Durban - The head of South Africa’s Asset Forfeiture Unit, Willie Hofmeyr, has rejected claims by Durban businesswoman Shauwn Mpisane and her husband S’bu, that the unit was targeting black businesses.
He pointed out that of the 12 cases the unit had dealt with, only two involved black businesses, and one of those was the Mpisane case.
In an interview with the Sunday Tribune, the Mpisanes had said that standards were being applied to “persecute” black business for “daring to venture into an exclusive construction territory”, while white-owned businesses escaped with impunity.
This is after a 6am raid on the Mpisane mansion in La Lucia by anti-corruption task team police, bearing a court order organised by the AFU to restrain assets to the value of R140 million, including cars and properties, amid allegations of fraud in housing tenders.
Hofmeyer said the unit had always acted in all matters where a criminal investigation was close to being finalised and uncovered facts that supported asset forfeiture.
“In serious economic crime cases, investigations usually take many years because of the complexity of the cases,” Hofmeyr said.
“In fact, the vast majority of economic crime cases in which the AFU has acted involves white businesses. Thus far the AFU has acted in 12 matters, which include corruption, where it has frozen assets of more than R50 million in each case. There are six cases involving mainly or exclusively white businesses, two Indian, two African businesses – of which Ms Mpisane’s company is the second and the other two involving a German and a Rwandan business.
“On claims that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should seize the assets of those implicated in the construction cartel, well this cannot be done just yet due to rules within the Competition Commission, which do not allow for disclosures to be admissible.
“In the Mpisane matter we used the same reasonable grounds which would apply to any arrest to secure the seizure order,” Hoffmeyr said.
At the weekend, the DA in Durban called for the immediate halt on projects given to firms accused of colluding in the construction industry and for their assets to be seized – as was done in the Wednesday raid on the Mpisanes.
This comes amid speculation that more than 20 of the biggest construction firms linked to a tender price fixing cartel may escape prosecution because of a ruling in the Competitions Commission, which allows for voluntary disclosure in return for immunity.
However, the DA’s eThekwini caucus leader, Tex Collins, said the NPA should act against those implicated as they had done with La Lucia business couple Shauwn and S’bu Mpisane.
“I am not in support of Shauwn Mpisane and have always maintained that the city should never have given her contracts, however I believe the law should be even-handed,” Collins said.
“How can we make fish of one and fowl of the other? Why should she have her assets seized and contracts stopped while others get immunity from prosecution when they too face charges of fraud and corruption? The NPA must act equally when dealing with the same crime – regardless of who it is.”
Shauwn Mpisane welcomed the call for action against the cartel. “The DA’s stance will go a long way towards assuring black businesses like me that the party is not inherently biased against them.”
Mpisane is challenging the seizure of her assets as she believes the case against her is not only “nonsensical but also baseless”.
In the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday the couple argued against the removal of the cars, saying they were in better, more secure, care at their La Lucia home.
They also argued for the removal of the curator, Trevor White.