UPDATE: Mbalula found wanting over Dubai trip, but he escapes sanction

Fikile Mbalula. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images, Beeld, file)
Fikile Mbalula. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images, Beeld, file)

The Public Protector has found that a trip taken by Fikile Mbalula to Dubai in 2017, when he was the minister of sports and recreation, was paid for by a company that does business with sport governing body Sascoc, creating a conflict of interest.

After the news broke that Mbalula's family trip to Dubai in 2016 was sponsored by a private company named Sedgars Sport, Mbalula denied the allegations, calling the claims a lie. 

However, on Wednesday afternoon, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane released a report which proved that at least half of the R680 000 trip was paid for by a company that does business with Sascoc, which falls under the auspices of the department of Sports and Recreation. 

According to Mkhwebane's investigations, R300 000 was paid for the trip by Sedgars through a bank account of an inactive company known only as Reimon Uniforms. 

Peculiar trip 

Mkhwebane said that it was peculiar that neither Mbalula nor his family arranged the trip themselves but that the bookings were made by a certain Mr Siweya on behalf of the former minister, with Munlin Travel. 

Mkhwebane added that in a response to her office's investigations, Mbalula made no mention of Siweya, but that in another response he confirmed that Siweya was not asked by him to do the bookings. 

The Public Protector also said that when Mbalula departed for Dubai, he had not paid for the trip, nor did he even know how much the trip would cost. 

"Loan agreement"

Mbalula claims that the money paid by Sedgars Sport director Yusuf Dockrat was not a sponsorship, but rather a loan. 

"There is no evidence in my possession that proves that Mr Mbalula requested and/or obtained the loan prior to boarding a flight to Dubai," said Mkhwebane. 

"Evidence in my possession indicates that the payments for the trip commenced only in February 2017, following demands to settle the cost of the trip."

"It is admitted that there was an exchange of funds between Mr Mbalula and Mr Dockrat."

She added that payments were made through a bank account of one of Mbalula's family entities. Two amounts of R200 000 and R75 000 respectively were paid into the bank account of Reimon Uniforms. 

Mkhwebane said she considered Mbalula's submission that he expected proceeds from a property he sold to find the trip, but that it was odd that he could sell a property and use the proceeds thereof to fund an expensive holiday in Dubai for a period of five days. 

"Having considered their submissions, I do not accept that the arrangement between them constituted a loan agreement. Had the transaction not have been reported in the media, Mr Mbalula would have not repaid the funds," said Mkhwebane. 

Additionally, neither Mbalula nor Dockrat presented proof of the loan agreement.

Violating the Constitution 

The Public Protector said that Mbalula, who was a member of Parliament and a minister at the time, did not disclose the sponsorship of this family trip as is required by law and in doing so violated the Executive Ethics Code. 

She further said that there was a clear conflict of interest when Mbalula asked for funds from the director of Sedgars, who was at the time providing sporting apparel to Team South Africa through SASCOC. 

"There was an undisclosed and unmanaged conflict of interest between Mr Mbalula's responsibility to act in the best interests of his department and government and his private interest which had to be looked after by the Dockrats.

"In this regard Mr Mbalula is therefore found to have acted in violation of the Constitution and the Executive Ethics Codes and his actions constituted improper and unethical conduct." 

No punishment

In her remedial actions, Mkhwebane did not take remedial action against Mbalula as he was no longer a member of the executive. 

However, she direct the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa to investigate whether the funds used to pay for Mbalula's trip was not the proceeds of money laundering.

When contacted by News24, Dockrat said he had no comment to make regarding Mkhwebane's findings as he was still studying the report.

News24 could not immediately reach Mbalula, but managed to get hold of his personal assistant, who said the former minister was on holiday and that it was "highly impossible to get hold of him".

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