The drug lord who took Oupa Magashula down

Convicted drug dealer and apartheid policeman Panganathan “Timmy” Marimuthu brought down disgraced tax boss Oupa Magashula after a series of dodgy meetings erupted into a jobs-for-pals scandal.

The South African Revenue Service commissioner resigned this week after an inquiry found he had lied about his relationship with Marimuthu, who was convicted in 1992 of dealing in Mandrax and sentenced to three years in jail. Although his appeal failed, he never served the sentence.

The Sunday Times has established that Magashula’s relationship with Marimuthu began when they were introduced by then-police chief Bheki Cele at a party on the eve of the Durban July horse race in 2010.

The party was at the home of KwaZulu-Natal businessman Vivian Reddy, a close friend of Magashula and major benefactor of President Jacob Zuma.

Video: Convicted drug dealer preaches wealth strategy

Reddy confirmed that he had “known Oupa Magashula since the early days of his career when he worked for Sun International, my partner in the casino industry”. But he called it “an absolute fabrication and defamatory statement to mention that I introduced the former commissioner to Timmy Marimuthu”.

Marimuthu’s friendship with Cele dates back to when the disgraced former police chief was the province’s MEC for transport, safety and security and he had political oversight over road construction contracts worth hundreds of millions.

Cele was axed last year after a Sunday Times exposé of a scandal over the leasing of new police headquarters.

Marimuthu is open about using his political connections to amass a vast fortune . Several failed commercial ventures left the former policeman penniless by 2004. His subsequent road to riches, he has publicly boasted, lay in lavishing gifts and leveraging his connections to score lucrative state construction contracts .

“If you don’t bless somebody to get a job, then the heathen will do that and you’ve lost out,” he told a Christian gathering in the US in 2010. He said he owned 32 properties, paid his pastor R50000 a month and his church up to R15-million a year in tithes, and that his family drove a string of luxury cars.

“I have a Ferrari in the garage and I don’t even use it,” he said.

Marimuthu told the US gathering that in mid-2007 he met a “very good friend of mine who was in government”, who told him to “buy some trucks, so you can start getting involved in construction”. Six months later, “I phoned the gentleman and said: ‘Sir, I have a gift to give you for allowing me this opportunity of buying the trucks.’” A video recording of this speech can be viewed at timeslive.co.za.

The next month, January 2008, he scored his first contract, “for R18-million, in South African rands, and then the very same month for R32-million”, he said.

Several sources claimed that Cele held discussions with Marimuthu about road construction contracts during that period.

But Cele’s spokesman, Vuyo Mkhize, called this “vague and uncorroborated nonsense”. He said Cele had had no control over the transport department’s procurement function and Marimuthu had already been contracted when Cele was appointed MEC.

“He could, therefore, never have held – and he, most definitely, did not hold – the meeting that you allege he held with Marimuthu in 2007, where contracts that were to be issued by the department were discussed.”

Mkhize confirmed that Cele attended Marimuthu’s 50th birthday party in July 2011 as “a prominent Durban businessman he has been acquainted with since the time of his appointment” as MEC.

Marimuthu claims not to recall making the statements at all.

Last year, a Sunday Times investigation revealed that, when Cele headed the police, Marimuthu and a string of relatives were hired as crime intelligence agents. They charged a police slush fund more than R1.6-million for dodgy rental payments, medical and vehicle claims and secret agent fees.

During this investigation, a government official close to the crime intelligence top brass played the Sunday Times a recording he claimed was of Magashula offering KPMG accountant Nosipho Mba a R700000-a-year job at SARS.

Its authenticity could not be verified because the Sunday Times was not given a copy of the tape. Earlier this year, the same tape was leaked to City Press, which confirmed its authenticity. This prompted Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to launch an inquiry led by retired judge Zak Yacoob.

Magashula’s dramatic resignation this week came after the inquiry found that he had lied by claiming he had not met Marimuthu before the call to Mba on May 14 2011 and had not communicated with her since.

The inquiry revealed that Magashula and Marimuthu had met at least four times before the call to Mba, and that he had received her CV on his private e-mail – usually reserved for top-level communication with his minister – on the day of the call. He forwarded it to the internal audit section.

Gordhan has instructed a SARS audit committee to investigate whether Magashula’s actions broke any tax or customs rules.

Two independent sources claimed that Marimuthu on several occasions boasted he had Magashula “in his pocket”, including by bankrolling overseas holidays for family members in return for easing his tax headaches. This could not be verified, however.

“Every time his business people complained about his tax issue he would say: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get Oupa to sort it out’,” said one.

Another source said he had overheard Marimuthu “bragging that Oupa must shield him” because of these gifts.

Magashula said yesterday the claims were “absolutely not true”. He had paid for the trips “using my own credit card and I can produce those things to you to prove it”.

Magashula said SARS wrote to Marimuthu in 2011 to stop peddling information that he had influence over the tax boss. “SARS wrote to him. We said: ‘Stop saying you have influence over me’.

“There are a lot of taxpayers who do that, you know. We are not surprised by that behaviour. It is absolutely not true. My conscience is very clear.”

Asked why he lied about how many times he had met Marimuthu, he said he had told the commission he had had “encounters” with him that he did not consider meetings. He said the commission did not accept the “primary purpose of my meeting with Marimuthu [was that] I was meeting with the thennational minister of police, Bheki Cele, who is a friend to Marimuthu. He introduced me to Marimuthu.”

Cele said through his spokesman that Magashula’s comments were “laughable”.

Marimuthu claimed he was the victim of a plot by a rival building contractor. He denied lavishing gifts on Magashula or claiming to have any influence over him. “I’ve got too small pockets,” he said.

“If I had somebody in my pocket, why would they do a lifestyle audit on myself and all my companies for two years now?” he said. “That is all lies, all untruths. Everything you say is falsified.”

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