State capture inquiry: Ex-Prasa CEO Lucky Montana's property-buying spree scrutinised

Former Passenger Rail Agency of SA CEO Lucky Montana
Former Passenger Rail Agency of SA CEO Lucky Montana
Esa Alexander, Gallo Images, Sowetan
  • Between 2014 and 2015, then Prasa CEO Lucky Montana offered to purchase prime properties in upscale Sandhurst in Johannesburg and Waterkloof in Pretoria.
  • Although Montana made the initial offer to purchase, someone else assumed ownership.
  • In 2015, Montana was forced out amid claims of irregularities in the awarding of lucrative contracts at the state-owned rail agency.

The state capture commission of inquiry on Wednesday sought to understand the relationship between former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana and lawyer Riaan van der Walt, who was involved in Montana's multimillion-rand property purchases.

Montana was Prasa's CEO from 2010 until 2015 when he was forced out amid claims of irregularities in the awarding of lucrative contracts at the state-owned rail agency.  He had also served on the board of the SA Rail Commuter Corporation.

Between 2014 and 2015, Montana snapped up prime properties in upscale Sandhurst in Johannesburg and Waterkloof in Pretoria. Van der Walt featured prominently in both transactions and assumed ownership of the assets although Montana was the purchaser.

Van der Walt also had links to Siyangena Technologies, a company that scored multibillion-rand contracts with Prasa under Montana's tenure.

An estate agent who facilitated a R13.9 million sale of the Sandhurst property, Louis Green, told the commission that Montana had shown interest in the house and forked out R5 million, which was paid from the trust account of  the law firm Loubser Van Der Walt Incorporated. Van der Walt, who has since left the country, was a lawyer at the firm.

Green said that on 25 November 2014, he received further communication from Van der Walt which was marked "urgent", instructing him to change the offer to purchase to a company called Precise Trade and Invest. The entity was a shelf company and Van der Walt was its sole director and owner.

Commission chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, asked if Green did not find it strange to receive that instruction when there was already a valid agreement with Montana, and whether Montana was aware of the development.

Green said he could not recall any communication to that extent.

Green continued to involve Montana in email communication on matters relating to the house, long after the change to the sale of agreement, although he was no longer involved in the sale - something which Zondo found odd.

But Green simply said Montana's inclusion in the communication was a lapse of judgement on his part.

"I can't say why. I do not know," he added.

READ | REVEALED: Cash for Lucky Montana's R13.5m property traced to R4bn Prasa contractor

Reading from his affidavit, Green said he had been involved in another property Montana bought in Hurlingham, north of Johannesburg, and he recalled that a conveyancer involved in the transaction told him that Montana asked her too to change the ownership to another entity.

"She refused to go along with it as she wanted to finalise the transaction. That transfer went through on 28 July 2015," he said.

A News24 report in 2018 revealed that Van der Walt's company had transferred R2m from an Investec account to the R13.5m Hurlingham transaction.

According to the report, Loubser Van Der Walt Incorporated had done legal work for TMM Holdings -  a company with close links to Siyangena Technologies - which was later involved in a payment dispute with Prasa because the awarding of its contract under Montana's tenure was found to be tainted.

Zondo was on Wednesday left to grapple with whether Montana could have been the owner of the Sandhurst property, despite his name not being on title deed - a possibility that Green could not confirm.

In 2014, Montana bought another property in Waterkloof for R 11 million, prompting an investigation of his spending spree involving forensic investigator Paul O'Sullivan, according to the owner of the property, Karen de Beer, who gave evidence on Wednesday.

In a similar pattern, the ownership of the property was also taken over by Van der Walt's company, Precise Trade and Invest. De Beer said she recalled that the transfer was delayed because Montana and his associates were deciding on registration.

Six years later, the property, which later underwent alterations, remains unoccupied, she said.

Last year, Montana indicated his wish to appear before the state capture commission of inquiry but later changed his mind. He is now based in Texas in the US.

A partner at the law firm, Nicholas Loubser, told the commission that Van der Walt had been called to explain his private company's dealings after his business with Montana made headlines.

Loubser denied any wrongdoing.

The inquiry is expected to ho hear more evidence relating to Prasa's affairs.

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