In a surprise move and after months of silnce and apparent inaction, the elite police unit, the Hawks, have finally decided that they have got sufficient evidence to swoop on private businessmen and Government officials accused of corruption. On Wednesday 30 September 2020, they moved agaisnt 7 individuals and companies accused of corrupt dealings in the Free State Province’s asbestos audit contracts awarded to a joint venture by businessman, Edwin Sodi and the late Igo Mpambani amounting to R255 million in total. Edwin Sodi is amongst those who have been arrested along with former head of the Free State Human Settlement Department, Nthimotse Mokhesi, supply chain officer, Mahlomola Matlakala, and former DG of the national Department of Human Settlements, Thabane Zulu, former Mangaung Mayor, Olly Mlamleli, Sello Joseph Radebe, director of ORI Group, Abel Kgotso Manyekeni . The operation continued on Thursday morning and the seventh suspect was arrested in KZN.

The accused are facing about 60 charges including corruption, fraud, money laundering and contravention of various statutes aimed at preventing corruption and money laundering, particularly in the public service. All seven suspects appeared in the Bloemfontein magistrates’ court on Friday, 02 October 2020 and were released on bail ranging from R50 000.00 to R500 000.00 on condition that they appear in court on 11 November 2020. Spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority, Adv Sipho Ngwema said that the NPA believes that they have a water tight case against the accused and that more arrests are expected in connection with this case. It also emerged during the appearance that one of the accused brought cash into the police cells and attempted to bribe police officers.

The beneficiaries of the asbestos audit are still waiting.

During evidence at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Edwin Sodi, explained that he made donations to the ANC especially during its 2014 election campaign. It was during evidence led at the commission that evidence leader, Adv Paul Pretorius informed the Commission that there were widespread irregularities in the awarding of the tender and that no proper process was followed. It also emerged from evidence at the commission that the tender, which was valued at R255 million, was eventually subcontracted and executed for an amount of R21,3 million, ensuring huge profits for the main contractors involved. the price of the project was grossly inflated, and worst of all, failed to resolve the asbestos problem in Free State houses. The Public Protector, who was also investigating the tender, also found that, the tender was awarded in violation of several procurement laws and regulations.

The public protector found that after the contract was awarded to a joint venture between Blackhead Consulting, owned by Edwin Sodi, and Diamond Hill, owned by Ignatius Mpambani, the contract was subcontracted to Mastertrade 232 for R44,2 million, who, in turn, subcontracted it to ORI Group, who eventually performed the audit for an amount R21,3 million, clearly showing that the contract was over inflated by over R200 million, and that the audit was nothing more than a money laundering scheme, designed to siphon money from the human settlements department.

Blackhead Consulting and Diamond Hill were supposed to be dividing the proceeds of the contract on a 50/50 basis. Igo Mpambani was gunned down in broad day ligfht on 22 June 2017 while driving his Bentley Continental GT in Bowling Avenue in Sandton, Johannesburg.

The Hawks and the Special Investigative Unit (SIU), have stated that the arrests are not as a result of evidence led at the Zondo Commission, but are the results of investigations that have been going on for a while and that they were only waiting for the suspects to testify at the Commission before they could act against them, but that evidence that came out of the Commission will be useful if it is relevant and admissible.

Pieter-Louis Myburgh has written extensively in his book, Gangster State, about the large scale irregularities that were taking place in the Free State government during the time that the current secretary general of the ANC, Ace Magashule, was Premier of the Free State. Many people are speculating as to who will be arrested next in connection with this and other scandals of the same nature. Meanwhile, in another matter, former ANC MP, Vincent Smith handed himself over to the police and was released on bail of R30 000.00 on allegations that he accepted bribes from Bosasa, In Durban, the Hawks also pounced on other prominent officials in the Premier’s office, accused of corruption as well as businessman, Thoshan Panday and former senior police officer, Navin Madhoe relating to 2010 soccer world cup irregularities.

Judge Raymond Zondo, Chairperson of the Zondo Commission.

Community organisations attended the Bloemfontein court appearance and voiced their support for the actions taken by the SIU, the Hawks and the NPA in confronting corruption head on. Most said that it is time that people go to jail for their actions as people are struggling with basic services and unemployment as a result of corruption, as monies set aside to uplift communities is snatched from under their noses by the corrupt. One woman said that it is a myth that women in top positions are representing all women in the country. She said that she is distancing herself from all the corrupt women in senior positions. They do not represent her. South Africans also took to social media to express their newly found optimism.

In a separate incident, the Hawks have also arrested a high ranking municipal official at Molemole municipality also on allegations of corruption in that he allegedly awarded a R4,8 million tender to his wife while assisting a communal property association in the area. It is alleged that the services were not rendered and the community did not receive any benefit from the tender.

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