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Magashule confident asbestos corruption case will collapse

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Staff Reporter

Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule says he is confident the Free State asbestos corruption case in which he is one of the accused will collapse before going to trial.

He said this while speaking to journalists outside the Free State High Court on Wednesday after the pre-trial conference was postponed to February 21, 2022.

“The case will continue on the 21st and 22nd of February. That’s the end of the case,” said a confident Magashule.

“During those two days, I can tell you . . . they (the state) have no evidence against anybody. They are trying to get witnesses who are going to lie because they know that they have no case,” he added.

Magashule, who is charged together with 10 other people including businessman Edwin Sodi and former human settlements MEC Olly Mlamleli, warned that he will take legal action against the state once the charges against him are dropped.

“You can lie, you can sign affidavits, but once we put you in the dock, you are going to be exposed. We will later take legal action in terms of litigation,” said the former premier of the Free State.

He lambasted the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for the manner it is handling the case after it was announced in court Magashule’s former personal assistant while premier, Moroadi Cholota, was going to be charged for refusing to co-operate with the state.

“You can see here we are working an incompetent NPA. It’s a clear political case. Remember, when I was arrested in November 2020, the NPA said my PA Cholota is the key state witness,” said Magashule.

“Today they have said Cholota is no longer a state witness. I am sure they have tried to harass her . . . They have said on record they may actually charge Cholota. So, who is the witness against me?” he asked, sounding frustrated.

State prosecutor Johan de Nysschen told the court during the pre-trial conference that he had signed a warrant of arrest for Cholota.

This means Cholota, who is presently based in the United States, is now a suspect in the high-profile asbestos case.

De Nysschen said the NPA is in the process of getting her back to South Africa.

He said if the state cannot bring her back in good time, the state may have to try her separately.

Magashule has maintained from the beginning of the case that Cholota was a defence witness while the state argued that she was their key witness.

NPA national spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said the postponement was necessitated by the addition of Cholota as an accused.

The defence is also expected to file papers during December in preparation for the pre-trial conference regarding witnesses and how the trial should proceed.

The state has listed over 70 charges against the accused, of which Magashule faces three, namely fraud, corruption and failure to report corruption.

There are several counts attached to each charge.

The matter relates to a failed asbestos audit and removal project worth R255 million which was commissioned by the Free State Human Settlements Department around 2014.

According to the state, the provincial human settlements department engaged Sodi, his company Blackhead Consulting (Pty) Ltd and joint-venture partner Diamond Hill (Pty) Ltd as a professional resource team for the eradication of asbestos in the Free State.

Diamond Hill was owned by the late Ignatius Mupambani who was murdered in 2017.

Sodi and his joint-venture partner then subcontracted the work to Sello Joseph Radebe and his company Mastertrade 232 (Pty) Ltd at a cost of about R44.2 million. 

Radebe and his company further subcontracted the work to Abel Kgotso Manyeki and his company Ori Group (Pty) Ltd at a cost of nearly R21.4 million.

The state alleges that Magashule, Mlamleli and the government officials had a legal duty to comply with the stipulations in the Public Finance Management Act as well as treasury regulations.

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Centlec warns cable theft masterminds

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STOLEN . . . Part of the copper cable recovered by the police

Power distribution company Centlec has issued a stern warning to people believed to be hired by unknown individuals or syndicates to steal copper cables from the power lines saying it will not allow them to destroy such key infrastructure and put the country’s economy at risk.

“This is war and we will fight it tooth and nail,” said Centlec in a statement.

“We want to send a strong message to the criminals and their handlers that we will not rest until they are behind bars,” added the company, which distributes electricity to Mangaung and surrounding municipalities.

It said it is aware that most of the criminals are just fronts who are sent by kingpins who then process the copper before selling it.

Centlec warned the kingpins that they would soon face the full might of the law.

“Some of the fronts happen to be vulnerable foreign nationals who are being used to steal our cables by their handlers,” said the company.

A joint operation by Centlec and the police in recent weeks has led to several arrests and the recovery of hundreds of kilogrammes of copper cable destined for scrapyards.

In the latest three incidents, a man was arrested in Botshabelo after being found in possession of copper cable believed to have been stolen.

Several people were also arrested following inspections at two scrapyards in Botshabelo where large amounts of copper were found.

At a scrapyard in Bloemfontein, a man was issued with a fine after he was found with copper weighing 150kg which he failed to account for.

Investigations are still underway to ascertain the real owner of the scrapyard for possible arrest.

“We are worried that many of these scrapyards are becoming a haven for criminals and promoting criminality,” said Centlec chief executive officer Malefane Sekoboto. – Staff Reporter

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Jilted lover up for double murder

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A 30-year-old man will appear in the Viljoenskroon Magistrates Court this Wednesday facing two charges of murder.

Fezile Dabi district police spokesperson Captain Malebo Khosana said the man was arrested for the double murder after he went to his ex-girlfriend’s house at about 4am on Saturday.

“He suspected that the ex-girlfriend was sleeping with the current boyfriend,” said Malebo in a statement.

“Upon . . . arrival at the ex-girlfriend’s home, he stabbed her to death and hit her son with a hammer on the head,” added the police spokesperson.

The suspect then fled the scene.

He is said to have told the police that thought the little boy was the woman’s current boyfriend.

Paramedics were called to the scene and declared both the 34-year-old mother and her 14-year-old son dead on the scene.

The suspect was later arrested after police were tipped of his whereabouts by community members.

The actual motive for the attack is still being investigated. – Staff Reporter

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Killer of businessman Helepi jailed for life

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SLAIN BUSINESSMAN . . . Tavern owner and former footballer Lejoni Alfred Helepi was attacked and fatally shot after taking a shower in his house in Phahameng, Bloemfontein

The man accused of killing Bloemfontein businessman and former Moroka Swallows FC player Lejoni Alfred Helepi in March 2016 has been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Free State High Court after being extradited from Lesotho.

Ntsane Togowe, 42, was given an additional 15 years by Judge Pitso Molitsoane on Monday after he was convicted of murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances.

Helepi was killed in his bathroom on March 29, 2016 in the robbery which included four other accused persons.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said the slain businessman was attacked and fatally shot after taking a shower in his house in Phahameng, Bloemfontein, where he operated a tavern.

The accused took about R40 000 and fled the scene using Helepi’s vehicle.

The vehicle was later found abandoned in Phelindaba.

The high-profile case suffered a major setback in November 2016 when the Bloemfontein Regional Court struck it off the roll after the state failed to secure a trial date at the High Court and finalise investigations “within a reasonable period”.

Togowe and his co-accused, namely Baninzi Gxama Dira Moreenyane, Ntabiseng Clementinah Lempe and Maseboko Alice Majake, had spent about nine months in custody.

Their lawyer, Saintin Seitheisho, successfully argued against further remand saying the state had been given adequate time to finalise their investigations and set a trial date.

The matter was stood down for several hours to allow the state to come back with information on when the case could proceed, but it failed to do so, leaving the presiding officer with no choice but to strike the matter off the court roll and proceed by way of summons.

That decision inadvertently allowed some of the accused to disappear and the police could not find them when the case was supposed resume.

“Togowe handed himself over to the police in 2018, after widespread reports that he was wanted for the murder of Helepi and he was released on bail,” said NPA regional spokesperson Phaladi Shuping.

Togowe, who is believed to have pulled the trigger on the fateful day, eventually stood trial alone after he was granted bail.

But in October 2018, he mysteriously disappeared from the High Court after the judge briefly adjourned the matter to allow him to deliver judgment in the afternoon.

A warrant was immediately issued for his arrest.

“He allegedly escaped to Lesotho without a passport as it was handed to the investigating officer as part of his bail conditions. He was arrested for robbery in Lesotho on July 27, 2019 and the Hawks, upon knowing his whereabouts, started the process of extraditing him to South Africa. This was successfully done on 8 December 2021,” said Shuping.

In aggravation, state prosecutor Lucky Bontes requested the court to impose harsh punishment on the accused because he failed to show any remorse as he denied being involved in the murder and robbery of the deceased even after his conviction.

“The deceased was killed in the comfort of his own home, after taking a shower and one of the witnesses had to cover his body with a blanket,” said Bontes.

“It was obvious that he was not carrying a weapon but they shot him twice and there was no reason to kill him because they could have just taken whatever they wanted . . .”

Gxama was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in June 2019.

The other three suspects, Moreenyane, Lempe and Majake are still at large.

Police made their first break-through in the matter just a day after the incident when Majake admitted to having planned the robbery with the other four.

Following the arrest of Majake and Lempe, the two women — both employed by Helepi at the time — then assisted the police to find the three men.

Togowe and Gxama are said to have stormed Helepi’s Tavern and demanded cash.

In a well-orchestrated move, the two are said to have held Majake and Lempe hostage in the tavern, yet they part of the robbery scheme.

They went on to demand keys to the safe.

At that point, the court heard, Togowe allegedly went to the bathroom in the house where Helepi was taking a shower and shot him in the upper body.

He collapsed and died on the spot.

The pair then took the cash, Helepi’s gun, three cellphones, house keys and several sets of car keys before fleeing the scene in a bakkie which belonged to the businessman.

They later abandoned it.

Free State Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Navilla Somaru has commended Lesotho police, the Hawks and the prosecutor for their commitment in ensuring that Togowe was brought to book for the murder of Helepi. – Staff Reporter

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