Updated: Former Prasa boss wants police to find creator of 'manufactured' AG report

The former acting head of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA, Collins Letsoalo, says he wants the police to find the creator of what he has called a "manufactured" auditor general report that tarnished his name as a dedicated civil servant.

In a five-page media statement on Monday, Letsoalo said he also intends to lodge a complaint of fraud against a Sunday Times journalist who wrote an article - which has since been retracted - stating the auditor general found that Letsoalo must pay back millions of rands to Prasa. Letsoalo said the police would then be able to uncover who wrote the report.

Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko told Fin24 on Tuesday he had no comment. 

Fin24 has not seen the version of the special report used by the Sunday Times. 

This publication has seen a copy of a letter by the auditor general stating he did not write such a report. This letter was sent to the Press Council when it conducted an investigation into the matter.

The Sunday Times this weekend retracted the article in question in its entirety and apologised to Letsoalo, but the passenger rail agency's former boss said apologies were no longer enough. He also alleged that a "web of corruption" existed within the agency when he was its acting head. 

A long tail

Letsoalo was appointed as acting Prasa head in July 2016 when he was seconded from the Department of Transport by then-minister Dipuo Peters.

In early 2017 the Prasa board voted to dismiss him amid media reports that he had irregularly awarded himself a 350% pay increase, boosting his salary from R1.3m to R5.9m a year.

The board at the time said the acting CEO's salary package had not been properly approved. 

His secondment was subsequently officially withdrawn, with Peters stating the relationship between him and the board had broken down.

Letsoalo at the time denied that he had done anything wrong, saying that the company's package for group acting CEOs amounted to R5.9m a year.

He was reappointed to the board of the passenger rail agency by Transport Minister Blade Nzimande in June 2018.

Between his removal in February 2017 and his reappointment to the board as a non-executive director this year, Letsoalo said the High Court in Pretoria ruled that he was, in fact, entitled to the full salary of R5.9m.

Ruling or opinion?

Referring to the judgement, Letsoalo on Monday also said the DA had not yet apologised for stating he must pay back the money, and that "summons are on the way".

But the party on Tuesday replied to a request for comment by saying that according to its understanding of the April 2017 judgement, sections related the Letsoalo's salary only constituted opinion. 

"The judgement provided an opinion on this matter which states that Letsoalo should’ve indeed received the higher amount, however the order at the end of the judgement does not compel the Board to pay Letsoalo the higher amount," said DA transport spokesperson Manny de Freitas in an email. 

Letsoalo told Fin24 on Tuesday that his lawyers were still considering taking legal action. 

Pay back the money

In late June 2018, a few weeks after his reappointment to the board, the Sunday Times published an article stating that the auditor general had issued a special audit report which found that Letsoalo should, in fact, pay back money to Prasa, which would appear to contradict the ruling of the High Court.

On Sunday the newspaper printed an apology and retracted the June 2018 article in its entirety, as ordered by the Press Council.

In a ruling from October 18 2018, Press Ombud Johan Retief wrote the Sunday Times could not provide him with a copy of the purported special audit report, despite the existence of the report being the “crux of the matter”. 

“[The newspaper] could not provide me with this ‘special report’, and I am in the dark as to who the source was (if there was one),” he wrote. 

He ruled the reporting breached four sections of the press code. 

* This article was updated on Tuesday 18 December to include new comment by the DA, the Sunday Times Editor and Letsoalo.  The text was also changed to clarify that Fin24 has not seen the version of the special report used by the Sunday Times. 

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