Tycoon’s tricky tape recording
SECRET recordings show a business tycoon talking about millions in payments to senior government officials, apparently to secure government business.
The recordings are of Vivian Natasen, whose company, Neo Solutions – now known as Neo Africa – has scored hundreds of millions in state tenders including a stake in the R8.8bn taxi recapitalisation project in which it was hired to assist with the scrapping of taxis being replaced.
The two recordings were made independently by two separate individuals, one a former senior employee in the company and the other a former business associate.
Natasen denied any knowledge of the conversations and said that suggestions that he had paid off officials were false and defamatory.
One recording in M24i’s possession was leaked to anti-graft organisation Corruption Watch by a whistle-blower who asked the organisation to investigate.
Corruption Watch approached Media24 Investigations with the recording and we were able to independently locate another recording.
M24i has established that the tapes do contain the voice of Natasen.
The two recordings date back to 2007 and relate to the then Neo Solutions dealings with the Gauteng department of public works when it was awarded a R23 million contract as the lead consultant in the extended public works programme.
At times Natasen appears to protest that he would never consider irregular or corrupt business practices while in other parts of the conversation he appears to speak clearly about some eye-brow-raising business activities.
In one of the recordings, Natasen can be heard saying that he had used an auditor to conduct a lifestyle audit of officials who were being paid apparently to ensure that they were not spending in a manner which would be noticed.
“There is an auditor … who goes and checks on all these contracts… he does lifestyle audit of all the officials. Although there’s no money flow there, this oke is political and he’s being used to push money (the) ANC way,” Natasen said.
In the recording Natasen also claims that money was being paid to the ANC as part of the business of securing the state tenders.
In the discussion with the senior employee, Natasen also raised his concerns about R3 million which the auditor had apparently set aside to pay officials.
Natasen says in the recording that he would negotiate that the amount be reduced. He also said that he would approach the person in charge of the department at the time as he was demanding more money out of them than the profit the company was making.
“At the end of the day we do need the work….. but I cannot do the work at a loss. I am not going to work to make them (officials) rich,” said Natasen.
Natasen said that if information about payments to the officials ever emerged he would be able to “break the link four times” between himself and them through another company he owned with payments being made by other entities to the officials.
“I mean it’s very uncomfortable for me, because I am a CA…. I’d never ever put my CA at risk for that….. I’ve got to make sure my hands will be kept clean the whole time,” Natasen said.
On one of the recordings, Natasen claimed that two senior officials who signed a contract off had been paid-off.
When contacted for comment Natasen denied that his company had ever paid any government official.
He said he never had any relationship with the officials mentioned in the tape and that City Press should verify the authenticity of the tapes.
Natasen said the officials mentioned on the recording had not even supported any of the tenders that were submitted by any of his companies.
Corruption Watch’s David Lewis said: “We would like to see the law enforcement authorities and the Public Protector systematically review every public sector tender in which Neo Africa and its associated companies have featured whether as project managers, forensic investigators or human resources consultants.”
Neo Africa was hired by the Limpopo education department in 2010 and paid R3,7m to inquire into the department’s financial affairs and allegations of serious irregularities around the textbook procurement contract given to EduSolutions.
Neo Africa’s report approved of the education department giving EduSolutions the contract. Earlier this year the contract was terminated and called illegal after national government intervened in the province.
Lewis said Neo Africa’s role in approving the tender to EduSolutions had played a “pivotal role” in the failure to detect a tender irregularity.
Gauteng department of infrastructure spokesman Ramona Baijnath said: The response from the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development is as follows: “The now disbanded Gauteng Department of Public Transport, Roads and Works (DPTRW) did contract Neo Solutions for the duration of one year. All procurement processes were adhered to and we are not aware of any allegations of staff impropriety other than those alleged in your media enquiry.”
The ANC did not respond to requests for comment.