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Latest state capture arrests explained: who, what, why?

Until last week, Thoshan Panday, Vincent Smith, and Edwin Sodi were probably relaxing into the end of the year, enjoying the perks of the level 1 lockdown and planning their December vacations. But this week, all of them have been named in high-profile corruption cases, and they have been arrested, in a massive corruption clean-up operation by the country’s top prosecutors and police.

So, who are these three men and what have they (allegedly) done?

Before we get into the who’s who of it, let’s go back a step. ☝🏽

Or, if you’d like to skip to the individuals involved, just click on their names here:

For many years, sometimes fairly and sometimes not, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the police were not seen as independent. Mostly, this reputation comes from a failure to prosecute serious and high profile corruption cases, especially when those implicated were friends of former president Jacob Zuma.

But then a shift happened. One of the first things that President Cyril Ramaphosa did when taking office two years ago was to appoint a new head of the NPA, Advocate Shamila Batohi, head of legal and investigations at Corruption Watch, Karam Singh pointed out.

Ramaphosa also appointed Advocate Hermione Cronje as the head of a special investigations hub inside the NPA, which was specifically tasked with going after big corruption cases. Batohi and Cronje promised to clean up the NPA, and make high profile arrests too.

Things got off to a bang with well-publicised raids of the Gupta family’s properties, and the NPA got cracking on one of the corruption scandals in which the three brothers were allegedly implicated – the Estina dairy farm case. (Read more on that here.) But that case temporarily fell apart in court (although it is not over), much to the embarrassment of the NPA.

And then … crickets. 👀

People were starting to get worried that the NPA, which was hamstrung by a lack of skills and damaged by years of political interference, was simply not up to the task.

But with the arrests of Panday, Smith, Sodi and their associates, that appears to have changed.

A critical aspect of these arrests is that they are people with links to Zuma and his allies – a class of people who previously seemed immune from any kind of accountability.

While it may seem like the NPA has been doing nothing for the last two years, Singh says the latest arrests do not come out of the blue.

“It’s the culmination of a kind of lead up period, involved in trying to recapacitate the NPA for what it was made to do.”

That would be: to prosecute without fear or favour.

So who are the people recently arrested? What are these cases about, and more importantly, where do we go from here?

Thoshan Panday appears in the Durban magistrates court. Picture credit: Facebook

Thoshan Panday

Arrested: Friday, October 3 (with others)

Bail: R100 000

Next court appearance: November 11

Who?

Panday (49) is a KwaZulu-Natal businessman and reportedly an ally of former President Jacob Zuma. He is best known for his, shall we say, unconventional business practices. Panday was called “untouchable” in the press because of his links with the former president. His business associate at one time was none other than Zuma’s own son, Edward Zuma, according to Business Day.

Back in October 2015, amaBhungane reported that it appeared as though Panday was being protected by Zuma’s allies in the NPA, resulting in the mysterious dropping of charges against him in 2013. Those who opposed this, including leaders of various investigating bodies like the Hawks and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), the police’s watchdog, were allegedly sidelined.

Allegedly, intercepted cell phone recordings showed Panday boasting about his relationship with Zuma. The businessman even paid for some of the upgrades at the former president’s Nkandla homestead (along with you and I, ahem).

So determined were Panday’s allies, whoever they may be, to prevent his prosecution that a dirty tricks campaign was allegedly launched against the head of the Hawks in KZN, Johan Booysen. This resulted in a series of front page stories in the Sunday Times in which it was falsely claimed that Booysen was running so-called police hit squad operating in Cato Manor. (The Sunday Times apologised for the stories).

What are the allegations against him?

According to the charge sheet compiled by the NPA, seen by explain, Panday was the recipient of a contract which meant that he could provide accommodation to police officers during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Allegedly, Panday and several high profile police officers conspired to essentially rig the tender to favour his companies. Various laws that are in place to prevent corruption, and to ensure that South Africans receive value for the money when the government does business, were allegedly broken.

Why did the police officers involved agree to do this? Good old fashioned bribery. Panday allegedly paid them off in a series of “gratifications”, which included cash, luxury accommodation at fancy hotels, money used to purchase land, flights, and cars. These allegedly corrupt cops have been charged alongside Panday, too.

Last Friday, Panday appeared in the Durban magistrates’ court, along with senior police official Colonel Navin Madhoe, who was allegedly the recipient of Panday’s bribes. But he is not the only cop alleged to be involved in the scandal. Former KZN police commissioner, Mmamonnye Ngobeni, handed herself over to the police on Monday.

Panday is likely to argue in court that not only is he innocent, but that some aspects of the investigation into him were unfair (this will sounds familiar to anyone who has followed Zuma’s trials and tribulations over the years). He already took issue with the interception of his cell phone communications some years ago (although it’s not clear whether that forms part of the present case). And he’s already tried to stop this prosecution from going ahead in court (he failed).

Vincent Smith
Picture credit: pa.org.za

Vincent Smith

Arrested: Handed himself over and appeared in court on October 1

Bail: R30 000

Next court appearance: October 14

Who?

Vincent Smith (59) is a long-standing and senior member of Parliament, with a solid reputation for rigorous law-making, until now. Smith has been part of a number of key Parliamentary committees, making crucial decisions about how South Africa functions. This included being on the committee which was in charge of giving the Auditor-General (which oversees government’s spending habits) more teeth. He was also on a committee tasked with looking into the SABC, and one looking into political party funding, as well as land reform.

What are the allegations against him?

Smith faces charges of fraud and corruption, according to the indictment against him, served by the NPA and seen by explain. He’s been charged alongside former Bosasa boss, Angelo Agrizzi.

According to the indictment, “gratifications” were “corruptly given” by Agrizzi to Smith and used to improperly influence him, his office, or position in Parliament, to benefit Bosasa. (That’s a fancy way of saying: the guy was bribed.)

The document states that Bosasa was awarded four contracts by the Department of Correctional Services between 2004 and 2006, with a combined value of over R1 billion.

In about 2006, the Special Investigating Unit started investigating the Bosasa contracts, and found that there was corruption involved implicating Bosasa and senior officials of the department, when the report was released in 2009.

Smith was initially horrified at the outcomes, and promised that portfolio committee would make sure justice was done, according to the indictment. But Smith’s attitude then changed, and he did little to take up concerns about Bosasa in the committee. In fact, his actions appeared to be shielding the company from accountability.

Evidence at the state capture commission of inquiry last year reportedly showed that Bosasa had paid Smith R40 000 a month to stop probing the controversial contracts in Parliament, and his daughter’s tuition was allegedly paid for by the firm. He also allegedly received various security installations at his home. In total, Smith reportedly denied receiving a bribe, but acknowledged that his daughter’s studies were paid for. However, he said he did not know the money was from Bosasa, but thought that it was from Agrizzi, in the form of a personal loan.

Smith says he is innocent and says he believes in SA’s justice system, and that the evidence before the court will vindicate him.

Edwin Sodi appears at the State Capture Commission of Inquiry. Credit: YouTube

Edwin Sodi

Arrested: September 30 (along with six others)

Bail: R500 000

Next court appearance: November 11

Who?

Sodi is a prominent businessman from Bloemfontein, famous for fast cars, fancy houses, and bribing officials, allegedly. He has become a household name for anyone following proceedings at the state capture commission of inquiry, where Sodi detailed how he lined the pockets of politicians in exchange for contracts.

In return, Sodi allegedly lived like a millionaire, and owned a number of properties and luxury cars, Eyewitness News reported.

No, really. Luxury.

Check it out:

What are the allegations against him?

Sodi was allegedly at the helm of a business venture, which got paid up to R230 million to do an audit of houses that still had asbestos roofs in the Free State. Sodi’s business partner was Igo Mpambani, central to allegations of corruption levelled against former Free State premier Ace Magashule, who was shot dead in 2017.

But the work the businessmen did amounted to R21 million, and a number of officials were allegedly bribed along the way, the Mail & Guardian reported.

Sodi’s arrest came days after he stunned the state capture commission of inquiry with admissions about how he gave money to ANC officials and senior government people. Sodi said there was nothing criminal about these so-called donations.

According to the Sunday World, Sodi bribed very senior ANC officials, including some ministers, to the tune of R34 million. Naturally, they have all denied that the money received was a bribe, and some have said it was a donation for philanthropic causes. Sodi was also a regular, generous donor to the ANC.

Where to from here?

Singh says it’s important to have realistic expectations about what’s going on here. For one thing, arrests don’t necessarily mean successful prosecutions. A lot will depend on the credibility of the investigation completed to date, and skilled prosecutors will be needed in court to pull this off.

Besides, complex corruption cases can take a long time to work their way through the system, so don’t expect to see any of these three men in orange overalls by Christmas.

But the fact that the NPA has come this far at all is very encouraging. The hard work that’s already been done “is what got them here”, Singh says.

“It’s a big step”, he says, adding that the NPA wouldn’t be in court if it didn’t really believe it had winnable cases, given how high the stakes are. It’s not exactly a guarantee that justice will be served… but given how desperately we as a country need accountability, we’ll take it.