7 accused in R255m asbestos corruption case released on bail, Newsline

Johannesburg – The Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court has granted bail ranging from R50 000 to R500 000 in the high-profile Free State asbestos corruption case.

The seven accused were arrested by the Hawks this week, with six suspects being arrested in the Free State and Gauteng on Wednesday, while the seventh handed himself over to the police in KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday afternoon.

The seven accused are Nthimotse Mokhesi, Mahlomola John Matlakala, Edwin Sodi, Sello Joseph Radebe, Kgotso Abel Manyike, Thabane Wiseman Zulu and Matawana Mlamleli.

Johannesburg businessman Sodi, 47, who is the owner of the Blackhead Consulting (Pty) which scored millions in contracts from the Free State Department of Human Settlements, was released on R500 000 bail.

The following accused were released on R100 000 bail:

Mlamleli, 63, of Bloemfontein, a former MEC of the Department of Human Settlements in the Free State and a former Mangaung mayor.

Mokhesi, 61, who was the former head of the Department of Human Settlements at the Free State.

Radebe, 56, a businessman from Fourways.

Zulu, 53, a former director-general of the national Department of Human Settlements.

Two suspects were released on R50 000 bail are Matlakala, 42, a supply chain management director at the Department of Human Settlements, and Manyeki, 38, a businessman from Clubview, Pretoria.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Sipho Ngwema said the seven accused had to surrender their passports to the Hawks as part of their bail conditions. He said they were charged alongside five companies; Blackhead Consulting, Diamond Hill Trading 71 (Pty) Ltd, 605 Consulting Solutions (Pty) Ltd, Mastertrade 232 (Pty) Ltd, and Ori Group (Pty) Ltd.

7 accused in R255m asbestos corruption case released on bail, Newsline

They face fraud, theft, corruption, money laundering, contravention of asbestos regulations, as well as charges related to the contravention of the prevention of organised crime.

“This is subsequent to an investigation that was initiated by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), which referred the matter under Proclamation R39 of 2019, to the NPA and the Hawks.

“A criminal investigation by the Free State members of the Hawks, the Free State Office of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) and other NPA units like the SCCU (Specialised Commercial Crime Unit) and the AFU (Asset Forfeiture Unit).

“The State alleges that fraud to the value of R255m was committed in the appointment of two companies, one from Gauteng, Blackhead Consultants, in 2014 as service provider to the Department of Human Settlements in the Free State for the ’assessment and removal of asbestos roofs and/or housing’.

“The two companies sub-contracted two other separate companies of which one allegedly did the work for only R21m.

“An amount of R230m was paid to the initial contracting company and Sodi, the director of the company, Blackhead Consultants, who is still attempting to secure in court the ’remaining’ payment of the rest of the money, which is R25m,” said Ngwema.

The NPA said it expects to make more arrests and said the accused were expected back in court on November 11.

The authority said the Free State Department of Human Settlements made a R230m loss in the project.

“The procurement process was done in a fraudulent and corrupt manner. In addition, certain public officials received gratification from the company and/or an individual amounting to several counts of corruption involving more than R2 million.

“Huge amounts of money were also laundered through a number of companies and accounts over a period amounting to contravention of Poca (Prevention of Organised Crime Act).

“The State further alleges that the companies presented themselves as service providers with the necessary skills and expertise to provide the required services, but in fact did not have such skills and contravened the Asbestos Regulations,” said Ngwema.