Business Day (Johannesburg)
December 8, 1999
The multimillion-rand Lesotho Highlands Water Project bribery trial, involving more than 20 international companies and individuals, will begin on May 2 next year and run for five months, the chief magistrate of Maseru said yesterday.
The companies and individuals were formally charged with 16 counts of bribery, allegedly involving mainly Masupha Sole, former CEO of the R10bn international project, to bring water to Gauteng from Lesotho. The accused were charged together.
The trial date has been set down in the Lesotho High Court from May 2 to October 3 next year. “The 16 charges of bribery involve various combinations of the accused,” advocate Guido Penzhorn SC, who is leading the prosecution for the state, said.
The prosecution served the accused present with copies of the Swiss bank records used to prepare the criminal case. The records had been handed over to Lesotho’s director of public prosecutions by the Swiss judicial authorities earlier this year.
The investigating officer also formally invited the accused to make warning statements. All of them declined at this stage.
Sole, who is charged with taking R12m in bribes over a 10-year period ending last year, also faces two charges of fraud and one of perjury.
In a related development on Monday, Sole had a request for “a stay of execution” to pay R7,776m to his former employer turned down with costs by the trial judge.
In October, Judge Michael Ramodibedi ordered Sole to repay the money to his former employer, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority. The criminal case arose out of the investigations in the civil case.
The companies formally charged in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court yesterday are: Acres International (Canadian); Coyne et Bellier, Sogreah, Spie Batignolles and Dumez International (all French); ABB and Lahmeyer International (German); ABB (Swedish); Universal Development Corporation and Electro Power Corporation (Panamanian); Associated Consultants and Project Managers (Lesotho) and Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners (British).
Two international consortiums were also charged: Highlands Water Venture, which includes Kier International (British) and Impregilo (Italian), and Lesotho Highlands Project Contractors, which includes Spie Batignolles and Ed Zueblin (German). Certain SA construction companies have been linked to the consortiums.
Also charged yesterday was Cegelec, a partnership which includes CGEE-Alsthom and General Electric of France.
Individuals formally charged are Sole, Max Cohen of France, JM du Plooy of Ficksburg and Margaret Bam of Ladybrand.
Represented in court yesterday by some of SA’s top law firms were: Sole, Du Plooy, Bam, Highlands Water Venture, Sogreah, Spie Batignolles, Lesotho Highlands Project Contractors, Associated Consultants & Project Managers, Lahmeyer International, Acres International, Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners and Coyne et Bellier.
World Bank, which has a $150m stake in the project, and the European Union, which also helped with funding, have told Lesotho they would help pay for the possibly costly court case. If found guilty, the companies charged could be debarred from World Bank-financed projects.