‘I was bullied into R6m Madiba fraud’

2014-12-07 06:00

One of the Buffalo City Municipality (BCM) officials accused of being involved in fraudulent behaviour involving R5.9?million was allegedly bullied into signing forms and threatened by the municipality’s financial boss at a set of traffic lights in East London.

This was revealed in documents that were recently handed to lawyers who are involved in the trial of BCM mayor Zukiswa Ncitha, her deputy Temba Tinta, council speaker Luleka Simon-Ndzele, senior councillor Sindiswa Gomba and Ondela Mahlangu, acting director of support services at the municipality.

The ANC’s regional secretary, Pumlani Mkolo; Mzwandile Sokwali; his wife, Busisiwe Boti; Viwe Vazi; Dean Fanoe; and Zintle Nkuhlu have also been implicated.

They are accused of fraud and money laundering linked to millions or rands that were supposed to be spent on transporting mourners to memorial services after Nelson Mandela died last December.

City Press has seen a report Mahlangu sent to city manager Andile Fani on January 29 in which she talks about how she was allegedly pressured by colleagues into signing documents.

Mahlangu’s report to Fani, a transcript of a discussion about mayor Nchita’s request for R10?million from the council as well as several affidavits, which form part of the state’s case, have been handed to defence lawyers so they can prepare for the trial, which starts in April.

In her report, Mahlangu tells Fani that on December 12 2013 she got a phone call from Vincent Pillay, BCM’s chief financial officer.

She alleges Pillay told her he’d prepared a deviation report to procure transport services so mourners from the municipality could attend memorial services for Mandela, which were being held around the Eastern Cape.

“I must come urgently to sign it. I asked him why should it be signed by me, and Mr Pillay said because the matter was a public participation issue and that the R10?million approved by council had been injected into the directorate,” Mahlangu said in the report. “I signed reluctantly.”

The R10?million had been approved by the BCM council on December 11, six days after Mandela died, with all political parties apart from the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) agreeing that it was necessary.

The PAC objected because there was no clear breakdown on how the money would be spent.

The state alleges that R5.9?million was irregularly paid to service providers without any proof that they did what they were supposed to do.

On December 12, Mahlangu said in her report, she got other “urgent and instructive” phone calls from Pillay asking her to sign another form for the service provider who had been appointed.

“I refused because I was not clear as to whether or not all the relevant procurement processes were followed,” Mahlangu said in the report.

“[For] the best part of that afternoon, I got calls from Mr Pillay and his personal assistant, Bornie, for me to come and sign the requisite forms.”

When she was leaving work that evening, Mahlangu said, Pillay phoned her again and she ignored him.

“I was driving home waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. Little did I know that the car in front of me at the Beach Road intersection was Mr Pillay’s.

“He came out of his car and pointed a finger at me in a threatening manner,” she wrote.

On December 13, Mkolo phoned and “confronted me for not wanting to sign and told me that I am not that senior. If anything goes wrong, I will not be accountable.”

Mkolo also allegedly told Mahlangu he sensed she didn’t trust the ANC leadership.

“I responded by stating that for me that was not the issue, [but that] my concern and fear is based on possible flouting of procurement processes,” she wrote.

Mahlangu told Fani that Ncitha had also called to ask why she wouldn’t sign, but that after explaining her concerns to the mayor, Ncitha “understood [my] position”.

After Fani gave her background information about the plans and after Pillay had assured her that all procurement processes had been followed, Mahlangu signed the documents.

She said in the report that the last invoice she signed, for R3?million, related to the memorial services and was brought to her by a messenger on January 17 from Pillay’s office, who had earlier called to enquire about her whereabouts.

Mahlangu refused to comment when contacted yesterday, saying: “I cannot comment about such things over the phone.”

In an affidavit Pillay made to the investigators, and which forms part of the bundle handed over this week, he says Mahlangu was told by Fani “that she may withdraw the deviation report if she is uncomfortable with the document and indicate to him why she had concerns”.

In his affidavit, he also denied pointing a finger at Mahlangu in a threatening manner. He said he’d merely used hand gestures to indicate that she should pick up her phone.

Neither Pillay nor Mkolo were willing to comment when contacted yesterday.

Advocate Matthew Mpahlwa, for the accused, confirmed he’d received the docket, but would not discuss its contents.

“I cannot get into the merits of the case,” Mpahlwa said.

Meanwhile, three independent sources close to the case have told City Press that Sokwali and Boti are considering turning state witness.

This is after the pair asked for a separation of trial, which was granted in the East London Regional Court earlier this month.

They are scheduled to appear in court again on Tuesday.

The rest of the accused are due back in court for the start of their trial on April 7.

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