Rail Deal Payments to Zuma-Linked People Probed, City Press Says

  • State rail company asked court to cancel contract to Swifambo
  • Some locomotives ordered didn't meet specifications: Prasa

The majority owner of a company that won a 3.5 billion rand ($219 million) contract to supply South Africa’s state-owned passenger rail utility with locomotives made payments to the companies of two people linked to President Jacob Zuma or his family, City Press reported, citing unidentified people.

The payments by Auswell Mashaba in his role as director of Swifambo Rail Leasing (Pty) Ltd. are now part of a probe into the contract, the Johannesburg-based newspaper said on Sunday, citing the people.

In November, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, known as Prasa, asked a Johannesburg court to review and cancel the contract awarded to Swifambo in March 2013 to supply the company with locomotives made by Vossloh Espana SA because it said the tender included “irrational” specifications.

The tender was concluded under Prasa’s then chief executive officer, Lucky Montana, who was found to have acted improperly with regard to contracts by South Africa’s Public Protector, the state-appointed graft ombudsman. Montana denied any wrongdoing.
Some of the locomotives didn’t comply with height requirements for South Africa’s rail network and therefore could not operate on it, Prasa said in December.

‘Like Family’

Vuyo Mkhize, a spokesman for Mashaba, said payments of 40 million rand each were made to Similex, a company controlled by Angolan national Maria da Cruz Gomes, and the law firm Nkosi Sabelo.

“The payments for Sabelo are related to the Prasa contract,” Mkhize said, responding to questions about the City Press article. “For Similex, they were not in relation to Swifambo or the Prasa tender.” Mkhize didn’t give further detail and City Press didn’t say what the payments were for.

According to the City Press report, Similex’s Gomes said that her company performed work related to the tender and the payment was related to that. She told the newspaper that she couldn’t recall details.

City Press reported that she described herself “more like family” of President Jacob Zuma. Calls to Similex’s office in Johannesburg didn’t go through.

George Sabelo, who according to City Press is a business partner of Zuma’s son, Edward, and the co-owner of the Nkosi Sabelo law firm, didn’t return phone calls for comment. Calls to Edward Zuma’s Blockbuster Investments weren’t answered.

“Prasa cannot comment as to whether any payments that may have been made by Swifambo are lawful or not,” Victor Dlamini, a spokesman for the Pretoria-based rail utility, said to Bloomberg. “We wish to leave this determination to the law enforcement agencies that are investigating this matter.”

Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations at the South African Police Service, didn’t answer a call or respond to a message. Swifambo spokesman Alicia Mngadi referred all queries related to the Prasa tender to Mashaba’s spokesman, Mkhize. Bongani Majola, a spokesman for the President Zuma, didn’t answer a call or respond to a request for comment.

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