Seven men arrested in connection with VBS looting appeared in the Palm Ridge Court earlier this week. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency/ANA
Seven men arrested in connection with VBS looting appeared in the Palm Ridge Court earlier this week. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency/ANA

‘Political meddling could collapse VBS case’

By Mzilikazi Wa Afrika and Karabo Ngoepe Time of article published Jun 21, 2020

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Johannesburg - The case against the alleged looters of the Venda Building Society (VBS) Mutual Bank could collapse due to alleged political meddling and the attempt to use it to settle scores. This is according to sources close to the investigation, who this week warned against the politicisation of the trial and the timing of the arrests - two years after the investigation was concluded.

The sources raised their concerns following the arrest of eight suspects - including former VBS chairperson Tshifhiwa Matodzi - on accusations of looting R2 billion from the bank between 2015 and 2018.

The warning came days after National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi described the scandal as “probably the biggest bank robbery in this country”.

The sources claimed investigators were put under pressure in the period between the conclusion of the probe into the collapse of the bank and the arrest of the suspects to find the smoking gun needed to nail unnamed big fish “by hook or by crook”.

While the investigation was concluded in 2018, they added, the arrests were delayed as “some people were hoping that something would fall from the sky to directly implicate the big fish in the matter".

“This case is purely a criminal matter but it would be turned into a political circus by those who have hidden agendas and scores to settle with their rivals. And if we allow political meddling to happen in this case, we will see it collapsing regardless of the crucial evidence collected against the suspects,” said an official familiar with the investigation.

He claimed one of the big fish is a senior politician “who has ticked off the wrong people and would be made to pay the price". 

"We are investigating criminals and we are not going to use this investigation to settle political scores.The same people arrested in a raid this week could have been arrested two years ago but everything was delayed as investigators were told to look for a smoking gun against the big fish,” added another source.

“It is evident that some of the money looted from VBS found its way into some of the politicians’ pockets and bankrolled their lifestyles, but whether or not these politicians are criminals themselves is a bone of contention.”

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi denied claims of political meddling.

“If there is anyone with any information which indicates that there was any political meddling in this investigation, they must bring it to the fore and report it to the relevant authorities, like the Public Protector and others. We stand by our officers that they are investigating a criminal case and not conducting a political witchhunt,” Mulaudzi said.

He confirmed more arrests were expected but refused to say whether politicians were among the suspects.

“We don’t have the number of suspects yet, but there are a lot of people we are looking at.”

While the sources refused to give names, it is understood that the big fish include EFF president Julius Malema and his deputy Floyd Shivambu.

The two politicians have been relentlessly accused by sections of the media of involvement in the VBS scandal even though their names were not mentioned in the report.

Malema could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Shivambu declined to comment.

However, in a statement released this week, the EFF welcomed the arrests of the eight men and reiterated its stance that its leaders were innocent.

“We welcome the commitment by the DPCI (Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation) that no stone will be left unturned in conducting these investigations and that everyone involved in the wrong will be held accountable.

“The leadership of the EFF reaffirms its statements and articulations that despite the many factional and politically influenced allegations against its leadership, there is no wrongdoing or criminal activity committed by its leaders.

“We will closely monitor developments and believe that the process under way will be conducted in a free and fair manner so that justice prevails and that the legal principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is followed both in letter and in spirit,” said EFF spokesperson Vuyani Pambo.

Matodzi, who has been dubbed the kingpin, VBS chief executive officer Andile Ramavhunga, former treasurer Phophi Mukhodobwane, two former board members Paul Magula and Ernest Nesane, bank audit committee member Phalaphala Ramikosi, and former audit firm KPMG engagement partner Sipho Malaba, appeared before the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crimes Court sitting at the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court in Katlehong on Thursday.

Ramikosi, a former SAPS chief executive who served as VBS’s non-executive board member.

They were released on bail of R100 000 each after being charged with 47 counts of fraud, corruption, theft, racketeering and money laundering. Four of them were arrested on Wednesday during co-ordinated raids in Limpopo and Gauteng, while three others surrendered to the police the following day.

The eighth suspect, VBS chief financial officer Philip Truter, was unable to make it to court because he is under quarantine after contacting Covid-19. He is expected to appear in court this week after undergoing a coronavirus test.

The case has been postponed to October 8.

Ndivhuwo Khangale, VBS spokesperson, declined to comment.

VBS Mutual Bank collapsed after its executives allegedly looted more than R2bn. The money included investments from government departments, stokvels and ordinary South African depositors.

Senior politicians from the ANC, the SACP and the EFF, as well as mayors and municipal employees, were implicated in the VBS report, compiled by advocate Terry Motau, as some of the beneficiaries.

This includes Shivambu’s brother, Brian, Limpopo ANC treasurer Danny Msiza, deputy chairperson and former Vhembe district mayor Florence Radzilani, as well as former Limpopo SACP provincial secretary and Capricorn District mayor Gilbert Kganyago.

Msiza allegedly mobilised Limpopo municipalities to illegally invest in VBS while Radzilani allegedly received a “Christmas gift” worth R300 000.

They have maintained innocence.

Limpopo ANC secretary Soviet Lekganyane reportedly said the governing party would not side with party leaders implicated in the VBS scandal.

The Sunday Independent has also established that the investigation was moving to phase two where the focus would now be on those who were outside the corridors of the bank.

Another highly placed source close to the investigation said a high-level meeting has been scheduled for the next two weeks to strategies on how to proceed.

“It’s going to be in that meeting where we are going to map out the way forward in terms of arresting politicians and those who instructed government departments to invest with VBS.

However, we can’t name the people as of yet but in due course, there will be huge movements.

“This has been a vigorous process because the prosecution team wanted to satisfy that we had closed every loophole in the matter. The team has been hard at work and continues to do so,” said the source.

NPA spokesperson Sipho Ngwema has hinted that more people might be arrested.

“The investigation continues. This is just one part of a big investigation and we bite this big elephant in small chunks. We will go where the evidence leads us to everything. We will not give a running commentary on cases but we will speak through the actions we take,” Ngwema said.

He could neither confirm nor deny whether a senior politician or politicians would be arrested as part of the investigation.

“The investigation will follow every piece of credible evidence with regards to any criminal activity.”

Batohi reiterated that the NPA owed it to the people of Limpopo who lost their hard-earned savings to VBS to prosecute the perpetrators.

“We can only turn the tide against corruption if those implicated are arrested. The wheels of justice are turning and justice will prevail,” Batohi said.

At the same conference, Hawks boss General Godfrey Lebeya said the VBS “scam was hatched on 4 July, 2017 when the board of directors approved the financial statement for the year ending 31 March, 2017 making VBS look richer, while in fact it was insolvent".

The Sunday Independent

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