Life Esidimeni, the NPO and the missing R10m
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Cape Town - After about R10 million mysteriously dropped into its bank account, a West Rand non-profit organisation found itself embroiled in demands from the Gauteng Department of Social Development and a strange case of vanishing money.
Staff at A re Ageng, which operates shelters for victims of domestic violence, thought they were doing the department a favour when they agreed to accept a deposit from the department and transfer it to another NPO.
The reason for the transfer, the department told them, was that the other non-profit organisation had not yet been registered on its system.
On June 29 the department sent about R13m to A re Ageng, who then transferred the money.
Although the department told A re Ageng that the money should go to an NPO called Life Recovery Centre, the banking details provided were actually for a related organisation, Life Esidimeni, where 94 mental patients died, who were transferred to unlicensed care centres from its facilities by provincial health authorities.
Mpule Thejane Lenyehelo, A re Ageng’s director, said the transfer marked the end of the agreement but on October 18 last year, R10 million listed as foreign exchange, suddenly landed in A re Ageng’s account.
Neither the bank nor A re Ageng knew who had sent the money until the department eventually came forward instructing A re Ageng to transfer it to the Life Recovery Centre. Before completing the payment, A re Ageng requested proof that the money came from the department.
Lenyehelo said the documents the department sent in response were inconclusive and it waited for further proof from the department, which was never sent.
Events then spiralled out of control. On October 31, unknown parties attempted to load additional beneficiaries on to A re Ageng’s account.
The bank halted this, but the account was accessed twice in the first week of November, with R1 000 stolen each time.
Around this time, Lenyehelo believed she was being followed by a car that only drove off when she parked at the police station. “I do believe that my life was at stake on that day and continue to believe this today. I am also afraid that this extends to that of my staff and members,” she wrote in a letter to Gauteng Social Development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, asking for her help.
Less than a week later, R5 million disappeared from A re Ageng’s account.
Documents exposed in court in mid-January uncovered that the missing money was sent to a Pretoria company, Kish Gas (Pty) Ltd, that sells fuel and related products. Its director, Kishan Jawaharlal, denied any involvement and said he was a victim of circumstances too.
Jawaharlal claimed a “Zimbabwean foreign national” came to Kish Gas, created a customer account and wanted to spend R10m “for diesel purchases”. Two days later, R5m showed up in the Kish Gas account and some products were sent before FNB informed Jawaharlal that the transfer was fraudulent and froze Kish Gas’s account.
Jawaharlal said the mysterious customer has since turned off his phone and has stopped responding to e-mails.
And because A re Ageng did not immediately send the second deposit, the department also came after the organisation, Lenyehelo alleged.
It has since refused to pay A re Ageng’s contractually guaranteed funding for the most recent quarter, alleging a breach of contract.
A re Ageng had previously transferred its own funds into a new account to separate it from the contested money. That account was also frozen. But it secured a court order on December 14 to unlock the account to pay employees.
But because the department has stopped its payments, A re Ageng’s staff have still not been paid for January, even though it continued providing services.
“The department is trying to play hide and seek,” Lenyehelo said.
Gauteng Department of Social Development spokesperson Mbangwa Xaba responded: “Our relationship with A re Ageng is legal, contractual and above board. As such, there would be nothing sinister in our dealings with them.”
He declined to comment further.
On December 22, the department removed beneficiaries of A re Ageng’s services from its facility in Bekkersdal and placed them in another NPO in Krugersdorp.
In her report on the incident, Lenyehelo wrote: “Beneficiaries were not given a chance to make a decision but were instructed to pack their belongings and were informed that the management is under investigation.”
According to multiple reports, beneficiaries’ files were not removed for the transfer, meaning the Krugersdorp centre would know nothing of individuals’ needs. Some left the new centre the following day.
In an affidavit, Nehemia Languza, director of legal services at the department, said that A re Ageng failed to attend two meetings leading up to the removal of its beneficiaries in December.
The affidavit then alleges that A re Ageng remains “indebted” to the department and the banks for the roughly R10m that was deposited in its account that was “clearly and undisputedly earmarked” for Life Recovery Centre.
“It was the only solution in the interim to solve a very urgent problem,” Languza said in his affidavit, referencing the bank transfers.
Bank statements made public in court proceedings showed that A re Ageng is not the first NPO the department used to transfer large sums to Life Esidimeni.
A similar transaction was made in April, when R14m was deposited into the FNB account listed to a treatment centre linked to Life Recovery Centre and Life Esidimeni.
That money was transferred through Sanca Horizon, an unrelated drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.
The case involving A re Ageng and the department is set to return to the South Gauteng High Court on February 28.