Police investigate alleged £1m fraud from Nelson Mandela's charities
David Smith in Johannesburg
The serious economic offences unit, known as the Hawks, sent letters to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and Mandela Trust demanding financial records including bank statements of family members, trustees and employees.
The letter relates to allegations of fraud and forgery made several years ago by Mandela against Ismail Ayob, his once-trusted friend and personal lawyer, South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper reported. It was also sent to the directors of companies set up to manage royalties from the sale of Mandela-related artworks.
Investigators initially wanted to raid the charities' headquarters but were blocked by senior police management because of the embarrassment it would cause, the paper added. But it quoted a police source saying that a raid of "offices, houses and business premises" was still on the cards if financial records were not handed over, "whether this will create a furore or not".
Mandela, 95, is at home in Houghton, Johannesburg, in a critical and sometimes unstable condition after spending 12 weeks in hospital. The nearby foundation is the flagship organisation representing South Africa's first black president: it retains his archive, preserves his office as he left it and regularly hosts events in his name, including next week's launch of the trailer for the biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Captain Paul Ramaloko, a spokesman for the Hawks, said on Friday: "We have an investigation under way. It's not our policy to comment on it."
He declined to confirm whether police raids had been discussed. Sello Hatang, the chief executive of the foundation, said he was also unaware of any planned raids but confirmed receipt of a letter regarding an investigation into Ayob, which he passed on to Mandela's lawyer, Bally Chuene.
He added: "The matter has nothing to do with us – that's why we passed it on. It's not for me to express how I feel because it has nothing to do with us, our work, our conduct and how we execute our duties."
The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund also acknowledged receipt of the police letter. A spokesman, Oupa Ngwenya, said: "The feeling is always you are open to public scrutiny as an organisation. Any wrongdoing will be pointed out and dealt with."
The saga would be "distressing" for Mandela – whose clan name is Madiba – if he knew about it, Ngwenya admitted. "But Madiba would always say no one is beyond correction or the spotlight. He would not say anyone is beyond suspicion. We too should understand we are open to scrutiny."
A source close to Mandela said the police had made a mistake in targeting the foundation and children's fund, since the key was Ayob and his alleged failure from 2003 to channel about 15m rand in royalties from sales of Mandela's drawings into the Mandela Trust.
Ayob was later removed from the trust after a bitter legal battle. The trust is now at the centre of another court case pitting two of Mandela's daughters, Makaziwe and Zenani, against fellow trustees including Chuene, the former government minister Tokyo Sexwale and the veteran lawyer George Bizos.
Ayob did not return calls requesting comment on Friday.
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