NPA ’ready for asbestos trial’ as Magashule stands firm amid strong support
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) says the R255 million asbestos corruption case against former Free State premier Ace Magashule and several others is ready for trial.
Magashule was the latest accused to appear at the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court on Friday. He faces 21 charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering.
The seven other suspects, which include businessman Edwin Sodi and former Free State MEC for human settlements Olly Mlamleli, appeared in court earlier this week.
Their next appearance, along with Magashule, is scheduled for February 19, 2021, where three more suspects will appear.
Before magistrate Amos Moos granted Magashule bail of R200 000, the secretary-general's legal counsel, Laurance Hodes SC, pleaded with the court that Magashule could only afford bail of R20 000 because he only earned a salary of R133 000. He said he has R700 000 in movable assets and does not own any non-movable assets in his name.
As part of his bail condition, Magashule will have to surrender his passport and also keep from communicating with his former personal assistant, Moroadi Cholota, who currently resides in the US. Cholota has turned State witness.
She previously appeared at the Zondo commission and faced tough questions regarding her role in facilitating alleged bribery payments on behalf of Magashule.
The R255 million Free State asbestos contract was reported on at the Zondo commission.
Sodi's company, Blackhead Consulting, and its joint-venture partner, Diamond Hill, owned by now-deceased businessman Ignatious Mpambani, were awarded the contract in 2014.
In evidence presented at the commission, it was revealed that the contract was subcontracted twice and the final company which performed the asbestos audit did so for just over R20 million.
Magashule was implicated in the deal and his former personal assistant faced questions at the inquiry over requests for payments that she made to Mpambani on behalf of Magashule.
The ANC leader also faces an additional charge of failing to report corrupt transactions in contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act 12 of 2004.
Following his brief appearance in the dock, where he appeared jovial, Magashule took the stage outside the court and addressed hundreds of supporters who had travelled from various parts of the country to support him.
They sang Struggle songs and most were dressed in ANC regalia while carrying ANC flags. Magashule was cheered on with praises as he spoke while flanked by prominent ANC members.
Some of those who decided to support him were former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, former minister Malusi Gigaba, ANC MP Bongani Bongo and Ekruhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina.
Only Tony Yengeni addressed the gathering and used his brief speech to commend those members who were brave enough to show up in ANC colours.
He claimed Magashule was a victim of a campaign to smear the names of those who fought against "radical economic transformation".
But it was Yengeni's references to Magashule being elected by the branches of the ANC that got the biggest cheers. He maintained that the former premier was going nowhere.
"We are here in numbers from all the structures of the ANC. Yesterday, the top six had a press conference. The officials pledged their support for comrade Ace Magashule.
"We are not here as individuals, we are not here as just friends, we are not here as a faction. We are representing the ANC. That is why we are here wearing ANC colours.
’’We make no apologies for coming here and supporting the SG and wearing ANC colours," Yengeni said to cheers from the crowd.
Magashule also shared similar comments when he addressed the crowd. He said he was not willing to step aside while he clears his name.
"I will respect the voices of the branches. If branches say I must step aside, I was elected by branches at the conference, I will go back to the conference and the branches must say to me Comrade Ace step aside and I will then do so.
’’Because it will be coming from the basic units of the ANC. Nobody can remove us,” Magashule said.