Tycoon in dirty tender dealings

2012-08-18 16:15

Recordings implicate Neo Africa boss in business of paying officials to secure government tenders

Secret recordings reveal a business tycoon talking about millions in payments to senior government officials, apparently to secure government business.

The recordings are of Vivien Natasen, whose company, Neo Solutions – now known as Neo Africa – has scored hundreds of millions in state tenders.

Neo Solutions’ business includes a stake in the R8.8 billion taxi-recapitalisation project in which it was hired to help with the scrapping of taxis.

The recordings were made by two people, one a former senior employee with Neo Africa and the other a former business associate to Natasen.

When called for comment, Natasen denied any knowledge of the conversations and said suggestions that he had paid off government officials were false and defamatory.

One recording, in City Press’ possession, was leaked to anti-graft organisation Corruption Watch by a whistle-blower who requested an investigation.

Corruption Watch approached Media24 Investigations with the recording and the latter was able to independently locate the second recording.

City Press has also established that the tapes do contain Natasen’s voice.

The two recordings date back to 2007 and relate to the then Neo Solutions dealings with the Gauteng department of public works.

The company was awarded a R23 million contract as the lead consultant in the department’s expanded public works programme.

At times, in the recordings, Natasen appears to protest that he would never consider irregular or corrupt business practices, while in other parts of the conversation he appears to speak clearly about some eyebrow-raising business activities.

He can also be heard saying he had used an auditor to conduct a lifestyle audit on officials who were being paid – apparently to ensure that they were not spending in a manner that would be noticed.

“There is an auditor ... who goes and checks on all these contracts ... he does lifestyle audits of all the officials.

“Although there’s no money flow there, this oke (guy) is political and he’s being used to push money (the) ANC’s way,” Natasen says. He also claims that money was being paid to the ANC as part of the business of securing government tenders.

Natasen raised his concerns about the R3 million which the said auditor had apparently set aside to pay the officials. In the recording, he can be heard saying he would negotiate that the amount be reduced.

He also said he would approach the person in charge of the public works department at the time as he was demanding more money out of the deal than the profit the company was making.

“At the end of the day we do need the work ... but I cannot do the work at a loss. I am not going to work to make them (officials) rich,” he said.

Further, in the recordings, Natasen bragged that if information about payments to the officials ever emerged, he would be able to “break the link four times” between himself and them through another company he owned, with payments being made by other entities to the officials.

“I mean it’s very uncomfortable for me, because I am a CA (chartered accountant). I’d never ever put my CA at risk for that ... I’ve got to make sure my hands will be kept clean the whole time,” he said.

In one of the recordings, Natasen claims that two senior officials who signed a contract had been paid off.

When called for comment on the above, he denied that his company had ever paid any government official.

He said he never had any relationship with the officials mentioned in the tapes and that City Press should verify their authenticity.

Natasen said the officials mentioned on the recording had not even supported any of the tenders that were submitted by any of his companies.

David Lewis of Corruption Watch said: “We would like to see the law-enforcement authorities and the Public Protector systematically review every public sector tender in which Neo Africa and its associated companies have featured whether as project managers, forensic investigators or human resources consultants.”

In 2010, Neo Africa was hired by the Limpopo education department. The company was paid R3.7 million to investigate its financial affairs and allegations of serious irregularities surrounding the textbook-procurement contract given to EduSolutions.

The company’s report reveals that it approved of the department giving EduSolutions the contract. Earlier this year, the contract was terminated and called illegal after national government took over the department’s administration.

Lewis said Neo Africa’s role in approving the tender to EduSolutions had played a “pivotal role” in the failure to detect a tender irregularity.

In its response, Gauteng said that the now disbanded public transport, roads and works ministry did hire Neo Solutions for the duration of a year. “All procurement processes were adhered to and we are not aware of any allegations of staff impropriety other than those alleged in your media enquiry.”

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