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Cipro CIO on 'special leave'

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Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (Cipro) CIO Dr Michael Twum-Darko was placed on special leave on Friday.

This followed Democratic Alliance (DA) allegations that he was involved in the rigging of a R153 million electronic content management (ECM) tender.

This morning, Twum-Darko lashed out at the DA, and stated the accusations levelled against him were part of a racist plot, designed to discredit him and remove him from his position.

The controversial ECM tender was awarded to ValorIT, in March last year, and was shortly thereafter challenged in court by Mantra Consulting, which charged that ValorIT had failed to hand over R10 million in consultancy fees. Mantra Consulting was earlier contracted by ValorIT to provide consulting services and ensure ValorIT won the tender bid.

In its civil claim against ValorIT, Mantra Consulting stated Twum-Darko supplied confidential Cipro information related to bid specifications and price, which gave ValorIT an unfair advantage over other bidders.

According to a statement released by the DA yesterday, an independent investigation into Cipro was commissioned by trade and industry minister Rob Davies last year.

It is believed the independent ministerial investigation is at an advanced stage and has already resulted in an official criminal investigation into the ECM contract, according to well-placed sources at Cipro.

Foreign national

Furthermore, DA shadow deputy trade and industry minister Andricus van der Westhuizen, MP, claims a number of other allegations also emerged against Twum-Darko. These included that his salary exceeded the allocated salary band, and that he was a foreign national at the time of his appointment, which means he would not have been able to obtain the necessary security clearance from the National Intelligence Agency.

The DA also alleges the granting of the ECM tender to ValorIT has had a series of damaging knock-on effects, affecting the operation of the Cipro database in 2009.

Cipro CEO Keith Sendwe has been on sick leave since November last year, with Lungile Dukwana standing in, in an acting capacity. Dukwana today confirmed Twum-Darko is on special leave, but would not comment on any of the allegations at this stage.

Cipro head of communications Elsabe Conradie was also unable to comment on the allegations raised by the DA, saying Cipro is still waiting for the results of the independent investigation from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

A DTI spokesman would not be drawn on the DA's statement, nor would he comment on the ministerial investigation, only saying the DTI would either release a statement or hold a press briefing at a later stage.

Manipulation of information

Speaking to ITWeb this morning, Twum-Darko confirmed that tender rigging accusations have been levelled against him, saying the allegations are part of a wide racist plot headed by the DA, on behalf of former white Cipro executives.

“I have always faced a challenge from my white counterparts,” says Twum-Darko, adding that he had been tasked by the DTI's director-general to replace white executives with black staff.

“The DA is now leading a group of white former executives... After the auditor-general completed his investigation into the tender last year, they were still not happy and they put pressure on the minister to appoint another group of investigators.

“The State IT Agency and other government departments were responsible for evaluating the tender; no one in my department was involved.”

Twum-Darko also alleges the DA is supporting a senior police official, who is positioning herself to take over the top spot at Cipro.

“But let them finish their investigation. I have been put on special leave for fear that I would interfere with the investigation.”

Twum-Darko also dismissed the DA's concerns that he may be preparing to flee to Canada, saying the political party could check whether he submitted any documentation to the Canadian Consulate. “My family is here, I am a South African citizen. Where am I going to go?”

Racist plot

Meanwhile, ValorIT chairman Josias Molele has dismissed any involvement of his company in the allegations, saying Twum-Darko being placed on special leave is an internal Cipro matter.

However, he also says the company has been the victim of a racist plot, aimed at derailing the ECM project. He claims to have SMSes, sent by white Cipro executives, who talk about sabotaging the project.

These messages, says Molele, were obtained from Cipro officials and will be made available to ITWeb. He alleges that white executives have criticised ValorIT for not having the requisite experience to take on projects of this magnitude, and the company has been blamed for system failures at Cipro and problems with the operations of the database.

But, says Molele, this only demonstrates that the old system is outdated and failing, as the new ECM system has yet to be installed. This, he says, is because Cipro has had a problem updating its ICT infrastructure onto which the new ECM system is to be loaded.

“Our side of the project is finished. We have completed the new Web site, the intranet and file system. Cipro has admitted it is having problems with getting the infrastructure in place.”

However, regarding the allegation of tender rigging, Molele says an auditor-general's report - completed in January - found all was above board with the evaluation and awarding of the tender.

Fake companies

Well-placed sources also note the investigation is likely to blow the lid off another suspected scam at Cipro, which relates to the creation of false companies in the Cipro database and to defraud the South African Revenue Service (SARS) of VAT.

SARS and the South African Police Service are tracking three Pakistani nationals in connection with tax fraud amounting to R33 million. A suspect related to the case is being held without bail. The 29-year-old man appears to be linked to the Pakistani government's most wanted list of international terrorists, through his brother, who was assassinated in 2008.

In July last year, Moneyweb reported that the Cipro scam involved creating duplicates of well-known companies on the Cipro system. It is understood that bank accounts were then set up in the duplicates' names by individuals using fraudulent company and identity documents.

It was reported that members of the syndicate then somehow accessed the central SARS system and bank account details of legitimate companies were changed to those of the duplicates. When SARS paid out tax refunds, these went to the accounts of the duplicate companies, not the real ones.

Moneyweb reported that, according to Cipro records, a duplicate of SBC International Management Services was registered on 10 July 2008. In October 2008, R31.6 million was paid into its bank account. A duplicate of Sun Microsystems SA was registered on 5 November 2008, with R19.3 million being paid into that bank account in December.

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