Prasa: European rail companies at odds over payments to Montana's 'friend'

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Former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana appears before the parliamentary inquiry into state capture. (Esa Alexander, Gallo Images, Sowetan, file)
Former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana appears before the parliamentary inquiry into state capture. (Esa Alexander, Gallo Images, Sowetan, file)

Johannesburg - Contradicting statements by two European rail companies regarding payments to a former colleague and "friend" of Lucky Montana adds fuel to suspicions that Prasa's multi-billion rand contract for new locomotives was accompanied by possible kickbacks.

News24 recently revealed that Vossloh España, the supplier of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA's (Prasa's) controversial Afro4000 locomotives, made payments totalling R75m to a company owned by Makhensa Mabunda, a former colleague of Montana. 

- Read more: Prasa's Spanish supplier paid R75m consulting fees to Montana's friend

Vossloh España made the payments to Mabunda's S-Investments between February 2014 and October 2015, while the Spanish manufacturer was busy participating in a R3.5bn contract to supply new locomotives to Prasa.

Montana was Prasa's CEO when the state-owned rail operator awarded the contract to Swifambo Rail Leasing. The latter had no footprint in the rail business and instead subcontracted Vossloh España to produce the trains.

Stadler Rail, a Swiss company, acquired Vossloh España from its former owner, the German manufacturing giant Vossloh AG, at the end of 2015.

Lies

News24 has seen documents which suggest that Mariano Marti, Stadler Rail Valencia's vice president for sales, lied to South Africa's Treasury after the latter questioned Stadler Rail over Vossloh España's payments to S-Investments.

When News24 and Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger recently reported on the matter, Stadler Rail spokesperson Marina Winder insisted that payments of R75m to S-Investments "did not exist". 

But Vossloh AG, Vossloh España's previous holding company, is now singing a different tune.

The German company has admitted to Tages-Anzeiger that its former subsidiary, Vossloh España, paid Mabunda's S-Investments. Vossloh claims S-Investments was a "sales representative" on the Prasa locomotives deal. 

"Vossloh has an independent sales representative in South Africa, who helped with the locomotive contract. This is S-Investment[s] (Pty) Ltd. The involvement of a sales representative is common, especially if there is no sales organisation in a country. The remuneration of S-Investment[s] by Vossloh España was paid on a commission basis at market rates. By July 2015, the South African sales representative S-Investment[s] had been paid compliant commissions amounting to €5.4 million," Vossloh recently told the Swiss newspaper. 

"S-Investment[s] brought Vossloh España, the supplier, together with its customer Swifambo, who has placed the locomotive order from Vossloh España," added Vossloh. 

Court papers filed in Prasa's successful attempt to have the contract set aside includes allegations that Swifambo was a front company set up by Mabunda and that Mabunda and Montana were long-time friends. 

News24 has also recently established that Montana and Mabunda used to be colleagues at the Department of Public Enterprises.

Mystery

Vossloh says its due diligence on S-Investments did not raise any red flags.

"We cannot conclusively judge if and to what extent the then Prasa boss, Lucky Montana, and S-Investments were close at the time of the initiation [of the payments to S-Investments]. According to our information, there were no indications of irregularities at the time of the conclusion of the contract," said Vossloh. 

It remains a mystery why Stadler Rail would have omitted the details of the payments to S-Investments in its interactions with the Treasury. Vossloh insists that the payments were "properly accounted for" in the due diligence made available to Stadler Rail.

Mabunda previously declined an opportunity to explain what exactly S-Investments did for the Spanish rail company.

"My companies do a lot of work for international companies," was all Mabunda was willing to say. 

Former Prasa chair Popo Molefe recently claimed in a radio interview that Montana and Mabunda had shared a "corrupt relationship".

But in his recent appearance before Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, Montana said that S-Investments' payment from Vossloh España had nothing to do with him. 

"This is a story about a relationship between two private companies. I am not a director of any of these companies. I am not involved in any of their financial dealings. There is no explanation [for] what makes the said beneficiary a friend of Montana," said the former rail boss.

The payments to S-Investments aren't the only ones that have raised concerns over possible corruption.

It was previously revealed that Swifambo paid about R80m to an Angolan businesswoman who called herself a friend of President Jacob Zuma, and to George Sabelo, a lawyer with links to Zuma's family. Sabelo allegedly told Swifambo's managing director that he was a fundraiser for the ANC.

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

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