Water project boss convicted of bribery

Jonathan Katzenellenbogen
Business Day (Johannesburg)
May 21, 2002

The former CE of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority was convicted yesterday of accepting bribes from some of the world’s best-known contractors. Masupha Sole was pushed into the Lesotho High Court in his hospital bed to hear Judge Brendon Cullinan convict him on 13 counts of bribery. He accepted bribes from international consultants and contractors from the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and France to induce him to grant them lucrative contracts in the giant Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which supplies water to SA. Sole was flown to Lesotho from Johannesburg on Sunday night for the judgment. He is being held in custody ahead of possible sentencing on Thursday. None of the companies which were found to have bribed Sole are potential contractors on the Gautrain project, according to Jack van der Merwe, project leader for prospective rapid rail network. Nevertheless, Van der Merwe said he would scrutinise the judgment. The Gauteng government has said it would consider disqualifying companies implicated in the bribery case. Cullinan found that Sole received bribes from Sogreah, Cegelec, Coin et Bellier, Spie Batignol, Lahmeyer McDonald Consortium, Dumez, Gibb and Acres. A case is proceeding against Acres and plans are under way for prosecutions against Lahmeyer, as well as Jacobus Michael Du Plooy, an alleged intermediary in the scandal, and Dumez. Lesotho’s director of public prosecutions, Leaba Thatsane, said last night it was “a question of who to proceed against next as we go along”. No decision had yet been taken on whether to individually charge members of the Highland Water Venture Consortium, including SA contractors Concor and Basil Read, and French firm Bouygues. Associated companies of these firms are part of the Bombela Consortium, which is bidding for the Gautrain project. Cullinan found that as the CE and as an engineer, Sole knew the sources and purpose of the payments made into his bank accounts in Lesotho, Zurich and Ladybrand, through intermediaries. Cullinan said he was satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt” that Sole received payments from the international contractors and that he had agreed to “further their private interests”. Cullinan found that Sole accepted bribes from contractors as early as 1988. He acquitted Sole on five counts. The court considered submissions by both crown and defence counsels for a bail application for Sole while he sought senior counsel to plead in mitigation of the sentence. An inquiry was sparked into Sole’s activities in 1994 after the authorities found, during the course of a disciplinary inquiry over irregularities in his expense accounts, that he held overseas bank accounts.

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