WATCH Alleged VBS looters plead poverty during bail application

Published Jun 18, 2020


Johannesburg - Pleas of poverty and vehement denials were the order of the day when the accused in the fraud and corruption case involving more than R2 billion looted from VBS Mutual Bank made their first appearance in court.

On Thursday at the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crimes Court, sitting in Palmridge, seven men accused of being part of what the SA Reserve Bank-commissioned investigative report named "The Great Bank Heist" made their first appearances following their arrests on Wednesday.

They are Tshifhiwa Matodzi, the former VBS chairperson; Andile Ramavhunga, the former chief executive; Phophi Mukhodobwane, the former treasurer; Sipho Malaba, who was an auditor at KPMG; Lieutenant-General Avhsahoni Ramikosi, who was a non-executive director as well as Ernest Nesane and Paul Magula, both of whom were representing the Public Investment Corporation as non-executive directors on the board.

Phillip Truter, who was the bank's chief financial officer at the time of the alleged plundering of funds, was not in court on Thursday as he was in self-quarantine in line with Covid-19 health regulations. 

Prosecutor Hein van der Merwe said in court that Truter would be joined in the matter next week. 

%%%twitter">#VBSArrests: The accused arrive in the dock, in order: Tshifhiwa Matodzi (chair); Andile Ramavhunga (CEO); Phophi Mukhodobwane (treasurer); Sipho Malaba (KPMG); Avhsahoni Ramikosi (non-exec director); Ernest Nesane and Paul Magula (PIC reps).

— Khaya Sibulele Koko © (@khayakoko88)

All of them indicated that they would plead not guilty to the 47 charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering, theft and money laundering should the counts make it to trial.

The State has accused them of depleting the now defunct mutual bank of almost R2.7bn by allegedly falsifying VBS's financial statements for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, to show that the business was solvent, when in fact it was not.

%%%twitter">#VBSArrests: Lieutenant-general Ramikosi's lawyer rises to read his client's affidavit. He is a former top cop in the national SAPS's finance department.

"I will tender a plea of not guilty should the matter go to trial. I'm confident that I will be acquitted of all charges."

— Khaya Sibulele Koko © (@khayakoko88)

Allegations are that the money was distributed among the accused, which caused investors, many of whom were elderly men and women from Limpopo, to lose their life savings. 

During Thursday's bail application hearing, former VBS chairperson Matodzi came out swinging, saying he was unemployed since being sequestrated, but that he would win his case. 

"I will enter a plea of not guilty. I intend to have my day in court in order to prove my innocence," Matodzi said in his affidavit, which was read out in court.

%%%twitter">#VBSArrests: Magula's lawyer rises to read his client's affidavit. Magula also worked at the PIC and was a non-executive director at VBS.

He says he is currently unemployed after the PIC dismissed him "for general work underperformance".

— Khaya Sibulele Koko © (@khayakoko88)

His denials were echoed by the former chief executive Ramavhunga, who said the R15 million he is alleged to have received fraudulently was actually payment for services rendered for VBS by another company he owns.

"I vehemently deny that I ever committed any fraud against VBS Mutual Bank, or any other party," Ramavhunga said.

However, former treasurer Mukhodobwane charged that the R100 000 bail amount the State was asking for was "excessive", saying he could only raise R20 000 because of being unemployed. 

He was also sequestrated last year following the liquidation of VBS. 

"I trust the SA justice system and I am not guilty of the charges against me. 

"An amount of R100 000 will be tantamount to a refusal of bail," Mukhodobwane said.

Former KPMG auditor Malaba, who is alleged to have fraudulently signed off on the March 2017 financial statement in an external audit, said he could only raise R10 000 bail, "with the help of family and friends".

Magula, who worked for the PIC, said he could raise R15 000 as he was struggling to find employment following his axing from the government investment fund "for general work underperformance". 

The case continues. 

The Star

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