EXCLUSIVE: Man killed in Sandton 'hit' linked to R255m Free State contract

A businessman who was gunned down in an apparent hit in Sandton last year can be linked to a questionable R255m "asbestos auditing" contract from the Free State department of human settlements. 

Ignatius "Igo" Mpambani, then 37, was shot dead in broad daylight in June as he was driving down Sandton's Bowling Avenue in a Bentley worth about R3m.

Police at the time confirmed that the shooter or shooters did not take any money from the scene, despite the fact that Mpambani had drawn cash from a nearby ATM before his death.

News24 has now established that Mpambani was one of the main beneficiaries of a controversial contract to "audit" and "assess" houses with asbestos roofs in the Free State. 

According to documents from the provincial department of human settlements, a joint venture between Gauteng-based engineering consultancy firm Blackhead Consulting and Mpambani's company, Diamond Hill Trading 71, scored a R255m contract in 2014 for the "audit and assessment of asbestos housing units". 

Further records from the provincial human settlements department show that the department paid the joint venture R230m in ten tranches between the end of 2014 and August 2016. 

The body of Ignatius "Igo" Mpambani next to the Bentley he was driving when he was shot. (Michael Butler, Sandton Chronicle)

Blackhead Consulting, led by businessman Edwin Sodi, took Diamond Hill to court in October last year in connection with a final payment of R77.5m made by the Human Settlements Department to the joint venture in late 2016.

The executor of Mpambani's estate and FNB, with which the joint venture opened a bank account for the asbestos auditing project, are also cited as respondents.

In his affidavit, Sodi claims that the joint venture agreement between Blackhead Consulting and Diamond Hill stipulated that the two companies were to share the proceeds of the project on an equal basis.

However, instead of dividing the final payment of R77.5m between the two companies, Mpambani allegedly paid the entire amount into his own account, according to the court papers. 

In his founding affidavit, Sodi also claims that he tried to convince Mpambani to pay Blackhead the 50% cut of the R77.5m payment from the department of human settlements, but that these efforts were in vain. 

"Mpambani did not agree with either of these options but did not provide reasons for this. In response to my querying the whereabouts of the funds he informed me in vague terms that the funds were 'safe' and provided no further detail," reads Sodi's affidavit.

Sodi's lawyer, Sven Laurencik, says Sodi denies having any knowledge of the circumstances around Mpambani's death.  

Dodgy contract

The contract in question has received criticism from the DA in the Free State. The party in 2015 unsuccessfully brought an urgent court application against the provincial human settlements department in order to halt any further payments to Blackhead. It was not known at the time that Blackhead was in fact working in a joint venture with Diamond Hill.

Sources familiar with the matter claim that the human settlements department has not received any value for money for the R230m paid to the joint venture. 

Asked to provide records of the work supposedly done by the joint venture, Sodi's lawyer responded: "Unfortunately, the information that you have requested constitutes intellectual property owned by the department and accordingly, it would be inappropriate for Blackhead to provide you with this information. Naturally, the department would be best placed to disclose this information to you."

The department, however, also refused to provide News24 with any records or documents detailing work done on the asbestos auditing project.

News24 was also able to establish that the joint venture has no valid VAT number, as would be required by law, and that the Blackhead-Diamond Hill joint venture submitted invoices to the Free State human settlements department that do not contain a VAT number or a company registration number.

The contract was also awarded without following an open tender process.

No arrests for murder

The department did not respond to detailed queries relating to the contract, based on its assertion that News24 first needed to provide it with the documents we had obtained.

The department also insisted that we needed to obtain its records through the Promotion of Access to Information Act before it could address queries relating to the contract. 

"You were requested to provide the department with copies of the documents in your possession in order to consider replies to your questions. The department cannot rely on your assessment of the authenticity and your interpretation of what you may have," the department's spokesperson, Senne Bogatsu, said in an email.

"You have been previously advised to follow the procedures as prescribed by the Promotion of Access to Information Act when requesting information, which you have again failed to comply with," maintained Bogatsu.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said that there had been no arrests in connection with Mpambani's death.

* Do you have information for our investigative journalists? Send an email to tips@24.com

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