Accuseds in the Free State asbestos case in court.
- Seven people implicated in the Free State asbestos case have been granted bail.
- They face more than 60 counts, including corruption and fraud.
- The AFU swooped on their belongings on Friday morning.
The seven people arrested in connection with the failed R255m Free State asbestos project have been hit where it hurts by the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) – their pockets.
The graft-busting unit this week secured a provisional restraint order, seizing assets including luxury sports cars, and putting a freeze on bank accounts – their total haul amounting to R300m.
This as bon vivant businessman Edwin Sodi, former Mangaung mayor Sarah Mlamleli, Free State human settlements HOD Nthimotse Mokhesi, John Matlakala, Sello Radebe, Abel Manyeki, and Thabane Zulu appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s court on Friday.
They face over 60 counts, including corruption, fraud, and money laundering.
But for Sodi and his co-accused, the windfall may have come and gone and if they make bail, they return to a very dour landscape.
On 30 September, Bloemfontein High court Judge Johann Daffue granted the restraint order which prevents any of the seven disposing of assets and spiriting away cash.
Their assets will be overseen by a curator, in this case, Gerhard Geldenhuys of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
For some now in the dock, the staggering extent of their wealth was laid bare in a schedule of assets also included in the court application.
For Sodi, his palatial mansion in Bryanston – thought to be valued at R85 million – as well as what only can be described at a fleet of sports cars, are now beyond his control.
Among the vehicle’s restrained by the AFU are a Rolls Royce Ghost, a Bentley Continental convertible, and Porsche Cayenne S Coupe.
Alongside this are a raft of properties and bank accounts, the former socialite now reduced to the essentials to survive, according to conditions of the order.
Adding to his woes are the 25 cars registered to Blackhead Consulting, including a Ferrari, another Porsche, and a Bentley, which were also locked down.
Mokhesi, the former head of the department of human settlements’ luxury home, the Wild Olive Heights Estate in Bloemfontein was restrained, along with four cars registered in his name, and his Government Employees Fund pension.
Matlakala, a department official, too had his pension frozen, and three – more modest – cars seized.
For Mlamleli, the mayoral chains and the office she occupied are long gone.
The AFU listed her seized assets as five properties, two cars, and the financial interests she holds in four companies.
Their arrest and the mammoth asset freeze came amid a banner week for law enforcement agencies, pulling the strings behind a tightening state capture dragnet.
The tainted contract – advanced by the Free State’s Department of Human Settlements in 2014, envisioned an audit of 36 000 low cost homes in the province still fitted with asbestos roofs.
The department had, according to papers before court, unlawfully used a Treasury regulation which allows a government department to procure goods or services from a service provider contract to another state arm.
Former mayor Sarah Mlamleli is also accused in the matter.
The beneficiaries of this chicanery were Sodi and his Blackhead Consulting, as well as Igo Mpambani’s Diamond Hill Trading 71, who came together in a joint venture.
The two then subcontracted Radebe’s consulting firm, Mastertrade 232, who then in turn sub-contracted to Manyeki’s ORI Group.
It is estimated that the Sodi/Mpambani JV banked R200 million in profit, paying Mastertrade roughly R40 million. Ori – the firm doing the actual work – is understood to have been paid R21 million.
Mpambani was never to see the fruits of his payday, as he was shot in Sandton in 2017.
After a brief appearance before the court, the seven were remanded on bail. Sodi was to pay R500 000 to secure his liberty while he awaits trial.
Mokhesi, Radebe, Zulu and Mlamleli were granted R100 000 bail, while that of Matlakala and Manyeki was set at R50 000.
They are set to appear next month.