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Magashule claims state lied in asbestos case

Staff Reporter

Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has blasted the state for not being “truthful” about its readiness to proceed with the asbestos corruption case as well as a key witness in the matter.

Speaking to journalists outside the Free State High Court on Wednesday following the postponement of a pre-trial conference for the asbestos case to October 19, Magashule said the state was fumbling because it did not have a strong case against him and that the charges are politically engineered. 

“The NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) and law enforcement said they were ready in February,” said Magashule soon after emerging from court to greet a small number of supporters gathered outside.

He disputed statements by the state that his former personal assistant while he was serving as premier of the Free State, Moroadi Cholota, had agreed to turn state witness against him in the fraud and corruption case, saying this cannot be confirmed now.

Last year, there were reports that Cholota, who was studying in the United States, had been interviewed by officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US domestic intelligence and security service, and that she had agreed to testify against her former boss.

“In February they said Cholota is a star witness against Magashule when they knew that they were lying,” Magashule said in an apparent challenge to the state.

“I am using these words deliberately and consciously because that’s what they have done.

“They were lying they had met Cholota . . . and that Cholota is a state witness when they knew it is not the case

“My fear is that they may even threaten and force Cholota to write a false statement.

“But because I know I have not done anything, I’m not worried whether Cholota is a state witness or not.

“There is no cent I have taken from government.

“If the charge is oversight, I don’t know . . . because in criminal law there is no charge called oversight, otherwise we could have charged every minister, every president, every mayor . . . everybody who is a politician.”

A fired-up Magashule, who was accompanied by close ally Sam Mashinini, the Free State MEC for Police, Roads and Transport, emphasised the charges against him will not hold not only because they were weak, but do not exist at law.

He dismissed the whole case as a political side show meant to distract supporters of the ANC while the party is being captured by certain individuals.

“A week ago . . . they (the state) gave us all the charges. In terms of the indictment and the charges, you don’t know where Magashule fits in there.” Magashule said.

“In terms of the charges they have given us, they are even trying to get Cholota through the FBI – they have had several meetings with the FBI.

“And you must tell me there is not political agenda when such institutions are actually engaged here?

“So, you can see it’s a well-calculated, deliberate move to keep secretary-general Magashule in court so that you can do many other things within the ANC.

“The officials of the ANC were right when they said these charges were flimsy. That’s what they said. I’m not saying this out of (my) head.

“I’m sure on record, we will prove that these are flimsy charges, political and deliberate in order to de-focus . . . and take Magashule out of his office.

“I don’t know, maybe I’m disturbing the other forces which want to really capture the ANC.

“You can see the ANC is changing. The character of the ANC is changing.

“They want to change the character of the ANC, that’s why I’m the target.”

NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga told The Free Stater the case had been postponed for full disclosure of particulars as some of the accused had changed legal representatives and that new ones needed time to familiarise themselves with the case before proceeding.

He said the NPA was not fazed by Magashule’s claims about Cholota turning state witness saying the state had the right to pick any witness it finds fit.

“The state is at liberty to bring whatever witness we believe can help to sustain the charges against the accused,” Mhaga said.

“Ms Cholota is a state witness,” he added.

“All the issues raised by the defence can be ventilated during trial by the trial judge – that’s why they could not be dealt with at this stage.

“We believe we have a formidable case that we will present during trial.

“We wouldn’t charge them if we were not convinced that we were going to sustain the conviction.”

Magashule and his 15 co-accused who include five companies face over 70 charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering.

The state alleges that a contract worth over R255 million to audit and remove asbestos roofing on houses across the province was irregularly awarded.

It is alleged that various payments were made by the provincial human settlements department to Diamond Hill Trading 71-Blackhead JV of which Phikolomzi Mpambani and Edwin Sodi were the account holders.

This is after the company was appointed by Free State human settlements department head Nthimotse Mokhesi Mokhesi as a service provider on a contract of R255 million.

According to the state, Magashule, in August 2015, corruptly accepted gratification of R53 550, paid on his request towards the tuition fees of the daughter of a then acting judge from Mpambani.

It is further alleged that in June 2015, Magashule accepted payment of R470 000, paid on his request to M-TAG Systems for the acquisition of 200 electronic tablets from Mpambani.

Furthermore, it is alleged that in June 2015, Magashule accepted a payment of R30 000, paid on his request to SWC Nkate from Mpambani.

Between November 2015 and January 2016, a payment of R250 000, on his request, was allegedly made by Mpambani to Astra Travel towards travel expenses of a delegation to Cuba.

It is further alleged that Magashule failed to report corrupt transactions when this case emerged.

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