SMS could sink brazen ‘con man’

2013-03-17 10:00

Hustler operating in ministerial circles could have blown his cover.

If the stories are true, Philane Cele was a man with many faces.

Supposedly a close confidant of government ministers, Cele claimed to have the ear of the president’s spokesperson and he drank only Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal whiskies.

His office, he told people, was at the very top of the SABC’s building in Auckland Park.

It was Cele who allegedly sent ANC heavyweight Enoch Godongwana an SMS informing him of “da news of yo (Godongwana’s)” imminent arrest, adding that he was “willing to show u da evidence”.

But, on Tuesday, Cele went on trial for allegedly attempting to extort R3?500 worth of “travelling money” from Godongwana in exchange for showing him “da evidence” .

When Cele allegedly informed Godongwana of his imminent “arrest” and the help he could offer, he also provided a number for “Mthunzi Mhanga”, a National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman who would confirm that Cele was the “charging coordinator” with the police’s Hawks unit.

The name of the real NPA spokesperson is Mthunzi Mhaga.

“Fortunately for me, I know (the real) Mr Mhaga. What struck me when I spoke to this man (the fake Mthunzi Mhaga), was that he was Zulu- speaking and I know that Mr Mhaga is Xhosa-speaking,” Godongwana told the Palm Ridge Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.

“We’d been going through a lot of stress because our company (Canyon Springs) was going through liquidation and some of the people involved were arrested in December,” said Godongwana.

Godongwana was referring to the scandal rumoured to have forced his resignation as a deputy minister of economic development last year.

He stepped down after it emerged that R100?million was taken from a trust fund meant for members of the SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union, and then lent to Canyon Springs, a company in which Godongwana and his wife held a 50% share.

Magistrate Reginald Dama asked Godongwana if a person in the capacity of a deputy minister wouldn’t be expected to ask what kind of help Cele was offering.

“If a warrant existed, you wanted it to be stopped?” asked Dama.

“If it was wrong, yes. Nobody wants to sit in jail, even if it’s only for one day,” Godongwana replied.

Defence lawyer JP Venter said that Cele denied any knowledge of or involvement in the alleged extortion of the money.

The real Mthunzi Mhaga also took the stand to read out one of the messages, allegedly from Cele, that Godongwana had forwarded to him.

An acquaintance of Cele, who asked not to be named, told City Press, outside court, that he frequently boasted about his contacts with senior members of the ANC.

“He would say: ‘Chief, I’m going to pick up the minister, we’re going to discuss something secret.’ Or: ‘Chief, turn down that music. I’m speaking to Mac (Maharaj).’”

The man said nobody was ever sure if Cele was really speaking to the people in question or if these were just empty boasts.

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