ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule was all smiles during his first court appearance in connection with a controversial R255 million asbestos contract – but the evidence of his former personal assistant, who turned state witness, can be damning, experts
Secretary-general and his defence told to keep their distance from new witness.
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s house of cards finally looks to be crumbling, with his former personal assistant, Moroadi Cholota, now having turned state witness in the case against him.
This emerged in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court yesterday, when Magashule made his first appearance in connection with a controversial R255 million contract awarded to a joint venture between local engineering firm Blackhead Consulting and a company registered as Diamond Hill Trading 71 in 2014, to identify and eradicate asbestos roofing on lowcost houses across the Free State.
Director and head of corporate investigations and forensics at commercial law firm CMS South Africa Zaakir Mohamed did not want to comment on the merits of the case, but said matters involving criminal fraud investigations generally required the state to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
“The prosecution, therefore, has a high evidentiary burden to prove,” he said.
“One of the evidentiary measures employed is to call a state witness, which is a person that holds personal knowledge of and factual evidence regarding allegations made against the defendant that greatly assists the prosecution in overcoming the burden of proof.”
Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution executive director Lawson Naidoo said Cholota’s testimony could prove crucial to the case.
“These are the kinds of people who have first-hand knowledge of how exactly state capture unfolded and how – in respect of this project in particular – monies were channelled,” Naidoo said.
“So the kind of testimony she could provide is critical in building up the state’s case in the asbestos matter.”
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni agreed.
“It does strengthen the state’s case to have someone close in their corner, especially a personal assistant, because she would have been the one arranging his meetings and preparing his documents,” Fikeni said. “So it brings the state closer to making that critical link because so far, most of the evidence looks to be circumstantial.”
During proceedings, state advocate Johan de Nysschen revealed that Cholota had turned state witness.
“I wish to place it very clearly on record, this woman is now a state witness,” he told the court.
“Therefore, I am asking the court to make a specific condition that neither the accused nor anyone acting on behalf of the accused make any contact with this person.”
Magistrate Amos Moos subsequently ordered Magashule was not to have any contact with Cholota until the matter was finalised, or he would risk breaching his bail conditions.
Cholota’s name was mentioned at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, during the testimony of former Free State economic development MEC Mxolisi Dukwana, who also fingered Magashule in the scandal.
In December last year, she was quizzed about requests for payments of R250 000 to R500 000 she had made to the late owner of Diamond Hill, Ignatius “Igo” Mpambani on behalf of Magashule. She said these had been on behalf of poor students.
In September, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation swooped on seven suspects – Blackhead director Edwin Sodi, former Free State human settlements MEC Matawana Mlamleli, one-time head of department Nthimotse Mokhesi, former human settlements director-general Thabane Wiseman Zulu, supply chain manager John Matlakala and businessmen Sello Joseph Radebe and Kgotso Abel Manyike – in a cross-province operation spanning Gauteng, the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.
Magashule, the province’s premier when the asbestos contract was awarded, stands charged of multiple counts of fraud, corruption and money laundering.
He is one of several high-ranking government officials and businessmen said to have scored from the award, despite little to no work having been done.
Magashule stands accused of accepting, or at least agreeing to accept, a string of bribes in the form of cash, tuition fees and travel expenses in exchange for his political influence.
He was yesterday granted bail of R200 000 and the case postponed until February.
– The Citizen