Sithole ‘avoids’ Scorpions probe

2008-05-27 00:00

Former uMgungundlovu district mayor Bongi Sithole has so far avoided being interviewed by members of the Scorpions investigators who initiated the prosecution of KwaZulu-Natal businessman Lucky Moloi, property developer Neville Watts, Msunduzi councillor Themba Zungu and council Speaker Alpha Shelembe.

This emerged yesterday when the four men appeared briefly before Pietermaritzburg magistrate, Paul van Dongen, for their second court appearance in connection with charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering.

The case was postponed until July 9 for further investigation.

Scorpions advocate Rema Mahabeer told Van Dongen that the team will endeavour to finalise its investigations by then, but said one of the problems they faced was that some people who had been summonsed to appear before them to assist with their inquiries, have failed to do so.

Asked by Van Dongen to explain this, she said an example was the former mayor, Sithole, who had sent a sick note to explain her absence on the day she was due to be interviewed.

Another matter still outstanding was the need to obtain a handwriting sample from Shelembe for analysis. Investigators had been promised co-operation in this regard.

The accused so far face a total of six charges. During the time of the alleged offences, between July 2003 and December 2003, Zungu, Shelembe and Moloi were all employed as councillors of uMgungundlovu district municipality, while Watts was a private estate agent.

The council was in need of office and parking space and was looking for suitable properties between January 2002 and October 2003.

One property on the market was MIB house in Langalibalele Street owned by Cenpark Shareblock (Pty) Ltd. The directors of the company were G.A. Breetzke and E.M. Hobson.

The prosecution alleges that the three then-councillors and Watts colluded to buy the property at an inflated price and then shared the "excess" money amounting to R1 000 000, which was paid out as commission. It is alleged that the sellers initially agreed to a purchase price of R6 000 000 (plus R500 000 as the agent’s commission). Prior to the sale being concluded, Watts allegedly met with Breetzke and discussed an increase in the sale price to R6 650 000 with the extra money being used for a larger commission, which was allegedly agreed to.

Thereafter, Moloi and the former mayor (Bongi Sithole) allegedly met with Breetzke and informed him of their intention to once again increase the sale price of MIB House to R6 850 000. Breetzke (on behalf of the sellers) only wanted to realise R6 000 000 (million) from the sale, and acquiesced.

The state alleges that after the sale was concluded the seller got R5 680 000, with the "commission" of R1 000 000 being shared by the four accused. Zungu allegedly got R150 000 and Shelembe and Moloi each received R200 000.

It is alleged that Watts corruptly paid them these amounts as a "reward" for "strongly recommending" and approving the purchase of MIB house at council.

It is alleged that at Watt’s insistence, the money paid to Zungu and Shelembe was "laundered" in such a way as to conceal the origin and the identities of Zungu and Shelembe as beneficiaries of the funds.

Zungu and Shelembe were also charged with money laundering for making cheques out to third parties.

Moloi was at pains to avoid being photographed at the magistrate’s court yesterday, wagging his finger and turning his rapidly disappearing back on Witness photographer Shan Pillay. Watts is on bail of R2 000, and the others on R5 000 bail each.

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