Former CEO of US$8B African water project convicted

Garry Marr
National Post
May 21, 2002

Canadian company denied links to bribery scandal

The former chief executive officer of an US$8-billion water project in Africa was pushed into court in a hospital bed yesterday so a judge could convict him of 13 counts of taking bribes from international firms, including a Canadian company.

Masupha Sole was rushed by air Sunday night from Johannesburg to Lesotho, a tiny country landlocked within South Africa. He had been undergoing emergency treatment for spinal injuries from a car accident.

The former head of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority was accused of taking US$2-million in bribes linked to Toronto-based Acres International and 11 other international dam-building companies, including Swiss-Swedish giant ABB, Italy’s Impregilo SpA and Germany’s ED Zueblin. The bribery was linked to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, a system of dams and tunnels designed to alleviate water shortages in central Africa.

Oskar T. Sigvaldson, president of Acres International, said in August his company did not make any payments and had no knowledge of any improper transactions.

“It is also important to note that the only formal allegations of improper conduct in this matter are against Mr. Sole. No charges of any kind have been laid against Acres International,” Mr. Sigvaldson said at the time, adding Acres launched an internal review and found nothing to indicate any officer or employee of the company was involved in any form of improper activity.

Judge Brendon Cullinan said Mr. Sole, as chief executive and as an engineer at Lesotho Highlands Development, knew the sources and purposes of the payments made to his account through intermediaries at banks in Lesotho, Zurich and Ladybrand, South Africa.

The judge found him guilty of accepting bribes from international consultants and contractors.

Judge Cullinan said he was satisfied “beyond a responsible doubt” Mr. Sole had received payments from international contractors and that he had agreed to “further their private interests.”

The judge also found Mr. Sole not guilty on five counts on which he was previously charged.

He was considering a bail application.

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