21 July 2024 | 06:29 AM

SAA boss in ‘cash for dirt’ scandal

Key Takeaways

The suspended SAA chief executive, Monwabisi Kalawe, is likely to crash and burn following a disastrous effort to dig up dirt on his nemesis, the chairperson of the SAA board, Dudu Myeni.

An amaBhungane investigation has revealed that Kalawe paid R150 000 for evidence that showed that Myeni had foreign bank accounts containing €18.5-million, but the bank documents provided to him were fake.

Now Kalawe’s attempts to get the goods on Myeni, who is personally close to President Jacob Zuma, are likely to be used against him in disciplinary proceedings that start next week.

“Kalawe is toast,” said a source close to the proceedings. “He paid R150k for bank account records which he must have known could only have been obtained illegally.”

But was Kalawe set up? Or was he taken for a ride that is likely to cost him his job – on top of the thousands he shelled out for the “evidence”.

The man who purported to act as an intermediary with “security sources” to provide the documents, and who admits to receiving the money, is the chief operating officer of Mogale City (West Rand), Abe Mbulawa.

Conflicting explanations

This week, he gave conflicting explanations about the money he received from Kalawe. He first told amaBhu–ngane that the money was paid in cash to the people who supplied the documents and he, Mbulawa, derived no benefit from it.

Later he reportedly told News24 that Kalawe paid him for “advice on his problems”.

He denied being party to creating fake documents, but could not explain why the digital properties of an electronic version of the documents reflect “Abe Mbulawa” as the author.

The electronic file shows scans of bogus bank statements, letters and an Interpol request, all purporting to deal with accounts in the name of “Duduzile Cynthia Myeni” in Paris and Vienna.

Kalawe, who is facing additional disciplinary charges of unauthorised contact with SAA personnel during his suspension, declined to comment.

But amaBhungane has established that his covert attempt to investigate Myeni blew up in his face when he contacted a forensic investigator, Paul O’Sullivan.

According to an affidavit lodged by O’Sullivan, laying charges of forgery and fraud against Mbulawa, Kalawe contacted O’Sullivan on the morning of February 25.

‘Interpol documents’

O’Sullivan states: “He sounded very stressed and advised me that he had received some sensitive documents that purported to have been obtained from Interpol, and that the documents showed that the SAA chairman, Dudu Myeni, had overseas bank accounts with lots of money in them.

“I asked him to send me the document to look at … He subsequently sent me four mails in quick succession, each mail containing a single photograph.”

The photographs, taken with a cellphone, were of “original” documents that, according to O’Sullivan’s later affidavit, were handed to Kalawe by Mbulawa at a West Rand casino.

A document purporting to show that Dudu Myeni has millions stashed away.

AmaBhungane understands Kalawe alleges he received the documents on February 23.

The cellphone pictures were emailed to O’Sullivan at about 9.45am on February 25.

By 10.02am, O’Sullivan had written directly to Myeni, copying the lawyer engaged by SAA to investigate Kalawe.

He claimed: “I have picked up two accounts, which according to the informer are yours (unless there’s someone else using your name), with extremely high balances (in excess of R250-million), which my informer says is linked to transactions in respect of the wide-bodied aircraft tender for SAA and the e-toll systems of Gauteng’s roads.”

Turnaround strategy

SAA has long insisted that its turnaround strategy depends on acquiring a new, fuel-efficient long-haul fleet. But the process has been dogged by delayed decisions, blamed, in part, on the intense jockeying between supporters of the rival bidders Boeing and Airbus.

O’Sullivan told Myeni that, if the accounts were indeed hers, she should resign and end “the unlawful attack you launched on Monwabisi Kalawe”.

It is understood O’Sullivan then obtained an electronic file with clear scans of the same documents from the Sunday Times.

In his affidavit O’Sullivan states: “One of the journalists, whose details are not relevant to this matter … advised me that they had received the same documents from a completely different source … In view of the fact that there could be lives at risk, I managed to get that journalist to send me the full-colour document.”

It is not clear where the newspaper obtained the file, but it was this electronic document, with later analysis, that betrayed Mbulawa as the “author”.

O’Sullivan then forwarded the file to Deputy President Cyril Rama­phosa, the Hawks and amaBhu–ngane, among others.

‘Fraudulent document’

By the afternoon of February 25, it became clear to amaBhungane that there were significant questions about whether the documents were genuine. Notably, two people identified as having signed a bank letter on behalf of BNP Paribas in Paris did not appear to exist, and the electronic document had been created before the dates of the letters it purported to reflect.

When this was brought to O’Sullivan’s attention, he back-pedalled. At 5.18pm on the same afternoon, he sent out another group email noting: “It has been brought to my attention, whilst attempting to verify the attached document, that same may in fact be a fraudulent document, with its sole intention to use me to destabilise the situation at SAA … I must now request you to exercise extreme caution before doing anything.”

President Jacob Zuma with Dudu Myeni, who survived the latest attempt to discredit her. (GCIS)

By the next day, amaBhungane had established that the French account number reflected as Myeni’s actually belonged to the European School of Haematology and was available online.

According to a copy of an email attached to O’Sullivan’s affidavit, Mbulawa was still attempting to persuade Kalawe that the documents were genuine. At 3.01pm on February 26, he wrote: “MK, the guys from F[rance] got back to me. Their position is simple; the documents are authentic and originals …

“The team is very angry by the turn of events and are not prepared to have their integrity questioned … they feel that, given the payment made, they are also being accused of theft. Why should they jeopardise a relationship of several years by cutting future income?”

Mbulawa refused to disclose the identity of his supposed collaborators.

Do they exist?

It is clear that other people were also involved in the chain of events.

School connection

In O’Sullivan’s affidavit, he claims Kalawe said he was introduced to Mbulawa late last year by an old school friend, Lennox Tshwete.

Tshwete, a former information technology executive, could not be reached for comment.

Mbulawa told amaBhungane he knew Kalawe from when they both worked in Cape Town and that the latter pestered him for months for information on Myeni.

O’Sullivan states that Mbulawa introduced a young couple to Kalawe whom he should deal with, so that he [Mbulawa] could stay in the background.

O’Sullivan identifies the young woman as Norma Patience Mjiyaka, also known as Nomathemba Dladla.

AmaBhungane identified her partner as Dominic Ntokozo Dladla, a defence force reservist and undercover member of crime intelligence.

Dominic Dladla is currently on suspension and engaged in a Labour Court dispute with the police.


Mjiyaka, who runs a small security company, told amaBhungane she had done work for Mbulawa and was contacted by him and introduced to Kalawe.

“He [Kalawe] said he had heard that Dudu had foreign accounts and was siphoning money off to those accounts, he mentioned France … He told us the reason he was suspended from SAA was because he knew the chair was taking kickbacks … so Kalawe basically wanted to corroborate this information.”

Mjiyaka said they advised Kalawe to open a criminal case. On that basis, the police could approach Interpol, but this required real evidence.

She said that when she realised how important Myeni was, she advised Kalawe to “back off”. She also offered to mediate between Kalawe and Myeni.

The engagement came to naught and she was never paid, Mjiyaka said.

According to O’Sullivan’s affidavit, the couple said they could not “perform” because the documents implicated too many people.

Mbulawa then took over, first emailing a heavily redacted “taster” and, following payment, handing over the “originals”.

‘More questions than answers’

George van Niekerk, a lawyer speaking on behalf of Myeni and SAA, said: “O’Sullivan’s latest affidavit raises more questions than answers.

“We are continuing to try to determine the source of the document … It does seem as if there was a campaign … to impugn the chairperson of the board … and to shield the CEO [chief executive] from the disciplinary hearing.”

Whether Mbulawa was part of a broader conspiracy, which he denies, the fallout from the “hoax emails” would please any spymaster.

Kalawe has been exposed, Myeni has been inoculated against some of the rumours swirling around her, and O’Sullivan has been at least partly discredited.

He told amaBhungane: “Rightly or wrongly I took a decision to blow this thing up. I made an error in the way in which I did that … I owe a huge apology to Dudu Myeni.”

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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