More intriguing details of how the relationship between the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Thapelo Olopeng and Tati East Member of Parliament Samson Moyo Guma collapsed will come to the fore when they appear before Gaborone Magistrate court on Wednesday.
The relationship between the two was more than a mutual as they shared some business interests before the fallout. The two had business dealings intertwined with their political careers and were partners at Leasing Services (PTY) LTD, a company that is currently under Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) investigations. The two are well remembered for staging the most expensive campaign for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Central Committee positions in 2012, which their team won with a landslide with Guma becoming the party chairman while Olopeng was elected deputy treasurer.
According to sources at BURS, Leasing Services (PTY) Ltd-a company co-owned by the duo was under the taxman’s radar for some time as there were suspicions that their tax returns were not properly submitted. Leasing Services is the parent company for Executive Closets Lodge at Phase IV in Gaborone, now renamed Adansonia Executive hotel.
BURS investigators are said to have always been suspicious of the company and in November last year rejected the tax returns from Leasing Services, citing miscalculations of the returns. In a letter to Olopeng, Topo Moupo writing on behalf of BURS Commissioner General informed the former that his tax returns for Leasing Services have been rejected. “This is to inform you that the returns submitted by you for the period of NOV/2014 have been rejected due to miscalculations of input tax,” reads the letter referenced number 2015021682.
The tax authorities warned that if the company does not correct the tax returns they will not be refunded or issued with Tax Clearance Certificate in future. According to reliable information, the letter was written after Minister Olopeng and Guma were informed about the miscalculations of input tax. The issues of tax returns is said to have frayed the relationship between the two businessmen-cum-politicians and led to Olopeng wanting to severe ties with his longtime friend.
On Thursday 11 December 2014 a meeting was called between the two directors in which Olopeng intimated that he wanted to resign as the shareholder/director of Leasing Services. The meeting was also confirmed by the Olopeng’s answering affidavit in which he said that on Friday 12 December 2014, the required paper work was done and filed with the Registrar of Companies and Intellectual Property. Olopeng was then paid P3, 433,072.79 and surprisingly the amount was paid when BURS was questioning their tax returns.
In an interesting twist, Olopeng has dumped his friend and distanced himself from any dealings with IRB Transport – a company owned by Guma which paid for his shares at Leasing Services, saying that he is not a shareholder in the company. According to court papers, money was transferred from IRB Transport account to Olopeng’s personal account at Standard Chartered Bank, who is the third respondent in the case which is before Chief Magistrate Lenah Oahile-Mokibe. In his answering affidavit, Olopeng said that he received the money representing his shares when Lease Services was dissolved.
It has since emerged that IRB Transport was engaged by Sinohydro, a Chinese state-owned company when during the construction of Kariba South power extension project in Zimbabwe in 2013. In January 2013 Sinohydo transferred US$ 3.2 million into IRB Transport account. This has said to have raised eyebrows at BURS and Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) who started investigating the company.
The case continues on Wednesday and Guma has roped in seasoned lawyer Dick Bayford to represent him while Olopeng is represented by Onkagetse Pusoentsi.