The great VBS bank heist
‘Majority owner’ Vele went on luxury spree in Venda king’s name
● A helicopter for the Venda king, luxury sea-facing apartments and sports cars: these are the glittering proceeds of what is shaping up to be one of South Africa’s costliest and most audacious bank heists.
About R900-million is unaccounted for. This week suspended Vele Investments executive chairman Maanda Manyatshe, a central figure in the drama around the onceobscure VBS Mutual Bank in Limpopo, made the sensational claim that Vele Investments, which “bought” a controlling stake in the bank, may not have paid a cent for its share.
Having secured its stake in the bank, which was granted a commercial banking licence last year, Vele proceeded to “raid” the bank, splashing out on luxury items, including a helicopter it claimed was for Venda King Toni Ramabulana, himself a 20% shareholder in the bank during the looting spree.
Ramabulana was elevated to the kingship by then-president Jacob Zuma, over another royal claimant, at around the same time that Zuma secured a R7.8-million loan from VBS to pay off his Nkandla debt.
At least part of VBS’s largesse was sponsored by illegal deposits made by poor municipalities to the tune about of R1.5-billion.
At the centre of the alleged looting is said to be former VBS chairman Tshifhiwa Matodzi and Vele Investments group CEO Robert Madzonga, who lavished the expensive “gifts” on the king.
As the investigations into the affairs of the bank unfold, Ramabulana also broke his silence this week. He complained that his former benefactors had left him with a R240 000 monthly bill for luxury goods and properties he was told were bought for him. Even the helicopter is not his, he has learnt.
His monthly expenses, imposed on him by the bank’s curator Anoosh Rooplal and since settled by Vele to the tune of R12-million, included paying off a fleet of luxury cars — two Mercedes-Benz Vianos worth about R2-million, a Range Rover, a BMW 7-Series and a Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV worth R1.6-million that were presented to him as gifts — and a R7.2-million mansion in Dainfern estate in northern Johannesburg.
Manyatshe said Matodzi had also bought a luxury sea-facing apartment on Clifton’s millionaire’s row for his own use. A shelf company called Tigraphase was used to put down an R8.5-million deposit on the R29million apartment at Clifton Terraces, on the Atlantic Seaboard in Cape Town.
The Sunday Times can exclusively reveal that the king is planning to open a case of fraud and corruption against Matodzi and Madzonga.
Matodzi splashed out over R12-million on a Bell helicopter that was said to be for Ramabulana’s exclusive use. They paid for the helicopter using money from VBS but the Bell 222B-ZS-HJX aircraft wasn’t registered as property of the bank or the king.
The helicopter was bought from Marshall Eagle Aviation in March last year for R12.8million.
The king’s office told the Sunday Times on Friday: “The helicopter was used by Matodzi and Madzonga most of the time and it was hardly available for use by the king, to everyone’s surprise.”
Executives of Vele also bought sports cars using money looted from the bank.
“The king’s name has been used many times by the company and directors without his knowledge, he recently found out from several people including senior politicians,” said an insider in the king’s entourage.
“The king is going to open a case of fraud and corruption against anyone who had used his good name to commit any crime. He is still waiting for the outcome of the forensic investigation into the company,” the king’s office said.
The forensic audit is being conducted by audit firm SizweNtsalubaGobodo.
Manyatshe this week accused the company of fraudulently acquiring its 53% stake in VBS “without paying a cent”.
He said: “My conclusion is that Vele Investments fraudulently acquired the shares.”
The company has apparently acknowledged that it used Ramabulana’s name, and committed to settling the entire bill.
Matodzi has been a central figure in the collapse of the bank. Known for his flashy lifestyle, he is said to own expensive properties in Johannesburg and Cape Town as well as a fleet of luxury cars. Madzonga is a former MTN executive who left the mobile company after being accused of misconduct and other irregularities.
Manyatshe said the two lied to the king, saying the helicopter would be registered either in his name or that of the Venda Heritage Trust. It was only when Manyatshe took over as executive chairman of Vele that he discovered that the chopper had been registered to a shelf company.
“You [Matodzi] bought a helicopter for the King of Venda. There was a big function for the reception of the helicopter in Venda. But did you tell the king that the helicopter is not in his name, nor that of the Venda Heritage Trust?” Manyatshe asked.
Ndivhuwo Khangale, speaking on behalf of Vele, said they would not comment on how the company acquired its assets.
“Vele has a number of subsidiaries, some of whom own helicopters. How they were bought and utilised remains an internal issue,” Khangale said.
He said it was wrong to allege that VBS was Vele’s only funder. “Vele would like to reiterate that VBS was not its only lender, so the notion that the company was entirely funded by VBS is completely incorrect.”
Madzonga told the Sunday Times he only became CEO of Vele in October and had no idea of how the company spent its money.
“I believe Vele was formed two years ago and 90% of the king’s properties were bought long ago, including the house by VBS.”
He said he wasn’t part of Vele when the king’s house and cars were bought.
“I have never been part of VBS bank and didn’t attend any of their meetings. I have never given nor promised the king anything. I don’t even know how many cars were bought for the king as the king’s matters are always secret and known by a few.”
Madzonga accused Manyatshe of lying, saying he even settled the king’s debts of between R12-million and R15-million.
“The [amount] was paid into a lawyer’s trust account for settlement of his debts,” he said.
Madzonga said he had invested R18-million of his own money to recapitalise VBS before it was placed under curatorship.
“I am bleeding as we speak as the most exposed individual investor with the bank,” he said.
In his response, Manyatshe accused Madzonga of lying, saying he (Manyatshe) was removed as CEO of Vele when he started asking questions as to how the company makes money.
He admitted to settling the king’s debts because Matodzi had lied that they were buying him gifts when in fact these were bought through debt raised at VBS.
“Mr Matodzi was paying for the king’s house and cars, assets which the king believed were gifts from them. The king only became aware of these debts when the bank went under curatorship. When the lawyer [for the curators] sent a letter of demand, we sat down and agreed to settle this as we were fighting too many battles,” Manyatshe said.
Matodzi did not respond to numerous messages sent to him requesting comment.
Visuals emerged this week of distressed VBS depositors huddled in blankets, sleeping outside one of the branches in Sibasa, Limpopo, waiting for the branch to open so they can withdraw their money.