Sus­pi­cious in­voices haunt 2011 Venice art fair

At least R4m of tax­pay­ers’ R10m Cu­lart re­ceived for 2011 Bi­en­nale is backed up by highly ir­reg­u­lar bills

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - MATTHEW BLACK­MAN

WITH the 2013 Venice Bi­en­nale two months into its sea­son, the ghosts have not yet gone to bed on South Africa’s mis­ad­ven­tures at the Ital­ian city’s 2011 art fair.

Week­end Ar­gus can re­veal that a chain of ap­par­ently faked in­voices and du­bi­ous sub­con­tracts was gen­er­ated in ac­count­ing for the tax­pay­ers’ R10 mil­lion, en­trusted to Joburg gal­lerist Monno Mokoena to mount South Africa’s of­fi­cial en­try in the pres­ti­gious fes­ti­val.

The pa­per­work is con­tained in an au­dited ac­count­ing, from NM Pa­tel Au­di­tors, of how Cu­lArt Pro­duc­tions (a com­pany owned by Mokoena and Tim Mang­wedi) dis­bursed the R10m paid out by the Depart­ment of Arts and Cul­ture.

But de­spite the favourable au­dit opin­ion, and the depart­ment’s re­cent state­ment that “we have no rea­son to doubt the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the au­dit com­pany”, the in­voices do not stand scru­tiny. Cu­lArt claims to have paid MMA ar­chi­tects R360 000 for “ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign for the pav­il­ion” in Venice. An in­voice is at­tached, an­no­tated as be­ing from a Mphethi Moro­jele of MMA.

How­ever, Moro­jele de­nied re­ceiv­ing the money, and stated un­equiv­o­cally: “I would like to put on record that I have absolutely no knowl­edge of the at­tached in­voice (which is not even a proper MMA in­voice) nor has MMA ever been paid the stated amount.”

A sec­ond per­son in­volved in the event sim­i­larly de­nied hav­ing re­ceived the money spec­i­fied, to­talling more than R100 000, in­di­cat­ing the rel­e­vant in­voice was a forgery.

Also signed off in the au­dit are 10 dif­fer­ent in­voices from Ital­ian na­tion­als and com­pa­nies – all for­mat­ted iden­ti­cally. Some of th­ese man­i­fest in­ac­cu­rate Ital­ian spellings and gram­mar. Though os­ten­si­bly in­de­pen­dently gen­er­ated, sev­eral in­voices re­peat an er­ror in spell­ing in Cu­lArt’s ad­dress, giv­ing the sub­urb as “Park­town Wort” rather than Park­town North.

An­other ap­par­ently ir­reg­u­lar in­voice is sub­mit­ted by “Vic­tor Dlamini Com­mu­ni­ca­tions”, in the amount of R1 394 640. It spec­i­fies sev­eral ser­vices which were in fact not pro­vided at all – in­clud­ing an iPad app and print ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign. How­ever, Dlamini – who is a busi­ness part­ner of Mokoena in other ven­tures – has re­peat­edly in­sisted he had “no in­volve­ment” in the Venice de­ba­cle. But Dlamini’s name ap­pears on de­part­men­tal min­utes of a meet­ing on March 15, 2011, where he is iden­ti­fied as a mem­ber of “Cu­lArt”, and also on the orig­i­nal bud­get.

Equally mys­te­ri­ous is an­other in­voice, this one from a South African com­pany called No­vac­tive, which was paid more than R1.5m. It claims that No­vac­tive was paid R1.3m for “boat hire” and “in­stalling (the art­works)”. But, ac­cord­ing to sources close to the Bi­en­nale (who wish to re­main anony­mous but would tes­tify to this in a court of law), no South African com­pany as­sisted with the ac­tual in­stal­la­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion.

By a rough ad­di­tion, at least R4m of the R10m Cu­lArt re­ceived for the 2011 event is backed up by ir­reg­u­lar or ap­par­ently fake in­voices. This does not in­clude the man­age­ment fee of R1.5m and the cu­ra­tor’s fee of R402 980, paid to Them­binkosi Goniwe.

The 2011 par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Bi­en­nale flared into con­tro­versy when it be­came known that then newly-ap­pointed Arts and Cul­ture min­is­ter Paul Mashatile had ap­pointed art dealer Mokoena as com­mis­sioner, with­out any con­sul­ta­tive pro­cesses. Then the row deep­ened when Mokoena chose – uni­lat­er­ally – two artists com­mer­cially rep­re­sented by Mokoena’s own gallery, among the four coun­try­wide se­lected for what was meant to be a na­tion­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive show­ing.

By con­trast with South Africa’s 2011 par­tic­i­pa­tion, the 2013 ex­hi­bi­tion – en­trusted to the National Arts Fes­ti­val with arms-length depart­ment fund­ing, and cu­rated by Bren­ton Maart – has been rel­a­tively free of con­tro­versy. How­ever, some ques­tions have been raised sur­round­ing the num­ber of govern­ment of­fi­cials sent to the event.

Ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment, four peo­ple were sent to Venice but due to its “net­work server” be­ing down, it did “not have the ex­pen­di­ture break­down im­me­di­ately due to a lack of ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion”.

The depart­ment has also re­cently con­firmed spend­ing R21.6m on a 20-year lease on a build­ing in Venice to house South Africa’s par­tic­i­pa­tion.

This comes at a time when the depart­ment has re­duced spend­ing on its National De­vel­op­ment Pro­ject and on the National Arts Coun­cil by R23.1m “as part of cabi­net’s ap­proved bud­get re­duc­tions”.

What is also noted in the depart­ment’s port­fo­lio bud­get re­port of 2013 is that: “(P)ro­jects such as the an­nual Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val, the Tu­nisian Film Fes­ti­val and the French-South African sea­sons in 2013/14 con­trib­ute to in­creased spend­ing on travel”.

Black­man is edi­tor of the on­line web­site Art­throb.

MYS­TERY: The Venice Bi­en­nale show­cases art from around the world. Once again the South African en­try has been haunted by con­tro­versy.

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