- The SIU has clarified the arrests of asbestos audit tender suspects was the result of a year-long joint investigation.
- Evidence heard before the Zondo commission this week from various implicated businessmen and former government officials would only be added if relevant at a later stage.
- The investigation by the SIU and Hawks is continuing, with those arrested expected in a Bloemfontein court on Friday.
The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has clarified the arrests in an operation on Wednesday relating to a 2014 Free State asbestos audit tender worth R255 million had nothing to do with evidence heard before the Zondo commission this week.
SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago told News24 on Wednesday afternoon the arrests stemmed from a year-long investigation by the SIU, and they had waited for some of the suspects to finalise their evidence before the commission before setting in motion the operation to simultaneously arrest seven suspects in three provinces.
ROLLING COVERAGE | Hawks make arrests for Free State asbestos deal
As of Wednesday afternoon, six of the seven people implicated were in custody, with the seventh believed to be in KwaZulu-Natal, still at large, Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed.
"We started the whole thing in 2019. We were ready, waiting for him to finish before the commission," Kganyago said.
Earlier on Wednesday, he told the SABC the proclamation to investigate the tender was signed in 2019. The proclamation, R39 of 2019, was signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in June 2019 and gazetted the following month.
Kganyago added the Hawks were "roped in" when "high levels of criminality" became evident to SIU investigators.
"The arrests are done by the Hawks and they have their own timetable. The timetable of the Zondo commission is separate from ours. We do the investigation, and at any point where there is an outcome, we give it to the relevant law enforcement agency," he told News24, responding to a question about the possible chilling effect the arrests might have on those still scheduled to appear before the commission.
In February 2019, the Hawks arrested former Bosasa boss-turned-whistleblower Angelo Agrizzi a month after he testified before the commission, based on a case stemming from a 2009 SIU report around tender corruption within the Department of Correctional Services.
Two others, both former Bosasa employees, Andries van Tonder and Frans Vorster who had also given evidence before the commission relating to Bosasa corruption, were also arrested along with former correctional services commissioner Linda Mti and former chief financial officer Patrick Gilingham.
News24 reported on Wednesday that Edwin Sodi, the CEO of Blackhead Consulting - one of the companies originally awarded the tender - was grilled before the commission over payments totalling millions of rand he made to the ANC and several Cabinet members, including Zizi Kodwa, Pinky Kekana and Thulas Nxesi.
Sodi said he did not see these payments as suspicious, and he had been assisting people he considered friends.
News24 also reported that ousted Mangaung mayor Olly Mlamleli was said to be among those arrested.
An unnamed SACP leader told News24 the arrests would have a "ripple effect on many people all the way to the top".
Kganyago was asked whether the SIU was determined to follow investigations to their conclusion even if high profile ANC leaders are implicated.
"All our investigations are allegation-based, and our outcomes are evidence-based. Therefore, as long as there is evidence - it doesn't matter who the person is - we work on the basis of evidence, which is the driving force of what we are doing," he said.
"We can only deal with outcomes based on the evidence at our disposal. This investigation is continuing, and we will make sure that we get to the bottom of each part of it."
Investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh wrote in his book, Gangster State, that it was believed former Free State premier Ace Magashule had received money from Igo Mpambani, Sodi's partner on the asbestos deal and who was gunned down in Sandton in 2017.
News24 understands the suspects will appear in a Bloemfontein court on Friday, at which point the identities of all the arrested individuals will be confirmed.