Ex-head fails to pay back R25,5m

Frank Maponya

Frank Maponya

National police headquarters in Pretoria is investigating criminal charges against the former head of Limpopo's Roads and Transport Department, Ben Mehale, for failing to pay back R25,5million he owes the department.

High-level detectives in the serious economic offences unit are probing the official at the instruction of their head office.

Mehale is likely to be arrested soon, together with other senior officials in the province.

A week has passed since the deadline for the return of the millions of rands he owes the provincial department for illegal tenders awarded under his leadership.

The money was spent on the controversial International Transport Convention (ITC) that took place in May 2005.

Last year the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) uncovered a high level of irregularities in the running of the ITC and ordered that Mehale pay back the money. He was given until February 28 to do so.

Scopa had found that tenders had been awarded unprocedurally.

The committee recommended that Mehale pay back the money because he was entrusted with the responsibilities of running the event, which attracted international tourists and the media.

Obed Langa, spokesman for the department, yesterday confirmed that Mehale had not paid a cent. He said they had pressed criminal charges with the South African Police Service against Mehale.

"It is true that we are investigating cases of fraud and corruption against Mehale," said Phuti Setati, national police spokesman, yesterday.

He said the case was forwarded to them on January 12.

Setati said they had employed the services of experienced detectives in the serious economic offences unit to investigate the matter.

"We have done so based on the gravity of the case. We want to make sure that we leave no stone unturned in this matter."

Setati said that the police were in possession of valuable documents that would help with the investigations.

"We are aware that this case has generated a lot of public interest.

"We will do everything in our power to ensure that the law takes its course," said Setati.

He said police were still gathering evidence from relevant sources to strengthen the case and could not as yet effect an arrest.

Setati said more charges could be pressed against the offenders based on police findings.

Mehale could not be reached for comment yesterday.