Computers, documents seized in swoop
Priority crime unit the Hawks raided the offices of Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium operators Access Management yesterday, intensifying their probe into allegations of money laundering and fraud.
Members of the Anti-Corruption Task Team and the Cyber Crime Unit confiscated computers and piles of documents after obtaining a warrant from the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court.
The swoop on Access stems from a criminal case opened by Nelson Mandela Bay Ratepayers’ Association chairman Kobus Gerber for corruption in January, as well as a high court case instituted by the association and AfriForum.
Gerber believes that Access was being used as a gateway through which millions of rands of taxpayers’ money were funnelled to various outlets, including the Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU).
However, Access’s attorney, Danie Gouws, fobbed off the midday raid as nothing more than a publicity stunt by Gerber.
Yesterday’s raid was one of the first visible moves from law enforcement agencies pointing to its probe into allegations of fraud related to the city’s notorious bus system and the stadium operator.
The metro has in the past launched forensic investigations, and subsequently suspended municipal officials, but there was never a strong indication that the Hawks were involved.
Gerber previously questioned the extension of Access’s contract by the municipality in July last year, alleging that it was renewed to facilitate payments of millions of rands to EPRU.
Access’s contract was extended for a year without following the normal tender processes
Two months ago, the operator’s contract was extended for an additional six months to afford the city time to peruse the bids submitted for the management of the stadium precinct.
An insider close to the investigation said Access was being investigated for money laundering and fraud following its alleged connection with several failed projects in the Bay. It is understood that matters under investigation include claims of:
ý How money from the IPTS budget was transferred – through Access – to pay for events that were not related to the beleaguered bus system;
ý Payments of about R12-million to ,businesswoman Andrea Wessels’ company, Zeranza, for a music concert at the stadium which never took place;and
ý The alleged unlawful renewal of Access’s contract as stadium operators last year.
Gerber said yesterday he was happy to see the case was finally moving forward.
“Hopefully, there will soon be arrests and people can be held accountable,” he said.
“The Hawks have now got to the point where they will be looking into bank accounts and statements to see where the money is going.”
“I feel good that things are moving in the right direction. [Access director] Rian Oberholzer is going to be a very worried man after today,” Gerber said.
Gouws said they had made it clear they were willing to cooperate with the investigation.
“[ Yesterday’s] search was completely unnecessary as the investigating officer was informed a week after the case was reported in January that we were willing to hand over any documentation needed to assist the police in their investigation,” he said.
Gouws said Access had been willing to give that undertaking at the time because it had done nothing untoward and therefore had nothing to hide.
“We said we would work with the police in all aspects of the investigation. “The raid was nothing more than a publicity stunt by Kobus Gerber and company,” he said.
Acting city manager Johann Mettler said he was not yet sure if the raid would affect the metro ’s contract with Access.
In an affidavit to the Port Elizabeth High Court last month, Oberholzer admitted the operator had served as the gateway for the municipality to filter millions of rands to the EP Kings and Chippa United.
His affidavit was in response to a court application by AfriForum and the ratepayers’ association to have the stadium contract set aside.
Oberholzer, meanwhile, denied any wrongdoing, claiming they at all times acted on instruction of the municipality, in terms of the operator’s agreement.
He detailed how, together with colleague Chantal du Pisani, they had been instructed by themunicipality to pay over a R750 000 loan to Chippa United, which had been approved by the city.
Oberholzer said this had been done because Chippa was not an authorised vendor on the municipality’s system.
He said Access, on behalf of the municipality, had also bought commercial rights from EP Rugby for the period July 1 last year to June 30 this year.
“The purchase of EP Rugby’s commercial rights was budgeted for by Access and the budgets approved by the municipality.”
Oberholzer said that after the acquisition of the commercial rights, EPRU president Cheeky Watson had met then mayor Danny Jordaan, alleging EP Rugby’s commercial rights had been under valued.
After attending a meeting with chief financial officer Trevor Harper and former budget and treasury portfolio councillor Rory Riordan at Jordaan’s office, Oberholzer said, Access had been instructed to add an additional R5-million to the purchase price.
“Access adhered to the instruction of the mayor and invoiced the municipality for the additional R5-million,” Oberholzer said.
“On receipt of the money, payment was made to EP Rugby.”