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Durban - Dube TradePort CEO Rohan Persad has resigned amid allegations of corruption that could see him criminally charged.
The allegations relate to Persad taking kickbacks from Alex McRoberts, a director of Worldwide Flight Services SA, (WFS-SA) the company that had the operating contract for Dube TradePort’s cargo terminal at King Shaka International Airport.
The allegations were first exposed in The Mercury’s sister paper, the Sunday Tribune, a month ago. The Dube TradePort board, chaired by Bridgette Gasa, responded by putting Persad on a cautionary suspension on July 12 and appointed independent audit firm PwC to probe the contract.
Gasa confirmed on Thursday that Persad had resigned with immediate effect.
The Mercury understands that Persad resigned before the board considered the PwC forensic report, which was compiled over the past two weeks.
Persad was not interviewed, nor was he given sight of the report beforehand, but sources said he knew the writing was on the wall.
He had an opportunity to refute the allegations in the Sunday Tribune that McRoberts had paid for his wife’s hotel bills in London, but has yet to speak out on the allegations.
The Mercury understands there are other Dube TradePort executives who are under investigation, and at least one source has suggested Persad could be the “fall guy”.
The allegations of a corrupt relationship between Persad and McRoberts related to how the two allegedly set about finding ways for Persad to acquire a 40 percent stake in WFS-SA. The now-defunct company had secured the cargo handling contract, reportedly worth R50 million a year, from Dube TradePort in 2010.
However, earlier this year, Persad gave notice that he was going to cancel the WFS-SA contract and accused certain company directors of committing “corrupt acts” and fraud that had cost Dube TradePort R9m.
McRoberts said the charges were “spurious”, and he accused Persad of trying to gain control of WFS-SA.
The issue went to court, but the parties settled privately and refused to make public details of the settlement.
Meanwhile, a furious McRoberts approached the Sunday Tribune, alleging it was Persad who was corrupt.
The newspaper said it had a trail of correspondence in which McRoberts confirmed the corrupt relationship with Persad.
In e-mails, McRoberts claimed that he had proof showing holidays, goods and cash that he had provided to Persad. The terms of the kickback plan included that McRoberts would, through WFS-SA, offer Persad 40 percent of the company.
In turn, Persad would help grow the value of WFS-SA by providing contracts. WFS-SA would then be sold to WFS Global, at a later stage, at an estimated price of about R40m, and Persad would walk away with at least R15m.
The Sunday Tribune subsequently published e-mails in which Persad asked McRoberts to buy his wife, Gilberte Marie, a return business-class ticket on British Airways to London last year as part of her 50th birthday celebrations. McRoberts was asked to book Persad’s wife into hotels and buy camera equipment.
Persad went to ground when the story broke and has not publicly denied the claims.
In Thursday’s statement, Gasa said the Dube TradePort board had accepted Persad’s resignation. She said the board had discussed the PwC probity report.
“The board considered the probity report and is taking appropriate steps,” she said.
Department of Economic Development spokesman Bheko Madlala said MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu would comment only once he had been briefed by the board.
However, the next step is likely to be a full-scale forensic investigation.
The board is now also legally obliged to lay criminal charges against Persad and any others involved, in accordance with the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.
The law obliges them to act if the amount of the alleged corruption is R100 000 or more.
McRoberts, who is based in England, is also not in the clear. The UK Bribery Act, which came into force in July last year, allows for its citizens to be prosecuted on home soil for crimes committed abroad.
Last month, the office of the public protector confirmed that it too was investigating graft allegations against Dube TradePort.
These ranged from nepotism to irregularities relating to procurement and environmental licensing. - The Mercury
* Dube TradePort chief financial officer Ayesha Swalah will also now replace Jan Willem Lotz as acting chief executive.