Questionable payments totalling nearly R80 million were made to an Angolan
businesswoman who is a close friend of President Jacob Zuma and a lawyer who is
the business partner of one of the president’s sons.
Investigators probing the multibillion-rand locomotive tender issued by the
Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) have uncovered what they call possible
signs of “massive corruption”.
Angolan businesswoman Maria da Cruz Gomes, who Zuma has visited in her plush
home in a Sandton complex, received payments totalling about R40 million from
the managing director of Swifambo Rail Leasing, the company appointed in 2012
to supply Spanish locomotives worth R3.5 billion.
Swifambo’s managing director, Auswell Mashaba, also paid about R40 million
to the law firm belonging to lawyer George Sabelo, a business partner of Zuma’s
eldest son, Edward. Sabelo was involved in the 2013 PetroSA corruption scandal.
Sources with direct insight into Prasa’s probe into the deal, along with
others close to the police’s Hawks unit, confirmed that these payments to
Gomes’ company and Sabelo’s law firm form part of an extensive investigation
into Prasa’s financial activities during the term in office of former Prasa CEO
However, speaking through his spokesperson Vuyo Mkhize, Mashaba strongly
denied that the payments to Gomes’ company had anything to do with the Prasa
Mkhize said Sabelo’s law firm was one of more than 15 professional companies
on Swifambo’s books that specialised in various disciplines.
He also said City Press sister paper Rapport’s “fixation” with the
relationship between Swifambo and the law firm was indicative of the paper’s
prejudice against Sabelo.
But Gomes – who confirmed this week that she and Zuma were “like family” and
that they had known each other for years – said her company, Similex, had done
work for the Prasa contract.
Documents Rapport has obtained show that between January and May 2014,
Mashaba made separate payments totalling R40 million to the bank account of
Similex, which is registered in South Africa.
Gomes and her husband, Domingos, are listed as the company’s only directors.
An affidavit deposed by one of the investigators in the probe, a copy of
which Rapport has obtained, reveals that Mashaba allegedly admitted during a
meeting between himself and two Prasa board members that he had been
“instructed” between 2013 and 2014 to make payments to “high-ranking people in
office” and members of “the movement”. This was after Swifambo Rail Leasing
received its first payment of R460 million from Prasa in April 2013.
The affidavit also reveals that Mashaba admitted during the meeting that he
was concerned about the payments because they apparently had nothing to do with
the purchase of locomotives.
Mashaba allegedly said after the meeting took place that Gomes once showed
him a picture of herself with Zuma when he asked her why he had to transfer
money to her company.
Some of Mashaba’s allegations made at the time are contained in an affidavit
that now forms part of the Hawks’ investigation.
However, Mkhize strongly denied this.
Responding to the allegation that Gomes portrayed herself as Zuma’s
representative, Mkhize said: “This is nothing more than a fantastic fabrication
designed to add a dimension of allegations of corruption, including widespread
political corruption, to the attempt to cancel Swifambo’s Prasa contract.”
Mkhize confirmed Mashaba had met with Prasa directors, but strongly denied
that Mashaba was forced to make payments to high-ranking politicians.
To date, Prasa paid almost R3 billion to Mashaba’s company, but the only
thing taxpayers have to show for it is the 13 Afro 4000 locomotives Swifambo
imported from Spain, which were found to be too high for South Africa’s rail
Neighbours in Gomes’ up-market complex in Atholl said Zuma had visited her
at least five times over the past three years. One said the president arrived
in a large blue-light convoy with police vehicles and security personnel, and
stayed for between one and two hours.
Speaking from Angola this week, Gomes confirmed Zuma’s visits and said they
had been friends since the days when the ANC had training camps in her country.
“We are family friends; we are actually more like family. We laugh and talk
about our children when we get together,” said Gomes.
Gomes said Mashaba paid Similex because the company had done some work for
“We did some work for that contract [the Prasa tender], but I cannot
remember the details. I will get one of my directors who was involved to
contact you to give you more details,” she said.
However, no additional information was forthcoming on the nature of the work
her company supposedly performed for Swifambo.
Documents show that Mashaba transferred just under R39 million to law firm
Nkosi Sabelo in April and May 2013.
In March 2013 – two weeks before Prasa made its first payment to Swifambo –
George Sabelo, one of the firm’s two directors, said in an email to Mashaba,
which Rapport has seen, that his “clients” wanted the “agreements” signed as
soon as possible.
It is not clear in the email who these clients were.
After that, Mashaba paid R38.9 million to Nkosi Sabelo in three separate
Sabelo hit the headlines in 2013 when the Mail & Guardian revealed that
he had channelled “success fees” totalling R11 million from PetroSA to an
“unknown third party”.
The newspaper reported that there were rumours at the time that Sabelo had a
“direct line” to Zuma and advised the president’s children.
Yekani Tenza, PetroSA’s former CEO, who was also involved in the scandal,
was reported as suggesting at the time that a thorough investigation into the
money trail would cause a “national embarrassment” because “big names” were
involved, the Mail & Guardian reported.
According to company records, Sabelo and Edward Zuma are both directors of a
company called Sizwe Sethu Coal.
Sikhumbuzo Selby Zuma, Zuma’s family spokesperson during his rape trial in
2005, is also a director of the company.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi declined to comment.
“The matter is at a sensitive stage and, unfortunately, we cannot comment on
ongoing investigations,” he said.
Sabelo did not respond to numerous requests for comment this week made to
his cellphone and via SMS, which he received and read.
Zuma’s spokesperson, Bongani Majola, also did not respond to requests for
Majola said in a WhatsApp message on Friday that he would deal with the
enquiries, but did not respond.