Bribery scandal rocks metro

2015-04-26 15:00

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A Durban businessman has accused Bongiwe Sithole, the wife of eThekwini city manager Sibusiso Sithole, of being part of an extortion ring that tried to extract a R1.5?million bribe from him.

Zidhaan Pillay said his company, Aaliqah Waste Management, was entangled in a four-year legal dispute with the City of eThekwini over two cancelled tenders worth R12?million. He alleged that a middleman, acting on behalf of the city manager’s wife, had promised him that all outstanding amounts due to him from the city would be settled if he paid a bribe.

The R1.5?million bribe would allegedly be split three ways between the middleman and the Sitholes.

But Sithole and her husband have vehemently denied the allegations and intend to lay countercharges against Pillay and the middleman, businessman Sydney Pandaram, saying the men are trying to destroy their reputations.

They are also threatening to take legal action against Pillay and Pandaram.

Pillay has put forward a range of charges related to the alleged bribery attempt. He has reported the matter to the Public Protector, to the municipality’s integrity unit – which is investigating his claims – and to the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), of which Bongiwe Sithole is the KwaZulu-Natal regional chief financial officer.

He has also reported the matter to KwaZulu-Natal cooperative governance MEC Nomusa Dube.

The dispute between Pillay’s company and the City of eThekwini stems from two contracts that were nullified by the city over alleged fronting and dumping of waste sludge at Ndwedwe near Verulam, north of Durban.

Pillay said he was introduced to Pandaram by his lawyer, who was helping Aaliqah Waste Management lodge a legal claim against the city for payment.

He said Pandaram suggested that he could ensure that the city settled Pillay’s his outstanding amounts – for a fee.

“I realised that this was an attempt to secure a bribe from me. I played along to see what would happen and said I could offer R500?000. Pandaram came back to me a couple of hours later and said he could get a settlement for a payment of R1.5?million,” said Pillay.

Pillay said he then pressed Pandaram for details, and was told that the money would be split between the middleman and the Sitholes.

According to Pillay, Pandaram later sent him a set of registration forms used by the city to settle debts with suppliers, saying the forms would allow him to be paid on March 25.

Pandaram, Pillay said, then drew up a a loan agreement for R1.5?million, which would allegedly be used as cover for the bribe, but it was never signed.

City Press is in possession of emails that are part of Pillay’s complaint to the Public Protector, which was lodged in February.

Also in City Press’ possession is a copy of the R1.5?million loan agreement between Pandaram and Pillay, but it doesn’t detail any money to be paid to the Sitholes.

The emails include a set of JDE registration forms meant for Pillay,

which were sent by the city manager’s sister-in-law, Thembi Masuku, by email to Bongiwe Sithole’s private address.

The city manger’s wife copied the forms to her Prasa email address and forwarded them to one of her relatives, Armstrong Ndlela, a businessman, who then forwarded the forms to Pandaram.

When asked for comment, Bongiwe Sithole strongly denied any involvement in the scam. She said she had sent forms to her relative, Ndlela, but was unaware that those forms were being sent to Pandaram.

“How this innocent act of sending a copy ended up with people unknown to me can only be replied to by Armstrong,” she said.

“I don’t have any role within the city,” she said.

Ndlela and Masuku did not respond to calls and emails from City Press.

Sibusiso Sithole also reacted angrily to accusations against him and his wife.

“These are malicious attempts to discredit me, and to sow doubt about my integrity and reputation as an honest administrator. I also believe that they are attempts to extort benefits from me and the municipality that they are not entitled to. I have never interacted with these characters or communicated with them in any manner,” he said.

Through his lawyer, Yugen Naidu, Pandaram confirmed that he had received the forms from Ndlela and had forwarded them to Pillay.

Naidu acknowledged that he had introduced Pillay to Pandaram, but alleged that it was Pillay who asked to “make representations” to have his dispute with the city settled.

“He offered Pandaram an incentive commission [to have the matter settled] as he would have in any event invested the same amount of money in protracted litigation,” said Naidu.

Naidu said Pandaram then arranged the registration forms to allow Pillay to be placed back on the city’s database.

“There had been no inappropriate promise made to any official, or any corrupt activity engaged in at all,” Naidu said.

Pillay, however, said that after being given the forms, he received a call from Pandaram informing him that he would have to sign a nondisclosure agreement to keep the contents of the emails and the loan agreement confidential.

When asked by City Press, Pandaram could not explain why he drew up the R1.5?million loan agreement.

On Friday, the KwaZulu-Natal cooperative governance department confirmed receiving the complaint, which it has referred to the city.

eThekwini spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said the city’s integrity and investigations unit was investigating the matter.

Mthethwa said the city was “not aware” of any discussions around settling any money owed to Pillay. He said the city’s attorneys conveyed the municipality’s stance on the said settlement in September 2012.

“We do not know Pandaram, and we have no dealing with him in respect of settling legal matters on behalf of the municipality,” said Mthethwa.

Public Protector spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said a complaint had been received, and the institution was assessing whether it had jurisdiction and if the matter had merit.

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