State capture: 'My business was hijacked,' says woman who scored lucrative airport deal

Babadi Tlatsana, who ran a small company before scoring a big airport deal which she later discovered was part of a state capture exercise.
Babadi Tlatsana, who ran a small company before scoring a big airport deal which she later discovered was part of a state capture exercise.
Image: Amil Umraw

The state capture inquiry on Saturday heard how millions of rand flowed through a small North West company irregularly put in charge of ground handling services at the Mafikeng and Pilanesberg airports in 2015.

The money was then laundered to shelf companies owned by individuals connected to SA Express (SAX) bosses.

This according to the testimony of Koroneka Trading and Projects director Babadi Tlatsana who told the commission that her company was "hijacked" by SA Express commercial manager Brian Van Wyk and used as a conduit to siphon money from SAX and the North West government into the bank accounts of certain individuals.

The commission previously heard how the North West's department of community safety and transport management had underhandedly struck a deal with SA Express to have the airline operate local routes to and from each airport.

The deal, which is riddled with allegations of corruption and procurement irregularities, was allegedly envisaged to move up to R400m out of the North West government and into SA Express.

The commission believes R97m of that total amount was siphoned off to various entities through a "detailed scheme of money laundering" which involved Koroneka.

When she began her testimony on Friday, Tlatsana said the daily running of her company was taken over by people Van Wyk forced her to appoint, and she had no knowledge of the transactions being made - aside from SMS notifications from the bank on transactions which had occurred.

Outlining those payments, Tlatsana said Koroneka - which started off as a small delivery company carting vegetables and meat to hospitals in Mafikeng - first received R8.5m on May 6, 2015, from SAX as part payment for its ground handling services.

R2m left the account soon afterwards. Thereafter, on May 7, a series of payments were made to a Mr P Papitis. They included payments of R660,000; R700,000; R320,000; and R320,000.  Tlatsana claimed that Van Wyk told her Papitis was contracted to do repairs at both airport sites.

Four days later, another R2m was paid to an entity called Movement and Finance. A total of R6m had now left the account.

Then, R500,000 was paid to another entity called EL Skakona for what Tlatsana claimed Van Wyk had said was a consultancy fee.

Tlatsana's personal benefit included a R500,000 payment into the account of another business owned by her.

Koroneka then received another R8.5m payment from SAX in August that year.

R5m was diverted out of the account a month later. Van Wyk apparently told Tlatsana it was to pay stakeholders, purchase fire trucks and instal security cameras at both airports.

"The business was hijacked from me. The business was hijacked in the beginning because a lot of things were happening…I would not know, I would just see on the phone that money has gone," Tlatsana said.  

Another set of major payments came in November 2015 when a company called Neo Solutions was paid R5m by Koroneka. A further payment of R5m was blocked by the banks whose suspicions had then been raised, but when they called Tlatsana, she advised that the payments were being made for the purchase of security cameras. Thereafter, R4.8m flowed out to Neo Solutions - bringing the total to R9.9m.

Tlatsana said she later established that Neo Solutions paid the entire R9.9m to a company called Batsamai Investments. Batsamai was registered in November 2014, around the time SAX was concluding talks with the North West government to manage both airports.

According to Tlatsana, the company is registered to a Sipho Phiri who is Van Wyk's life partner.

Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs the commission, asked Tlatsana if she continued to let her company be used to facilitate dodgy transactions because she stood a chance to benefit herself.

"I was just going along with this trying to trap him (Van Wyk). I was just going along to get information to see what is he doing with all this money. It never came into my mind that I should contact a lawyer. I was just foolish by then," she said.

Tlatsana would go on, in 2016, to record all the conversations she had with Van Wyk.

Her testimony is continuing.

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