Johannesburg - The missing West Rand source feared kidnapped after allegedly blowing the whistle on corruption in the Gauteng government is on the run from authorities for her role in the multi-million rand graft scandal, police have confirmed.
The Sunday Independent has reliably learnt that the police are hot on the heels of Nomawethu Kunene, whom they suspect is among the kingpins in the fleecing of millions of rand from the Gauteng Department of Social Development (DSD).
Initial reports were that Kunene, one of the directors of A Re Ageng Social Services - an NGO in business with the Gauteng government - was “kidnapped” after alerting her colleagues to the R5 million that was siphoned from the coffers of A Re Ageng in December.
The Sunday Independent understands that the SAPS have enlisted the services of Interpol as they believe she has skipped the country, and want her extradited back to South Africa to face charges of fraud and theft, among others.
Since her release from bail after her arrest in a sting operation in December, Kunene has missed two court dates; March 26 and April 26, and a warrant for her arrest has been authorised, according to Gauteng police spokesperson Captain Kay Makhubela.
“The person reported as missing is the person in another case. The police are following up all the leads, including information that is sensitive and which we can’t divulge,” said Makhubela.
He would neither confirm nor deny that the police have approached Interpol. Sources told The Sunday Independent that A Re Ageng was used as a “conduit” by the department to transfer R23 million into the account of another NGO, Life Recovery Centre. But Kunene and a fellow director allegedly transferred the first tranch of R13 million and refused to transfer the other R10m.
In an attempt to recoup the funds, the government approached the court to freeze the NGO’s bank account. At least R5 million was found to be missing from the account.
Both A Re Ageng directors, including its founder Mpule Thejane Lenyehelo and Kunene, have maintained that their bank account was hacked and the R5 million allegedly stolen by unknown entities.
But the Mail & Guardian reported last year that it emerged in court that the R5 million had ended up in the account of Kish Gas - a Pretoria company that trades in liquid gas.
Kish Gas owner, Kishan Jawaharlal, said in an affidavit that he was approached by a man who wanted to buy R10 million worth of diesel to export to Zambia. Jawaharlal insisted the money be split into two tranches of R5 million each, the Mail & Guardian reported.
Jawaharlal said later a dozen unmarked trucks with foreign number plates stopped at his shop and were filled with more than 500l of diesel on their way to Zambia. The court found that the money was distributed into 22 accounts by Jawaharlal.
However, the judge found A Re Ageng not liable to repay the money to the Gauteng government.
The source said Kunene was, contrary to reports, not the whistleblower. After Thejane Lenyehelo had laid a complaint with the MEC for Social Development Mayathula Khoza that she (Thejane Lenyehelo) was receiving death threats from allegedly corrupt social development officials, the MEC requested a criminal investigation.
Mayathula Khoza also reported the matter to Gauteng Premier David Makhura and included information about the “conduit” system.
Following the criminal investigation, detectives then set up a sting operation, where Kunene was allegedly offered a lump sum of money as “her share” of the proceeds of the R5m.
After allegedly collecting the money, she was busted. She was released on bail and was expected back in court in March, a month before her “kidnapping”.
Kunene’s family has been pleading for the safe return of the 41-year-old mother of two because they believe she was kidnapped by corrupt officials involved in “mysterious” cash deposits into conduit accounts through various NGOs.
In a strange twist, it was discovered that the missing millions have their origins in the Life Esidimeni saga and the ill-fated Gauteng Health Department’s marathon project, where more than 140 psychiatric patients died after they were placed in illegal NGOs.
After the Life Esidimeni facilities in Randfontein were shut down, residents in the area suggested that the centre be converted into a drug rehabilitation facility.
Makhura gave his nod, and according to DSD spokesperson Mbangwa Xaba, Life Recovery Centre, which is what it was called, needed R23m to operate.
“As it was not on the department’s database, it was most prudent to use the “conduit” system. Xaba said the conduit system is widely used in cases of emergency and government was keen to use Life Recovery facilities before the building was vandalised and valuable equipment lost.
Officials then spoke to both A Re Ageng and Life Recovery directors about using the conduit system for transferring the R23m to Life Recovery.
The Sunday Independent has seen a copy of a letter dated June 22, 2016 from Life Recovery to social development, requesting the amount of “R23 288 028 for the LA of 2016/17 financial year into the bank account of A Re Ageng Social Services, which has been temporarily nominated to receive the subsidy on our behalf as our account is not yet registered with the department’s SAP systems”.
The letter listed the banking details of Life Recovery.
On the same day, A Re Ageng also wrote a letter that Xaba said was in response to Life Recovery and in effect was confirmation that A Re Ageng had consented to be used as a conduit for the funds.
In that letter, signed by both Lenyehelo and Kunene in their capacity as directors, Lenyehelo said we “accept to hold first quarter funding on behalf of Life Recovery Centre Randfontein as to be transferred by the Department of Social Development”.
But no amount is stipulated in the letter. There is also no sign that the department had committed all the agreements in writing.
When questioned, Xaba conceded that the department’s systems had loopholes.
He said after the verbal agreements, the department then made the first deposit of R13m that A Re Ageng duly transferred to Life Recovery.
Problems started when the second tranche, the remaining R10m, was to be transferred.
The two directors refused to transfer the money, claiming they had no proof that the money was from the department.
The directors have consistently labelled the R10m deposit as “suspicious” and maintained that it was transferred by corrupt officials from the department, which were also responsible for the threats and Kunene’s “kidnapping”.
Xaba said: “We don’t deny the fact that we were facilitating this particular agreement between the two NGOs. We concede that there is a gap in our systems, but we sent all the relevant proof to A Re Ageng when they asked for it to show that the money comes from us.
“We provided all the proof and also submitted documents in court.
“It is strange that they would say they don’t know where the money came from when 90% of their income, comes from the DSD. So when you get R13m from us and then three weeks later you get another R10m, surely you would check with us first before concluding that you don’t know the source”.
The Sunday Independent