Questionable payments totalling nearly R80 million were made to an Angolan businesswoman who is a close friend of President Jacob Zuma and a lawyer who is the business partner of one of the president’s sons.
Investigators probing the multibillion-rand locomotive tender issued by the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) have uncovered what they call possible signs of “massive corruption”.
Angolan businesswoman Maria da Cruz Gomes, who Zuma has visited in her plush home in a Sandton complex, received payments totalling about R40 million from the managing director of Swifambo Rail Leasing, the company appointed in 2012 to supply Spanish locomotives worth R3.5 billion.
Swifambo’s managing director, Auswell Mashaba, also paid about R40 million to the law firm belonging to lawyer George Sabelo, a business partner of Zuma’s eldest son, Edward. Sabelo was involved in the 2013 PetroSA corruption scandal.
Sources with direct insight into Prasa’s probe into the deal, along with others close to the police’s Hawks unit, confirmed that these payments to Gomes’ company and Sabelo’s law firm form part of an extensive investigation into Prasa’s financial activities during the term in office of former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana.
However, speaking through his spokesperson Vuyo Mkhize, Mashaba strongly denied that the payments to Gomes’ company had anything to do with the Prasa tender.
Mkhize said Sabelo’s law firm was one of more than 15 professional companies on Swifambo’s books that specialised in various disciplines.
He also said City Press sister paper Rapport’s “fixation” with the relationship between Swifambo and the law firm was indicative of the paper’s prejudice against Sabelo.
But Gomes – who confirmed this week that she and Zuma were “like family” and that they had known each other for years – said her company, Similex, had done work for the Prasa contract.
Documents Rapport has obtained show that between January and May 2014, Mashaba made separate payments totalling R40 million to the bank account of Similex, which is registered in South Africa.
Gomes and her husband, Domingos, are listed as the company’s only directors.
An affidavit deposed by one of the investigators in the probe, a copy of which Rapport has obtained, reveals that Mashaba allegedly admitted during a meeting between himself and two Prasa board members that he had been “instructed” between 2013 and 2014 to make payments to “high-ranking people in office” and members of “the movement”. This was after Swifambo Rail Leasing received its first payment of R460 million from Prasa in April 2013.
The affidavit also reveals that Mashaba admitted during the meeting that he was concerned about the payments because they apparently had nothing to do with the purchase of locomotives.
Mashaba allegedly said after the meeting took place that Gomes once showed him a picture of herself with Zuma when he asked her why he had to transfer money to her company.
Some of Mashaba’s allegations made at the time are contained in an affidavit that now forms part of the Hawks’ investigation.
However, Mkhize strongly denied this.
Responding to the allegation that Gomes portrayed herself as Zuma’s representative, Mkhize said: “This is nothing more than a fantastic fabrication designed to add a dimension of allegations of corruption, including widespread political corruption, to the attempt to cancel Swifambo’s Prasa contract.”
Mkhize confirmed Mashaba had met with Prasa directors, but strongly denied that Mashaba was forced to make payments to high-ranking politicians.
To date, Prasa paid almost R3 billion to Mashaba’s company, but the only thing taxpayers have to show for it is the 13 Afro 4000 locomotives Swifambo imported from Spain, which were found to be too high for South Africa’s rail system.
Neighbours in Gomes’ up-market complex in Atholl said Zuma had visited her at least five times over the past three years. One said the president arrived in a large blue-light convoy with police vehicles and security personnel, and stayed for between one and two hours.
Speaking from Angola this week, Gomes confirmed Zuma’s visits and said they had been friends since the days when the ANC had training camps in her country.
“We are family friends; we are actually more like family. We laugh and talk about our children when we get together,” said Gomes.
Gomes said Mashaba paid Similex because the company had done some work for Swifambo.
“We did some work for that contract [the Prasa tender], but I cannot remember the details. I will get one of my directors who was involved to contact you to give you more details,” she said.
However, no additional information was forthcoming on the nature of the work her company supposedly performed for Swifambo.
Documents show that Mashaba transferred just under R39 million to law firm Nkosi Sabelo in April and May 2013.
In March 2013 – two weeks before Prasa made its first payment to Swifambo – George Sabelo, one of the firm’s two directors, said in an email to Mashaba, which Rapport has seen, that his “clients” wanted the “agreements” signed as soon as possible.
It is not clear in the email who these clients were.
After that, Mashaba paid R38.9 million to Nkosi Sabelo in three separate payments.
Sabelo hit the headlines in 2013 when the Mail & Guardian revealed that he had channelled “success fees” totalling R11 million from PetroSA to an “unknown third party”.
The newspaper reported that there were rumours at the time that Sabelo had a “direct line” to Zuma and advised the president’s children.
Yekani Tenza, PetroSA’s former CEO, who was also involved in the scandal, was reported as suggesting at the time that a thorough investigation into the money trail would cause a “national embarrassment” because “big names” were involved, the Mail & Guardian reported.
According to company records, Sabelo and Edward Zuma are both directors of a company called Sizwe Sethu Coal.
Sikhumbuzo Selby Zuma, Zuma’s family spokesperson during his rape trial in 2005, is also a director of the company.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi declined to comment.
“The matter is at a sensitive stage and, unfortunately, we cannot comment on ongoing investigations,” he said.
Sabelo did not respond to numerous requests for comment this week made to his cellphone and via SMS, which he received and read.
Zuma’s spokesperson, Bongani Majola, also did not respond to requests for comment.
Majola said in a WhatsApp message on Friday that he would deal with the enquiries, but did not respond.