Lottery threatens legal action against Minister Ebrahim Patel

The scandal-ridden organisation appears to be trying to block a corruption probe

By Raymond Joseph

19 November 2020

The National Lotteries Commission has sent Minister Ebrahim Patel a letter of demand. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Lawyers acting for the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) have threatened to take Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel to court. They want him to hand over a dossier into alleged corruption involving a dodgy Lottery-funded project that has been handed to the Hawks to investigate.

The dossier was compiled by investigators appointed by Patel after several earlier probes commissioned by the NLC had cleared the organisation and members of its staff of any wrongdoing.

Patel has ministerial oversight for the NLC, which has been the subject of ongoing revelations of corruption and maladministration involving multi-million rand grants.

The dossier involves Denzhe Primary Care, a hijacked non-profit organisation that was used to successfully apply for grants totalling R27.5 million to build a drug rehabilitation centre near Pretoria. The centre is still not complete and over R20 million is unaccounted for.

Investigations into a further three Lottery-funded projects have been completed by the independent investigators but are yet to be handed to police.

The NLC letter — marked “Extremely Urgent” — was sent to Patel on 11 November, and gave him 24 hours to respond. If he did not meet the deadline, the letter threatened to seek a court order for him to hand over all the documentation in the dossier.

The NLC’s lawyer also demanded a written undertaking from Patel that the dossier would not be used to remove the NLC board “until such time that our client has been afforded the opportunity to study” and seek legal advice “on how to vindicate their constitutional rights, including the right to subject the findings in the report to judicial review in the High Court if they are advised to do so”.

The letter also demands that Patel provides “a complete forensic investigation report together with the portfolio of any evidence and/or documents in support of the findings”.

It is not clear whether Patel met the tight deadline imposed by the NLC. But a well-informed source with knowledge of the matter said that attorneys acting for the minister have responded to the demand.

Arguing that his client’s constitutional rights had been breached because they had not been given the right to respond, attorney MJ Maluleke wrote: “In essence you have condemned our client to sitting ducks awaiting the arrival of the law enforcement authorities to subject them to a probe based on a report that they have never seen nor engaged with. This arbitrary conduct by yourself is detrimental to the constitutional rights of our client.”

The NLC had unsuccessfully engaged with the minister and his office to ascertain “the terms of reference and scope of such investigation” which are still “unknown to our client”, Maluleke wrote.

The first time that the NLC was aware that the dossier had been handed to the Hawks was during a virtual sitting of the portfolio committee for the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) on 2 September 2020, Maluleke said.

During the meeting DTIC director-general Lionel October gave a broad outline about the investigation, and also confirmed that the dossier had been handed to police to investigate.

“The Chairperson of the NLC [Alfred Nevhutanda] and the Commissioner [Thabang Mampane] who were both in that meeting were shocked about the DG’s presentation as it was the first time they came across that information,” Maluleke said.