R2bn graft probe ‘sabotaged’

Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede after an appearance at the Durban High Court. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/ Independent Newspapers

Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede after an appearance at the Durban High Court. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/ Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 26, 2024


Durban — The forensic investigations company that uncovered an alleged pattern of racketeering and corruption that resulted in nearly R2 billion losses for the eThekwini Municipality believes the sudden termination of its contract by the entity was politically motivated.

Integrity Forensic Solutions CC launched an application with the Durban High Court earlier this month to annul the termination and also demanded their outstanding payment of R1 million.

Leo Saunders, a director of IFS, the company central to investigations in the R320m DSW tender fraud saga, where former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede is an accused person, believes prosecution in the matter could “collapse” without their involvement.

IFS was on the cusp of finalising its investigations into the alleged siphoning of R1.6bn from eThekwini’s Water and Sanitation Department when it was dumped in the last quarter of 2023. In court documents, IFS claimed it had yet to receive a formal letter of termination.

Instead, the company learnt about its axing via an undated letter sent by Thulani Ntobela, the City Integrity and Investigations Unit’s (CIIU) head, to a Hawks official.

IFS was among 17 forensics investigations companies the municipality contracted for two years to investigate unresolved cases in March 2018.

The CIIU has since removed the company for allegedly not having the required permissions for the subsequent contract extensions, in providing “litigation support” in the DSW court matter.

Apart from IFS, 15 of the other companies that the municipality engaged in 2018 continue assisting the CIIU.

Respondents in the matter include the municipality, the CIIU, Ntobela and Musa Mbhele, the municipal manager.

Municipal spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said they were “taking legal advice on the appropriate course to take”.

“Our response to the allegations made by IFS will be contained in court papers.”

Ntobela did not comment when approached by the Sunday Tribune.

In his previous letter to the Hawks regarding the IFS termination, Ntobela said his unit could no longer fund the “project”, which related to a tripartite agreement between the National Prosecuting Authority, the police and IFS.

Having produced volumes of evidence to ensure the DSW matter was ready for trial, the municipality had agreed to fund the IFS’s further investigation and provide litigation support.

In responding to a subsequent legal demand for the outstanding amount due to IFS for work done between July and August 2023, Ntobela said: “Your email is acknowledged and I will be gladly waiting for summons.”

Saunders, who filed a supporting affidavit, denied there was any basis to contend that IFS’s appointments were irregular and were lawfully approved, in accordance with eThekwini’s supply chain management policies, which were aligned to National Treasury directives.

IFS’s engagement, which was initiated by the former CIIU head, Mbuso Ngcobo, also had the blessings of Sipho Nzuza, the former municipal manager, who is an accused in the DSW matter.

The municipality’s bid adjudication committee was among the committees that had approved additional work for IFS.

Ngcobo endorsed the IFS’s mandate to support the Hawks and the NPA in the prosecutor-guided investigations that followed.

In September 2020, IFS was engaged to probe suspected acts of corruption in the Water and Sanitation Department. Saunders said the termination of its contract was done deliberately without any lawful basis and would “stifle” the criminal investigations it had conducted and the successful prosecution of individuals who had stolen from the municipality.

With regard to the DSW matter, Saunders believed the purpose of the termination was to prevent IFS from presenting evidence in court and to stymie investigations.

Evidence gathered by IFS was used to support three successful bids by the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit to seize assets worth millions of rand.

Saunders said they learnt about the termination by chance. He found Ntobela’s approach “heavy-handed” and “nonsensical” and couldn’t understand why IFS was not engaged about the termination. He was astounded by Ntobela’s “gladly waiting for summons” comment, and challenged the municipality to provide evidence that their appointments were irregular.

Saunders said he was a key witness in the DSW matter and his evidence was the bedrock on which the NPA formulated charges against the accused, but was now reduced to a subpoenaed witness.

He accused the municipality of “deliberately sabotaging” the DSW and water and sanitation matters and claimed Ntobela was aware of it.

Saunders pointed out that Ntobela, Gumede and others implicated were all members of the ANC and said it was likely that Ntobela was attempting to “scupper” the criminal matter.

Saunders said the municipal public account committee’s members were political appointees who gave Ntobela instructions to investigate IFS’s appointments, and had previously forced Ngcobo to reveal the identity of witnesses and arrange for them to be cross-examined by the committee.

He found it uncanny that after a senior municipal official was investigated and found to be involved in corrupt activities, which Ngcobo reported to the SAPS, Ngcobo was targeted.

Ngcobo apparently claimed he was being victimised by political leaders and received threats before resigning on July 31, 2023.

Ngcobo then claimed he was being victimised by political leaders and received threats before resigning on July 31, 2023.

Since his appointment in August, Saunders questioned why Ntobela is yet to investigate how a R600m payout was made to an accused in the DSW matter, who is on bail.

Saunders also listed eight grounds, in respect of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, on which termination decisions could be reviewed and set aside.

Sunday Tribune