Dukwana said one could draw inferences that each time the late businessman’s entity received payments from the department for the project, Cholota and Morake would be notified and they would subsequently alert Magashule.
“Mr Magashule was simply a blesser to many due to payments advanced from Mr Mpambani,” Dukwana said.
He described the asbestos eradication project as the “asbestos heist”, which he said was “brazen fraud, money laundering and daylight robbery” of public funds.
Dukwana also produced a spreadsheet which he said had been prepared by Mpambani detailing costs his entity bore with regards to the project.
The spreadsheet showed that certain individuals, who are represented via initials – abbreviations, were paid from proceeds Mpambani’s entity gained from the project.
According to the spreadsheet, a Mr X, who could not be named at the commission following a request by their legal counsel, Advocate Mike Hellens, on Tuesday, was paid R10 million, a TM was paid R5 million, an AM was paid R10 million, and OM was paid R1 million, among others.
Dukwana told the commission that TM was an abbreviation for Thabo Mokhesi, the head of the department, AM stood for Ace Magashule and OM represented Oli Mlamuleli, who was the MEC of the department.