PORT ELIZABETH – Former Eastern Province Rugby President (EPRU) Cheeky Watson and three others appeared in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate's Court on Friday on charges of theft, fraud, corruption, money laundering and forgery involving millions of rand.
Watson, 63, Nadia Gerwel, 51, Mandisi Mkaza, 35, Joeleen Wessels and her company Zeranza are facing 43 counts totalling R12 million for "circumventing the procurement process" between the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, National Treasury and Access Management.
Gerwel is a former senior financial official at Nelson Mandela Mandela Bay Municipality. Robert Netshiunda, spokesperson for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), said the charges related to money that went missing from the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality coffers that was earmarked for the Integrated Transport System (IPTS).
Twenty five buses sit idle because the project has failed to kick off since its inception during 2009.The multi-million rand IPTS is regarded as the city’s biggest corruption scandal.
"In 2007 National Treasury approved a budget of R208 million for the improvement of the IPTS system. When we investigated we found that corruption took place and that already R12 million had been misused. People did not do what they were supposed to with the money. It was used for personal gain," Netshiunda said.
Responding to questions on speculation over the link that EPRU is said to have had in the scandal, Netshiunda said that the union was not under investigation. However, Nelson Mandela Bay Ratepayers Association member, Kobus Gerber, alleged otherwise and said money was used to keep the then cash strapped EP Rugby afloat.
EP Rugby was permanently liquidated in August last year following an order made in the Port Elizabeth High Court. The cash-strapped Union was provisionally liquidated in March 2016 and was given three months to come up with a business rescue plan. SA Rugby subsequently took over the administration of EP Rugby, but later announced that the mystery investor who had wanted to buy a 49% stake in the union had pulled out of the business rescue plan. Two groups of EP Kings players, comprising 36 players in total, had brought the initial liquidation order in an attempt to recoup millions of rand in unpaid salaries.
"You must know one thing, since 2008 EP Rugby never had sponsorship for rugby. They basically sidestepped the procurement processes to channel funding through Access Management for EP Rugby and that's where everyone got involved and got a slice of the cake," said Gerber.
The four accused were arrested on Friday morning by the Hawks when they handed themselves over. They were subsequently released on bail of R2,000 each, the state did not oppose bail. The court made an order that the media were not allowed to take photos of the accused while they were in the court building. Media covering the case were watched closely by court officials during proceedings. The matter falls under a schedule 5 offence and one suspect is yet to be arrested.
"He lives in Hermanus and the state will bring an application for accused number 4 to be added to the charge sheet at a later stage," said State Prosecutor Tjaart van Zyl.
Defence attorney, Danie Gouws read out affidavits from his clients during proceedings. Watson, Gerwel and Wessels indicated in their affidavits that they intended to plead not guilty to the charges against them. Watson later told reporters that the charges against him were "malicious".
"I believe the charges are malicious and we will get to the bottom of this," Watson said while leaving court with his lawyer Danie Gouws. The state alleges that all the accused acted "in common purpose". The case was postponed until May 3 for outstanding financial reports and the for the arrest of an outstanding accused who is based in Hermanus.