The tobacco tycoon's birthday bash and his policemen guests at Table 9
A who's who of KZN's elite, including cops and politicians, were on the controversial businessman's guest list
The SA Revenue Service’s anti-corruption unit head and senior KwaZulu-Natal police officers, including the suspended provincial SAPS commissioner, cracked invites to the lavish 50th birthday party of cigarette manufacturing tycoon Yusuf Kajee.
The businessman is currently under investigation by SARS and the Hawks for alleged tax-related violations and money-laundering and corruption charges.
The bash, which saw crime intelligence agents, police station commanders, alleged mafioso, lawyers, businessmen and politicians wined and dined, was held on Saturday, February 3 at the up-market Coastlands Convention Centre in Umhlanga, outside Durban.Gobi Makhanya, head of the SARS anti-corruption unit, said he did not report the invite to his superiors.
“There was no need to. I declined the invite and I did not attend. I was invited by the organiser but I said I don't attend those kind of things. I have never attended an event of Mr Kajee’s.”
Makhanya declined to comment on why the organiser invited him. He said he had no “friendship” with Kajee. In an e-mail, Kajee — who owns Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturing (ATM) — describes the organisers and those on his “surprise birthday” guest list as “esteemed friends and colleagues”.While Kajee says he did not organise the event, a check on Truecaller of a cellphone number provided by conference centre staff for the organiser, shows it is listed to Kajee. A landline number, which was also provided, does not exist. Photographs show Makhanya’s name on a board outside the venue’s entrance displaying the table seating arrangements.
He had a place set for him at Table 11, alongside Pietermaritzburg mayor Themba Njilo and executives from Tobacco United.
Njilo failed to return calls or SMSs for comment on whether he attended or not.Table Nine at the party was reserved for eight police officers, including suspended KwaZulu-Natal provincial police commissioner Major-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni and her husband, Major-General Lucas Ngobeni.
Ngobeni said at the time of the party she was looking after her ill mother.
Ngobeni was suspended in 2016 over allegations that controversial KwaZulu-Natal businessman Thoshan Panday paid R30,000 for her husband’s surprise birthday party. Panday, who has been the subject of a SARS tax probe, was investigated for allegedly running a R60-million Fifa World Cup police accommodation scam.
Charges were withdrawn against him in 2014, but reinstated in 2016 by National Prosecuting Authority boss Shaun Abrahams.
Panday is alleged to have tried to bribe former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks boss Major-General Johan Booysen with an estimated R2-million to have the investigation into him squashed.Other police officers listed on Table Nine’s seating plan include Brigadier Francis Bantham, deputy commander for the Pietermaritzburg policing cluster; Brigadier Boxer Pillay, Pietermaritzburg’s Mountain Rise police station commissioner; Major-General Phume Makhoba, Pietermaritzburg’s Umgungundlova south policing district commander; a Mr SM Govender, a crime intelligence agent; and Pietermaritzburg’s Alexandra police station commander, Colonel Phillip Mlambo.
Kajee operates out of Pietermaritzburg.
Bantham confirmed receiving the invite via Whatsapp, but said she did not attended.
“Everybody in Pietermaritzburg knows everyone,” she said when asked why she was invited.
Makhoba and Pillay both said they attended in their personal capacities.
Times Select has learnt Mlambo apparently did not attend. Among other guests who had places set for them at the party was alleged Cape Town mafioso Mark Lifman, who had a seat at Table Three. Lifman’s lawyer William Booth said he did not attend as he had only recently returned from overseas where he had been since late January.
Lifman is also under investigation for alleged tax evasion and avoidance.Wits University good governance expert Koffi Kouakou said the attendance of Makhanya and police officers would be a “terrible ethical governance issue”.
“Even on receiving the invite these people should have reported it to their superiors.
“Leadership and accountability is not just about your position alone, but who you associate with, the birthdays you attend, the gatherings you go to. These are literally platforms and channels for corruption.
“When it comes to the potential for corruption, visibility leads to vulnerability. Ethically most of our leaders have no conscience. They just want to be seen and be visible.”
Kajee and ATM are among several tobacco companies being investigated by Makhanya’s unit as part of an investigation into alleged global cigarette smugglers.
But, despite being investigated for the past 10 years, the investigations, say SARS sources, have gone nowhere and especially of late.
The investigations began extensively while former finance minister Pravin Gordhan was SARS commissioner.
They are being investigated for allegedly failing to pay millions of rands in customs and excise duties on tobacco that they allegedly illicitly smuggled into South Africa.
SARS sources say while the investigation into Kajee other cigarette businessman have not officially been closed off, investigators have apparently received instructions to cease all their enquiries.
Among those cigarette businessmen who are being investigated by SARS is Paul de Robillard, who was placed at Kajee’s main birthday table.
De Robillard declined to comment on the event, which he claimed he did not attend.On Makhanya’s invite, SARS spokesman Sicelo Mkosi said: “In terms of SARS’s HR policies we do not discuss employee information or details of internal processes related to staff members in the public domain.”
Other questions Mkosi refused to answer included:• If SARS would investigate Makhanya’s invite or possible attendance of Kajees party; and• If Makhanya had a friendship with Kajee.
On SARS investigations into Kajee, De Robillard and Lifman, Mkosi cited legislation protecting taxpayers privacy to not comment.He said all taxpayers’ tax returns were subjected to SARS’s risk and compliance verifications.
Questioned, Kajee made allegedly veiled threats to the reporter, with him WhatsApping a photograph of the reporter with the question: “Is this you.”
He said the photograph had been sent to him.
Kajee said in an e-mail: “I do not recall requesting you to write an article on the ‘surprise party’ given to me by my esteem friends and colleagues.
“I had no involvement in the planning, invitations and guest list. Everyone in attendance was there in their personal and private capacity.”
KwaZulu-Natal provincial police spokesman Brigadier Jay Naicker said while they were unaware of the event, management would ascertain if any police attended and in what capacity.