S.African police arrest six over asbestos roofing scandal

An elite South African police unit on Wednesday announced the arrest of six alleged masterminds behind a 2014 multi-million-dollar corruption scandal over a tender to identify and remove asbestos-cement roofs from houses.

Senior government officials and businessmen were taken into custody separately during a “simultaneous operation” over the 255-million-rand ($15.2-million) contracts.

They are facing 60 charges covering corruption, fraud and money laundering, said the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation — known as the Hawks — in a statement.

“The allegations relate to a contract that was awarded through a procurement process that was done in a fraudulent and corrupt manner,” said the statement.

Some public officials had received pay-offs, the statement added.

The arrests came a day after one of the businessmen admitted to doling out payments to senior ruling party officials between 2015 and 2017 around the same time the government paid for the contract to audit and assess houses roofed with asbestos-cements sheets.

The businessman, named by local media as Edwin Sodi, gave evidence on Tuesday before a judicial commission investigating rampant state corruption.

He said he had made several payments to senior African National Congress (ANC) officials and government officials — including ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile and the then treasurer and now Health Minister Zweli Mkhize — for use by the party.

“From time to time, I have made donations to the ANC because I am a proud member of the ANC,” Sodi told the commission on Tuesday, adding that he did not see that as “strange or as fraudulent or as corrupt”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently penned a controversial letter to ANC telling them to face the “stark reality” that the party was “accused number one” for corruption.

Several ANC members are being investigated for corruption involving the procurement of coronavirus supplies and protective gear in the continent’s worst-hit country.