Babadi Tlatsana. Picture: AMIL UMRAW
Babadi Tlatsana. Picture: AMIL UMRAW

A key witness who testified before the state capture inquiry has fled the country, saying she fears for her life.

Koroneka Trading and Projects director Babadi Tlatsana told the commission in June that her company was “hijacked” by a manager from struggling state-owned airline SA Express and used as a conduit to siphon money from the airline and the North West government into the bank accounts of certain individuals.

The commission's evidence leader, Kate Hofmeyr, announced on Thursday that the commission had received an affidavit from Tlatsana's lawyer saying she had left the country. According to the affidavit, relayed by Hofmeyr, Tlatsana believed “strange” men were following her and monitoring her premises in Mafikeng.

Tlatsana then left the country to an unknown destination.

Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo said it was “concerning” and asked his team to keep him updated on the matter.

The commission previously heard how the North West's department of community safety and transport management had underhandedly struck a deal with SA Express to have the airline operate local routes to and from each airport.

The deal, which is riddled with allegations of corruption and procurement irregularities, was allegedly envisaged to move up to R400m out of the North West provincial government accounts and into SA Express.

The commission believes R97m of that total amount was siphoned off to various entities through a “detailed scheme of money laundering”, which involved Koroneka.

Meanwhile SA Express flights were grounded on Wednesday, with spokesperson Mpho Majatladi saying flights had resumed later in the day. However, the airline said in statement on Thursday that an agreement made with Airports Company SA (Acsa) on Wednesday to resume services for SA Express had fallen through.  

“In the meantime, ACSA has referred the matter to their board this morning, August 29, to apply its mind on the issue further and recommend a way forward,” the airline said. 

Business Day reported on Thursday that finance minister Tito Mboweni took a hard line on SA Express and has turned down its plea for a R200m government loan guarantee.

The guarantee is vital for the airline to keep flying. It has depleted its working capital and is unable to borrow from commercial banks without it.

Mboweni believes that SA Express should be folded into SAA and that they should be sold.

Industry sources told Business Day that Acsa grounded SA Express as the airline owes millions in airport fees.

With staff writer