South Africa: Shooting of Top Hawks Cop May Affect, Delay Major Petrosa Corruption Cases

11 November 2019

Colonel Christelle Stemmet, who was shot and killed at her home in Table View on Sunday night, was leading probes into major corruption scandals at state-owned petrochemical company PetroSA.

But the 47-year-old's sudden death as a result of fatal gunshot wounds may delay cases she had finally brought to court after years of investigation.

The first leg of one of her PetroSA cases was due to be before the Belville Magistrate's Court this Friday. It is unclear if the matter will be able to proceed without Stemmet, the investigating officer, being present.

Zuma-linked lawyer Geroge Sabelo and former PetroSA chief executive Yekani Tenza were due to appear before the court on charges of fraud or alternatively theft, News24 reported on Sunday.

Stemmet worked for the Western Cape Serious Corruption Investigations unit of the Hawks, and was involved in a number of major investigations.

According to Hawks spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Philani Nkwalase, Stemmet was shot twice and died on the scene at her home in Cape Town.

Netwerk24 reported that two spent bullet casings were found on the scene, but the murder weapon had not been recovered.

A friend of Stemmet reportedly contacted the police following the shooting.

Nkwalase, in a statement issued on Monday, said the motive for the shooting was under investigation by local detectives, however preliminary investigations had ruled out any links to Stemmet's investigations for the Hawks.

"An inquest docket has been opened to explore the circumstances surrounding the death of such a seasoned and dedicated officer," the statement read.

The case against Sabelo and Tenza relates to shady dealings in 2011 and 2012 that saw a law firm Sabelo was a partner in - Farber Sabelo Edelstein (FSE) - paid R13m by PetroSA, signed off by Tenza, for work another law firm - Webber Wentzel - had already been contracted to do.

According to the charge sheets seen by News24, the pair face two counts of fraud or, alternatively, one count of theft and another of attempted theft.

The first count relates to the FSE payment, while the second count relates to a R3m invoice from Sabelo, which Tenza signed off on the day before leaving PetroSA.

When PetroSA staff queried the R3m invoice, Sabelo dropped his claim to the payment.

At the time, Sabelo was a 15% partner in FSE. But, Sabelo had clandestinely registered his own, new law firm, Nkosi Sabelo, behind the backs of his partners at FSE. Tenza was the acting CEO of PetroSA.

In the ensuing controversy, Sabelo left FSE, which later became Edelstein Farber Grobler.

The payments to FSE related to PetroSA's acquisition of a major oil bloc in Ghana, known as the Sabre deal.

But Stemmet was also investigating Tenza and Sabelo in connection with a much larger deal and allegations of corruption surrounding it - PetroSA's planned acquisition of Engen garages around the country, dubbed Project Irene.

Local consultancy firm Harith Fund Managers was brought on board to advise PetroSA on the deal - after HSBC had already been hired.

Played role of double agent

Harith CEO Tshepo Mahloele is also the chairperson of Lebashe Investments, which was announced as the new owner of Tiso Blackstar Group - the owner of major news publications such as the Sunday Times, Sowetan and Business Day - earlier this year.

Under Tenza's acting stewardship in 2011, PetroSA fired HSBC as transaction advisors on the SOE's planned, but confidential, acquisition of Engen petrol stations around the country.

Cancelling HSBC's contract cost PetroSA R19m in penalties, and the then-less experienced Harith was brought on board. Initially the company was due to be paid a R340m success fee if the transaction succeeded, but this was later reduced to less than R200m after Tenza's departure amid growing controversy over the alleged corruption.

According to reportage by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism at the time, Sabelo played the role of double agent - advising PetroSA on the deal, while at the same time being paid by Harith to advise the firm also.

It is unclear at this stage who will take over Stemmet's cases.


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