Senior ANC MP and social development portfolio committee chairperson Yolanda Botha has had her Kimberley house and other assets worth a combined R24-million frozen.
The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) won a preservation order in the Kimberley High Court on Friday morning, National Prosecuting Authority Northern Cape spokesperson Phaladi Shuping confirmed.
The Mail & Guardian revealed in February last year that Botha and her family apparently received kickbacks from a company to which she assigned tenders worth more than R50-million when she was an official in the Northern Cape provincial government.
Documents show that when Botha signed off property leases between the provincial social services department, which she headed, and property group Trifecta Investment Holdings, her family was allocated a 10% stake in the group holding company.
Within a year Trifecta also renovated Botha’s Kimberley home for at least R500 000.
Botha’s niece was also employed by the company.
Botha is no ordinary MP. As the portfolio committee chairperson for social development, she wields a great deal of power nationally. She is also the ANC’s provincial treasurer in the Northern Cape.
The Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA), under which Friday’s court order was granted, provides for forfeiture to the state of proceeds of unlawful activities even when no criminal charges have been levelled against the accused.
Botha’s house and assets remain in her and her family’s possession but cannot be sold or disposed of, until the NPA applies for a forfeiture order.
A forfeiture order allows the NPA to sell assets in order to recover state money lost through unlawful activity.
Botha has not been charged for any criminal activity.
She told the M&G she did not know anything about the preservation order and declined to comment further.
Botha has previously denied any corruption and said in response to queries from the M&G last year that the stake in Trifecta for her relatives did not constitute a benefit for herself.
She also claimed that the home renovation paid for by Trifecta was a loan, which she would repay.
“My only relationship is as described above and is not and has never been either corrupt or inappropriate,” Botha said.
Trifecta also denied any “suggestion of corruption” last year.
Trifecta director Christo Scholtz said that Trifecta paid for Botha’s renovations by way of a loan “which she undertook to repay and remains obliged to repay”.
Neither Botha nor Scholtz clarified the terms of the loan or whether any of it had been repaid.
Lies under oath
Ever since the M&G expose last year, the noose has tightened incrementally around Botha.
It transpired that Botha had not declared to Parliament her benefits from Trifecta, where she had been serving as the chairperson of the committee for social development since May 2009.
Her non-declaration was particularly problematic because – thanks to the long-term leases Botha had signed with Trifecta previously – the company continued to do business with a department that was now Botha’s responsibility nationally in parliament.
During the committee’s investigations, Botha handed over a loan agreement between her and Trifecta for the renovations to her home.
But this merely landed Botha in even hotter water , when she lied under oath about the loan value.
“Ms Botha [is] guilty of wilfully misleading the committee in respect of submitting a false loan agreement for R500 000 when the actual costs exceeded R1.2-million,” stated the committee’s in its final report.
In August last year, the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests pronounced that the benefits Botha received had “accrued from an improper or generally corrupt relationship” with her benefactor, Trifecta.
She was fined a month’s wages – the maximum amount permissible under committee rules – and reprimanded by speaker Max Sisulu in front of a full house of her fellow MPs in November.
The committee had agreed to take the unprecedented step of laying criminal charges against Botha, but opposition MPs were outraged with what it perceived to be last-minute horse-trading that led to a watered-down final report and no criminal charges.
DA MP Anchen Dreyer then laid charges against Botha in her individual capacity.
In September this year, the Special Investigating Unit indicated that it had forwarded a docket to the NPA for further action, and earlier this month the NPA confirmed that the docket was a hefty 3000 pages.
“It is alleged that Botha approved deviations from the procurement process, some of which were contrary to the recommendations made by the Bid Adjudication Committees. In some instances she changed the duration of the lease agreement from five to ten years. She also allegedly overruled the Department’s Legal Advisor to cancel the lease agreements,” said Shuping.
It is also understood that the Hawks have spent many months investigating the possibility that the leases signed by Botha with Trifecta were inflated – in other words, the department was paying millions in taxpayers’ money over lengthy lease periods for bigger office space than it was in fact letting.
The M&G has also previously revealed that Trifecta’s kickback circle extended wider than Botha, and encompasses two more of the ANC’s “top six” in the province – namely, provincial chairperson John Block and provincial deputy secretary Alvin Botes.
The ANC’s provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, Sihle Zikalala was also at one time on Trifecta’s pay roll.
Trifecta paid Block, Botes and Zikalala to conduct business on its behalf and, according to Trifecta’s former accountant, their primary role was to use their political influence to secure lease agreements for the company from provincial departments.
Botes and Zikalala accepted that they received benefits from Trifecta but denied they were paid to influence tenders or that they were in a position to do so.
Block, through his lawyer, has consistently declined to comment.
Colonel Hendrik Swart, spokesperson for the police in the Northern Cape confirmed on Friday that the investigation was ongoing, and that nobody had been charged.
- This article was amended on October 26 2012 to include references to ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala
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