Johannesburg - Joburg's corruption-busting unit is close to nailing a contractor using his close links with a top city official to solicit as much as R1million bribes from rival providers for their invoices to be paid.
These damning allegations form part of Joburg’s Group Forensic and Investigations Services' (GFIS) latest investigation, where the probe includes claims of conflicts of interest. The GFIS is a crack corruption-busting unit put together by Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba to clean up the city.
The investigation follows explosive claims from a service provider, whose name is known to The Star, that a fellow city contractor, Lesley Mugeri, asked him for R1m to help the businessman receive his roughly R10m payment for city work.
Mugeri is alleged to have said his “friendship” with Lufuno Mashau, the operations director in the city manager's office, and who, until recently, was a high-ranking official in Joburg's finance department, would ensure that his fellow contractor's multimillion-rand bill is paid.
The Star has established from a source close to Mugeri that the alleged bribery conversation with the aggrieved city contractor did take place.
The highly-placed source, however, said Mugeri did not view the conversation as bribery solicitation, but rather fellow contractors trying to assist each other, “in exchange for a small fee”.
The Star has also learnt that Mashau has been Mugeri’s guest at his upmarket holiday home in Zimbali, KwaZulu-Natal.
Mugeri is part of Joburg's attorney collection panel, which collects debt on behalf of the city.
In his response Mugeri said his company had also experienced payment problems with the city, which almost caused him to retrench more than 80 employees, where he had to plead with various departments for his invoices to be paid.
It was only after Mashau's intervention, Mugeri added, that his invoice was paid and more than 80 jobs were saved.
“During this process, I learnt for the first time that me and Mr Mashau come from the same village. We became close since then and I would invite him for my personal functions, including inviting him to my homes as alleged. I don't know where the bribe allegations come from and I reject those,” Mugeri said.
Lucky Sindane, spokesperson for the GFIS, confirmed that the city's corruption-busting unit was investigating the claims, adding that these allegations were "not being taken lightly".
“We want to get to the bottom of this; if indeed there was wrongdoing by Mashau or the service provider (Mugeri), they will be brought to book. We have investigated service providers before and we cannot say it would be the first time there is collusion with our officials,” Sindane said.
He added that Mashau had been interviewed by an investigator already, and had confirmed he knew Mugeri.
But Mashau said he did not handle payments for city contractors.
“He (Mashau) said they grew up together, they come from the same village, but that (Mugeri) had been doing business with the city way before Lufuno worked for Joburg,” Sindane said.
Mashau expressed confidence in the GFIS’s investigation, saying he took these allegations seriously and wanted action to be taken should any wrongdoing be unearthed.
He conceded that Mugeri was “an acquaintance” from his hometown, where the pair had “socialised” on occasion, including visiting the Zimbali home. But Mashau said no favours were conferred on him and that he paid for his own trip.
On whether a service provider should have an intimate relationship with a top city official, Mashau said it would be improper to characterise their acquaintance as intimate, and the relationship would only be problematic if “one party was inducing the other party to act in an improper manner”.
“The fact that Mr Mugeri and I are acquaintances on its own cannot equate to impropriety having taken place in the city. Indeed, Mr Mugeri has been a service provider to the city for many years, long before I joined the administration,” Mashau added.