The great VBS bank heist

‘Ma­jor­ity owner’ Vele went on lux­ury spree in Venda king’s name

Sunday Times - - Front Page - By CAIPHUS KGOSANA and MZILIKAZI wa AFRIKA

● 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.

Maanda Many­at­she

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