State capture witness admits to violating lockdown booze ban

Businessman Edwin Sodi told the state capture commission on Wednesday that he purchased six bottles of champagne for over R50,000 two weeks ago - while the booze ban was in place.
Businessman Edwin Sodi told the state capture commission on Wednesday that he purchased six bottles of champagne for over R50,000 two weeks ago - while the booze ban was in place.
Image: 123RF/Vladislavs Gorniks

A state capture commission witness on Wednesday implicated himself in violating the Covid-19 lockdown alcohol ban - without any provocation.

Not even commission chairperson Raymond Zondo seemed to notice that businessman Edwin Sodi was, in fact, implicating himself in contravening lockdown laws.

Sodi, who was giving evidence about his involvement in the controversial asbestos eradication project by the Free State government, volunteered that "two weeks ago" he purchased six bottles of expensive champagne to the tune of more than R50,000.

The businessman was being questioned about the R600,000 he paid towards the purchase of a Range Rover belonging to former director-general of the national human settlements department, Thabane Zulu.

Zulu had been instrumental in the awarding of the R255m contract to Sodi's company, Blackhead Consulting.

But Sodi on Wednesday insisted that the R600,000 paid to a dealership where Zulu purchased his vehicle was, in fact, debt he had accumulated from taking alcohol on credit from an entertainment establishment that Zulu owned.

While Zondo and evidence leader advocate Paul Pretorius battled to make sense of how one can accumulate such an exorbitant booze bill, Sodi made the revelation suggesting that he contravened the recently lifted ban on alcohol.

"There are certain types of alcohol which are pricey. As recent as two weeks ago I bought six bottles of champagne and I paid over R50K," he said.

On the R600,000 to Zulu, Sodi contradicted himself by initially saying the booze he took on credit over a number of months from Zulu's TZ Lounge in Pietermaritzburg, was delivered to his house in Zimbali, more than 100km away.

But when Pretorius pointed out that it was "extraordinary" that one would order so much alcohol from so far away, Sodi changed his story, saying the debt emanated from booze he took as takeaways on the several occasions that he had visited the venue.

According to Sodi, the debt emanated from alcohol takeaways worth R80,000 to R100,000 at a time.

"I always took the stuff with me in my car. It was large quantities, so I would not have carried that much amount of cash," he said.

He claimed to be an an avid collector of expensive alcohol who liked "to network and to entertain" his friends and offer them the beverage of their choice.

The alcohol he took from Zulu's place, he went on, was to "replenish" the stock in his home bar.

Sodi bought liquor from Zulu's establishment because the two of them knew each other personally. He said his son attended school in Pietermaritzburg and therefore frequented TZ Lounge.

"For the record, Mr Zulu when he appeared here said he delivered alcohol to you," Pretorius pointed out.

Sodi responded: "Memories fade over time, but I can say I bought the alcohol there. I do not recall him bringing the delivery to my house."

Zondo was not buying Sodi's story of the R600,000 arising from taking alcohol on credit.

"What would seem unusual is what type of business would the owners afford to have such a large amount of money to be owed over a number of months?" he said.

Sodi answered: "I would not know the turnover of the business, but I can speak to the number of occasions that I was there - it was very busy. I would conclude that based on my observation, it was a very busy place and I presume it was a successful business, based on that."

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