One of VBS Mutual Bank’s top executives accused of looting the institution of more than R1.5billion has maintained his innocence, as the case looks set to be heard in court on Tuesday.
Andile Ramavhunga, the bank’s chief executive, is an apparent prime target of the State in its high court bid to sequestrate the personal assets of the executives.
The State believes that as the bank’s former chief executive, Ramavhunga still enjoys some control over the bank’s assets.
It also contends that he has in his possession “ill-gotten” properties and vehicles, allegedly acquired through the proceeds of corruption and “stolen” from the bank, in what it says was a fraud scheme of “epic proportions”.
Ramavhunga and other VBS executives - chairperson Tshifhiwa Matodzi, chief financial officer Nicholas Truter, former chief operations officer Robert Madzonga and general head of treasury and capital management Phopi Londolani Mukhodobwane - allegedly lived the high life, raiding depositors’ money to purchase mansions, sports cars and a helicopter. Since the story on the alleged looting of the bank broke earlier this year, Ramavhunga had remained silent.
Yesterday, however, he broke his silence, and denied culpability for the alleged fraud that had led to the collapse of the bank and its subsequent placement under curatorship in March.
“There’s nowhere they (the State) say I defrauded the bank issued an instruction (to defraud the bank); there’s nowhere they say I took part in meetings or was part of WhatsApp groups (to commit the fraud),” he claimed in an interview with The Sunday Independent.
The court bid was brought by curator Anoosh Rooplal in an urgent application to the Johannesburg High Court.
Rooplal said the move to urgently sequestrate Ramavhunga was “due to the fraud he, together with Vele Investments and others, perpetrated against VBS, its depositors and local municipalities”.
In his strongly-worded founding affidavit, Rooplal cites Ramavhunga’s “acceptance of a R15million bonus payment” to Dambale Holdings, a company he is a director of, as the basis for the State’s case. He also lists among Ramavhunga’s alleged irregularities that he:
Created fictitious deposits, together with Mukhodobwane.
Instructing and facilitating the payment of R1.5m to individuals who ensured that the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) placed R1.5bn in deposits with VBS.
Benefited from the clearance of an overdraft facility of another business, Shangri-La.
In his answering affidavit, Ramavhunga is adamant that he had not done anything wrong, insisting that he was unfairly targeted. He repeated the same views in the interview yesterday. He admitted receiving R15m but denied that the payment was a bonus.
He said he received the payment after his business, Dambale Holdings, successfully brokered a deal that saw Matodzi, who was also the chairperson of Vele, purchase another business, Mvunonala Holdings.
He admitted, in his affidavit, to giving Mukhodobwane instructions for the R1.5m payment for the Prasa deal but denied it was a bribe. He said it was “a performance incentive” for the successful procurement of the (Prasa) investment.
“I have never met or sat with a Prasa official, never been at their offices or restaurant.”
He also denied bribing municipal officials for their councils to bank with VBS.
In the founding affidavit, Rooplal suggests that there is prima facie case against Ramavhunga and other VBS executives, saying the findings from his own investigation were “fortified” by a probe conducted by advocate Terry Motau, assisted by Werksmans Attorneys.
“More egregious than the perpetration of a fraudulent scheme of such enormity is that the fraudulent scheme was orchestrated by the highest-ranking officials at VBS.
Rooplal added that the executives paid themselves hefty bonuses, which they “used to fund their lifestyles, purchase immovable property, buy high-end motor vehicles, and take up shares and interests in other entities”.
Like some of his colleagues, Ramavhunga blamed VBS’s collapse on the Treasury letter instructing municipalities not to deposit funds with the bank as it was not a commercial bank.
Sequestration orders against the five executives would see them surrendering their estates and financial affairs to a trustee and their bank accounts frozen and assets seized.
Madzonga stands to lose a bevy of luxury cars, some of which his wife Khosi posted on social media. Apart from a helicopter, he also owned two G-Class G63 Mercedes-Benz cars, a Rolls-Royce and a Audi R8 sports car.
Matodzi bought a R6.5m Ferrari with money in VBS’s possession. He declined to comment on the sequestration bid.
Among Ramavhunga’s assets listed by the State are houses in Sundowner, Joburg, (valued at R2m) and La Lucia in uMhlanga (R1.6m), three vehicles, including a Mercedes-Benz, a BMW 4 series, an Audi A5 and a Porsche Cayenne.
In his affidavit, however, Ramavhunga does not list a Mercedes-Benz.
Instead, he lists two Range Rovers and a house in Fourways and North Riding.
He vehemently denied living a lavish lifestyle.
“Did they say Andile owns a Porsche? Did they say Andile owns a Ferrari, did they say Andile owns a property in Cape Town? You know what they do? They say these directors (and not me)."
Quizzed about the Porsche on his list, he said: “Yes, but when was it bought? The house that they want in La Lucia was sold in 2012 before I even joined VBS. (I stay in) Sundowner. I don’t stay in Sandton. I don’t stay in Morningside."
He added: “Just to put it in perspective, I am turning 39 in October and I have been earning over a R1m since I was 27. Take away bonuses that I make and count how many millions I made in those years.
“Now you're tell me that I can’t own a house of R2m? I can’t own a Porsche of R1.4m?"
Ramavhunga also disputed the State’s assertion that he should be declared insolvent, saying no valuation had been done on his assets and liabilities. He argues that there was therefore no basis for a sequestration order against him.
VBS shot to prominence in 2016 after it granted former president Jacob Zuma a R7.8m loan for his Nkandla legal fees. Ramavhunga defended the decision, saying everything had been “more than above board”.
He said he tried to play an oversight role at VBS, but that it would have been difficult for him to discover if there were any irregularities.
“If it was fraud, it would have been hidden. I agree and take full responsibility but remember I was not running the bank alone. I think it would be unfair to expect me to have gone through each and every transaction."