Luxury spree with Land Bank fund

FORMER senior government officials, businessmen, lawyers and one official’s wife are accused of stealing about R24m from the Land Bank and using it to buy luxury cars and homes.

Three cases involving officials who allegedly stole millions from the Land Bank’s AgriBEE Fund during 2007 and 2008 will be heard in Pretoria courts within the next three months.

The fund was established to facilitate broad-based black economic empowerment in agriculture and help small and emerging black farmers access much-needed finance to grow their businesses. Its operational manual explicitly prohibits politicians, while holding office, and government employees from receiving its grants.

Its activities were suspended in 2014, following a directive from the Treasury and R229m was returned by the Land Bank to the fiscus.

In that financial year six projects had been recommended for approval but only one was approved for funding.

Philemon Radichaba Mohlahlane is the first accused in two separate cases involving about R22m allegedly stolen from the AgriBEE fund.

Mr Mohlahlane was a deputy director in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries before he was seconded as acting CEO of the Land Bank in August 2007.

He resigned from the Land Bank about five years ago, said Department of Agriculture spokesman Steve Galane.

Mr Mohlahlane is charged alongside Ruben Mohlaloga, who was at the time of the alleged theft chairman of Parliament’s portfolio committee on agriculture and land affairs, and Polokwane attorney Dinga Rammy Nkhwashu.

They allegedly concocted a scheme to defraud the AgriBEE Fund of R6m through their Dingwako agricultural project.

The money was allegedly deposited into a bank account controlled by one of the accused in February 2008, without any supporting documents submitted to the Land Bank.

The state alleges that documents were drafted only after the money had been deposited.

The three allegedly then shared the money among themselves and with a company owned by Mr Nkhwashu and a company owned by the Tjia Family Trust.

Magwadi Goliath Tjia, who was at the time a senior manager in the office of the Limpopo premier, was a trustee of the trust.

It is not clear how much each received, but the state alleges that the stolen money was used to buy two BMWs with a combined value of R866,150 for Mohlaloga from BMW Hatfield in Pretoria, and a farm worth R2.2m for the company owned by the Tjia Family Trust.

Mr Mohlaloga was subsequently employed as a chief director in the Department of Communications and is now a councillor at the Independent Communications Authority of SA, according to the organisation’s website.

In the second case, Mr Mohlahlane is charged alongside Khutso Peace Mosoma, who was then a fund manager of the AgriBEE fund, businessman Mpu Daniel Mofokeng, and attorney Matuba Maponya. Mr Mosoma’s charges were later dropped.

The state alleges that the four stole R16m, which was used to purchase a R2.7m house at Saddlebrook Estate in Midrand, farm shares valued at R3.3m and a Volvo to the value of R480,000 for Mr Mohlahlane.

The money was paid by the Land Bank in two instalments of R9m and R7m in October and December 2007 into Mr Maponya’s trust account.

It is alleged that R6m was paid to Mphufutsu Dairy.

The charge sheet claims that Mr Mosoma managed the firm’s financial affairs.

A separate amount of R5.5m was allegedly transferred to Nzelele Resources, of which Mr Mofokeng was a director.

If found guilty, the accused face up to 30 years in jail or a maximum fine of R100m.

The Land Bank said Mr Mohlahlane left the organisation in 2008 after his contract expired.

The third case involves Sondaga Samuel Malatji, a former acting deputy director-general in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, his wife Mahoi Sarah Malatji and a company the state alleges the couple used to launder the funds. They are accused of stealing R2m.

The state alleges that Mr Malatji and his wife coined a fictitious concept, Babagolo, which was presented to beneficiaries of the AgriBEE Fund to persuade them to finance “exit packages” for top politicians and African National Congress members.

They allegedly used some of the money to purchase a house in the upmarket Cape Town suburb Rondebosch through their company, Masebe Lekhura Trading.

Mr Malatji resigned from the department about four years ago, Mr Galane said.

* This article was amended to indicate that Mr Mosoma’s charges were later dropped

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