Official faces charges over R12m bribes

David Greybe
Business Day (Johannesburg)
July 29, 1999

CAPE TOWN – The Lesotho government yesterday charged its former top official at the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, Masupha Sole, with taking R12m in bribes from a dozen international companies over 10 years.

The case has taken two years of extensive investigation to put together, and involved close co-operation between the governments of Lesotho and SA, with the assistance of Swiss and French authorities.

Companies allegedly involved include Impregilio of Italy,Dumez International of France, Acres International of Canada, Swedish-Swiss ABB and the Highlands Water Venture consortium, which includes Germany’s Hochtief and SA’s Concor and Group Five.

In SA the water affairs and forestry department, through its representatives on the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission, has been closely involved in the investigation from the outset.

The R10bn international project to bring water to Gauteng from Lesotho is managed by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority and overseen by the governments of Lesotho and SA.

Sole, seconded from the Lesotho government as CEO of the authority, appeared in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court yesterday on 14 charges of bribery and fraud. Sole also faces a charge of perjury: the charge sheet states that Sole denied “under oath” in November 1996 in the Lesotho High Court in a civil case that he had bank accounts in SA or overseas.

However, according to Lesotho’s director of public prosecution, Sole “well knew” that he had bank accounts in both SA and overseas – in Geneva and Zurich.

Sole, who is out on R200000 bail, was not asked to plead and the case was postponed to August 31. He has also had to surrender his passport.

Sole, the charge sheet states, “did unlawfully, intentionally and corruptly accept bribe moneys, over the period February 1988 to December 1998, from Lesotho Highlands Water Project contractors”.

The 12 groups named, plus the alleged bribe amounts paid to Sole, are: Impregilio (Italy) – $250000; Spie Batignoles (French) – Ff 738630; Sogreah (French) – Ff 84000; LHPC Chantiers (international consortium) – R392967; ED Zueblin (German) – DM 819862; LHPC (international consortium) – DM 105639; Highlands Water Venture (international consortium including SA’s Concor and Group Five) – $733404; Diwi Consulting (Germany) – DM 4500; ABB (Swedish/Swiss) – Ff 250000; Lahmeyer Consulting Engineers (German) – DM 16000; Acres International (Canadian) – C$ 279539, and; Dumez International (French) – Ff 509905,62.

In SA currency the total allegedly paid in bribes to Sole was R12,012m. In a joint statement yesterday, the Lesotho and SA authorities responsible for the Highlands project welcomed the move “to press criminal charges against Sole”.

A source closely involved in the inquiry said: “While bribery on huge projects is not unusual, it is the alleged involvement in this case of leading European and North American companies which makes it so troubling.”

The source said the charges against Sole “related mainly to his abuse of his position of trust to demand bribes to ensure favourable contract decisions”. For instance, Sole allegedly abused the claims procedure, demanding bribes to take decisions in favour of contractors involved in projects worth hundreds of millions of rands.

“Because the claims are often very technical and very complicated there is tremendous scope for manipulation,” the source said. “Sole, as CEO, was very well placed to influence the outcome of such claims.”

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