South Africa

DAYS OF ZONDO: Former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana wants evidence leader, Vas Soni removed from State Capture Inquiry

Former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Esa Alexander)

The former CEO of Prasa, Lucky Montana, told the State Capture Inquiry he believed evidence leader Vas Soni SC had been hostile towards him and wanted him to be recused.

The former chief executive of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), Lucky Montana, told the State Capture Inquiry on Tuesday that evidence leader Vas Soni SC had been approached by a “network” that had forced witnesses to testify against him.

Montana made his sixth appearance before the inquiry, where he was challenged about property transactions he had made with lawyer Riaan van der Walt. 

During a previous appearance, Montana claimed that a group close to forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan had forced witnesses to testify against him. O’Sullivan, in September 2015, opened a corruption, fraud and money laundering docket against Montana. 

On Tuesday, Montana claimed evidence leader Vas Soni, SC, was compromised, stating: “The network I was talking about, it’s clear they reached out to Mr Soni.” Montana said he had lost “absolute confidence” in Soni, and that Soni should recuse himself from the proceedings. 

But Soni hit back, saying Montana’s attitude towards him changed only when a R6.8-million property transaction by Montana was brought up. 

Montana had been asked about a property he attempted to buy in Waterkloof, Tshwane. The property owner, Karin de Beer, said the deal fell through and she did not know why. But Montana insisted the deal fell through because the valuation for the property was too high.

He asked the inquiry for emails from the person who handled his property transactions at the bank, Ursula Willis. Montana insisted the emails needed to be heard at the inquiry, or it would enter a “realm of speculation, particularly negative speculation” about him. 

After lunch, Williss’s email about the valuation was produced. In the email, dated 13 March 2013, Willis told De Beer that the bank refused to value the property at more than R7.5-million. 

This led to Montana stating, “The people who are making allegations against me are not here, but they are speaking through Mr Soni.”

Montana is alleged to have paid for his properties with money accrued from Prasa via a third party, Van der Walt, who was the sole director of a company that had dealings with companies that did business with Prasa.

Read Daily Maverick’s explanation of Montana’s properties here

Montana lambasted Soni for questioning him about who paid for his properties and said Soni was “emotionally invested” in the issue. 

Montana said he had experienced levels of hostility from Soni which were “unprecedented from an evidence leader”. He claimed Soni was biased because the evidence leader had done work for Werksmans Attorneys, that had undertaken a forensic investigation at Prasa while Montana was head of the rail agency. 

Soni disputed this, stating he had carried out one legal opinion for Prasa, “but never worked for Werksmans”. He said that the issues at Prasa had been in the public domain since 2015, and he needed to ask questions based on this. 

He said there were questions Montana needed to answer, but that “does not mean he did anything wrong”.

Commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said if time allowed he would prefer Montana to return for an oral hearing, or Montana would have to answer further questions in writing. 

On Wednesday, the inquiry is expected to hear evidence from the Inspector-General of Intelligence, Dr Setlhomamaru Isaac Dintwe. In the evening session, evidence is expected to be heard from former Transnet chief executive Siyabonga Gama. DM

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