The CEO of Dube TradePort Rohan Persad has been implicated in a web of corruption and kickback allegations, involving millions of rand.
Sunday Tribune investigations have revealed Persad was involved in a corrupt relationship with Alex McRoberts, director of Worldwide Flight Services SA (WFS-SA).
The two set about finding ways for Persad to acquire a 40 percent stake in WFS-SA, a company that had a R50-million-a-year cargo handling contract at King Shaka International Airport.
Persad and McRoberts were later involved in an acrimonious bust-up, which led to the cancellation of WFS-SA’s contract at the tradeport. However, the Sunday Tribune can reveal the two men allegedly colluded before the bust-up.
The Sunday Tribune has a trail of correspondence in which McRoberts confirmed the corrupt relationship with Persad. In the e-mails, McRoberts claims that he has proof showing holidays, goods and cash that he has provided to Persad “over the years”.
In one such e-mail, McRoberts claims: “I have not used these as they may well come in to much better use a littler (sic) later down the line. My real concern here is that this information used may well involve proceedings against myself and incriminate me in alleged corruption!”
The Sunday Tribune also has copies in which Persad, on June 14 last year, requests McRoberts buy his wife Gilberte Marie Persad a return business-class ticket on British Airways to London as part of her 50th birthday celebrations.
McRoberts was also asked to book Mrs Persad into the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington for four nights and Oveton Grange Hotel in Ludlow, Shropshire, for two nights.
Persad also asked McRoberts to procure some camera equipment.
The terms of the kickback plan were:
l McRoberts would, through WFS-SA, offer Prasad 40 percent of the company. This would be done through a nominee, identified only as “Ndumiso”. In an e-mail to Persad, McRoberts asked him: “I’m still looking to stay in Durban. My bank suggests the best way forward would be for the company WFS-SA to buy it with a 50 percent deposit. Do you have any objections as you’ll own 40 percent.” The response from Persad was two words: “Good Idea”.
l Persad would, in turn, help grow the value of WFS-SA by providing contracts. McRoberts suggests, in an e-mail dated July 6, that one of these could be a facilities management tender at the trade port.
l WFS-SA would then be sold to WFS Global, at a later stage, at an estimated price of around R40 million. And Persad would walk away with at least R15m.
In an e-mail dated July 6, 2011, to Persad, McRoberts, motivating for the facilities management tender kickback, wrote:
“… It would make complete sense to me that you allow me to tender for this work and you ensure that we’re awarded the tender somehow. It can only benefit your 40 percent which in turn boosts the saleable value of WFS-SA.
“Just for your information with the recent WFS-SA results, goodwill, the potential growth and VALUE of the contract with DTP, the current value… put(s) WFS-SA at e4m. This is why we have to look at growth quickly over the next two years and add to this evaluation. 40 percent of those numbers is quite considerable,” McRoberts wrote.
Six weeks ago, McRoberts, speaking exclusively to the Sunday Tribune in a series of telephone conversations from his base in the UK, said that he had a paper trail and documents showing cash and holidays he had paid to Persad over the years.
However, a month after concluding a “confidential” settlement with Dube TradePort following the termination of his company’s services, McRoberts has done an about-turn and now denies ever having made the claims to this newspaper – and threatened legal action if the Sunday Tribune published the story.
In a desperate bid to stop its publication, McRoberts pleaded for “more time” saying that he stood to lose his sole agency of the company which is part of Paris-based WFS Global. However, shortly after the newspaper approached the Paris head office for comment on the allegations of kickbacks, both McRoberts and Persad issued separate e-mails denying any irregularity had taken place between them.
In his response, Persad also threatened legal action, calling the allegations “unfounded”. Instead, he wanted to know where and when the newspaper received the allegations against him.
McRoberts too, disputed the claims in an e-mailed response – after having confessed to the Sunday Tribune at length about the payments he made to Persad.
“I categorically deny any allegation of impropriety in my business dealings with Mr Persad, and suggest that you properly check the authenticity and accuracy of the information and documentation you obtained from your sources before you decide to proceed with the publication thereof. I believe that the allegations referred to in your e-mail are malicious and intended to cause irreparable harm to my good name.
“Lastly, I wish to record that all business dealings between Mr Persad and myself were in our respective capacities as the duly authorised representatives of our respective companies,” said McRoberts.
While all parties are now hotly contesting the allegations, a series of e-mails purportedly sent from Persad and McRoberts’ private e-mail accounts and handed to the Sunday Tribune further reveal the following communications:
Discussions to give all security contracts at the airport to a company owned by McRoberts and profits to be shared between the two men.
McRoberts to set up an off-shore company and bank account for Persad into which payments would be made.
Persad advising Mc-Roberts against vying for maintenance contracts at the airport, saying ‘the maintenance contract is not advisable. Highly-competitive with more than 40 companies and we have to publish names of participants and final winner in gov gazette. Anticipate challenges. Not a good idea. I have some ideas about commercial growth we can discuss’.
An independent source close to Persad confirmed that the relationship between the two men was irregular; adding that the initial contract with WFS for ground handling services at King Shaka Airport did not even go through proper tender procedures.
Approached for comment on this and the allegations against Persad, Dube TradePort chairperson, Dr Bridgette Gasa, confirmed that DTP had initially embarked on a public procurement process for a ground handler at the airport, but that it had received only one local bid – which she said was “unsuitable”.
“DTP then embarked on a process to find suitable operators with sufficient skills and expertise to undertake the management and operations of the cargo terminal, and spoke with at least three international operators. Finally, negotiations were concluded with World Flight Services for a five-year management and operations agreement. A year into the contract World Flight Services requested to be represented by a South African subsidiary under franchise World Flight Services SA.
“In keeping with the BEE initiatives of our government, it was agreed that there would be a local BEE component to the operating company. A dispute arose with the operator, and this led to DTP exercising its right of “step in” in terms management and operations contract.
“The Board of the DTP was not aware of the allegations made by Mr Alex Roberts (sic) against the person of the CEO of the DTP. At no point did Mr Roberts alert the board of these, neither did he follow the necessary procedures to ensure that he is given the audience which he now seeks through the media.
“The board was however aware of the reasons leading to the termination of the WFS contract and we applied our minds duly to the contraventions made by the contracted cargo terminal operator and approved that DTP follow the course of action which was subsequently pursued. There is no investigation at this stage but we are discussing the matter and will apply our minds on what course of action, if any, needs to be taken once all parties, including Mr Persad are consulted and given the opportunity to respond,” Dr Gasa said.
In its response, WFS Global, through its lawyer, said it was only a holding company for various entities which provided ground handling services at airports around the globe. “Other than being authorised to utilise the name ‘Worldwide Flight Services’, Worldwide Flight Services SA (Pty) Ltd is separate and distinct from our client and is not owned nor managed by our client or any of its subsidiaries. Mr Alex McRoberts is not, nor has he ever been, employed by our client or any of its subsidiaries and our client has no knowledge of any of the allegations levelled against Mr McRoberts.” - Sunday Tribune