- Ex-EPRU deputy president Bantwini Matika and former vice-president Chico Februarie were arrested by the Hawks on Thursday and appeared in court on charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering.
- They were among five people in total whom the Hawks arrested for their involvement in an alleged attempt to defraud the union of over R450 000 in Lotto grant funding.
- EPRU commissioned retired judge Lex Mpati to inquire into the matter, whose findings have been detailed by Sport24.
Former Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU) deputy president Bantwini Matika was among three former union rugby administrators who were arrested by the Hawks on Thursday for allegedly attempting to defraud the union.
The others are former vice-president Eldridge "Chico" Februarie as well as erstwhile club affairs manager John Scheepers, who were implicated along with an associate known to Februarie called Johnny Oersen from Loerie.
Businesswoman Xoliswa Mbengu, who owns a catering services company called Noxie General Trading (Pty) Ltd, also appeared in court on Thursday with the other four.
The five were investigated early last year for allegedly attempting to defraud the provincial union of over R450 000, money that was allocated to EPRU as part of a 2017 grant by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF).
Retired Judge Lex Mpati was, last May, commissioned by the union to inquire into "possible misrepresentation with intention to defraud the Eastern Province Rugby Union".
Mpati’s inquiry related to two invoice claims submitted to the union’s finance department in December 2019, for the payment of sums equalling R283 000 and R174 060, for the hiring "unidentified sports fields" and catering services, respectively.
The invoices were an alleged attempt to access the Lotto funds that were granted to the union under "Project 46158”, to be used for the specific rugby-related purposes specified in that plan.
The National Prosecuting Authority released statement on Thursday detailing that the quintet may have acted as a syndicate.
"All claims for payments in respect of the project were submitted to the financial manager for verification," read the NPA statement.
"The financial manager, after verifying the claims for payment, would complete and submit for approval Electronic Funds Transfers (EFTs) requisitions to either Matika or Scheepers. Then they would be finally submitted to the union’s president for authorisation to release the payments.
"It is alleged that the officials acted as a syndicate to defraud the union. On 12 December 2019 a false invoice of R283 000, for businesses named Local Lawncare and Landscaping - an entity purported to be based in Cradock, was submitted to the union. The invoice was for the hiring of sports fields.
"It is alleged that the banking details on the invoice actually belonged to Oersen who lived in the same neighbourhood as Februarie in Loerie. Apparently, the two men were acquaintances.
"Oersen allegedly had no relationship with either Local Lawncare or the union. It is alleged that the business address in Cradock was false."
Nine witnesses were called to give testimony during Mpati’s hearings, who gave evidence not under oath and were not cross-examined.
Mpati, whose report is believed to be fundamental in the investigation, found that Scheepers had submitted the two alleged "bogus" invoices to EPRU finance administrator Sharon Brown.
Matika signed the EFT approval forms for both invoices, even though he had no authority to do so, Mpati discovered. (That was the authority of the union president Andre Rademan and general manager Thando Manana, both of whom whose signatures aren't on any of the documentation).
The retired judge also found that no services were ever rendered for the catering amounting to the R174 060 invoice.
Mpati said in his report that Mbengu was approached, "probably by Scheepers", to provide the above catering invoice, even though she rendered no services in its respect.
The other major red flag Mpati found was that both invoice amounts were the exact remaining funds in EPRU’s account from the Lotto grant funding from 2017, which Februarie claimed in his testimony to the inquiry "needed to be spent by 2020".
Moreover, the R283 000 invoice bore Oersen’s bank details, even though he was not the owner of the company listed on the invoice called Local Lawn Care & Landscaping.
The real owner of the supposed supplier of the hired fields, Ruche van Noie testified at Mpati’s inquiry that he never knew of Oersen nor had he sent that invoice, although his company was registered as a service provider to the union.
The NPA expounded on the details of the case, revealing that Februarie allegedly offered EPRU finance chairperson Mbulelo Gidane a R100 000 bribe to process the payments.
"It is alleged that in February 2020, Februarie and Matika attempted to convince him to assist in the authorisation and payment of the two invoices," the NPA said.
"It is further alleged that Februarie went a step further and offered Gidane a bribe of R100 000.
"Scheepers, Matika and Februarie face two counts of fraud while Oersen and Mbengu face one count.
"Furthermore, Scheepers and Mbengu have been charged with two counts of money laundering while Februarie and Mbengu with one count.
"Februarie faces another charge of corruption for the attempt to bribe Gidane."
In May, Matika stepped down as Rademan’s deputy following the allegations surfacing. Matika since unsuccessfully attempted to get his position back in July.
Both Matika and Februarie were influential in ousting former EP president Cheeky Watson as part of the "Transformation Rugby Coalition" and were subsequently elected to serve on the board of the union alongside Rademan in 2017.
"Advocate Tjaart Van Zyl, did not oppose bail as the accused cooperated with the police and have no previous criminal convictions. They also have fixed addresses," the NPA added.
"Matika was granted R1000 bail while the others were granted R500 bail. Their next court appearance will be on 08 March 2021 at the Port Elizabeth Specialised Commercial Crimes Court."
Photo source: NPA