Four suspects have appeared in a provincial South African court in connection with ZAR400 million rands (USD22.8 million) worth of tender fraud and corruption relating to defunct state regional carrier South African Express (EXY, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo), reports News24.

The accused are Tebogo van Wyk, Nothando Dube, Sipho Levy Phiri, and Thabang Mohlokoleng, alongside three companies, Batsamai Investment Holdings, Sevilex Investment Holdings, and Lavao Estevao (Pty) Ltd.

They are facing 34 counts of fraud, corruption, money laundering, and violation of South Africa's Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) in the Molopo Magistrate's Court in Mahikeng (formerly Mafeking), the capital of North West Province, near South Africa's border with Botswana. They were arrested in the Gauteng and North West provinces late last week by "The Hawks", South Africa's specialised organised crime and corruption police unit, following findings by the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector.

The accused were granted bail on September 30, ranging from ZAR30,000 (USD1,670) to ZAR500,000 (USD28,000), ordered to surrender their passports, and will re-appear in court on December 1, 2022.

According to the charges, the North West province had improperly granted a five-year contract to South African Express to reintroduce commercial flights to Mahikeng and Pilanesberg airports. Millions were allegedly syphoned out of public coffers for services never rendered.

Mohlokoleng, then the accounting officer of the North West Transport Department, stands accused of having signed irregular deals with the other accused who are linked to ground handling companies.

A spokesperson for The Hawks said the police investigation was continuing, and more arrests could follow.

Pretoria has blamed deep-rooted corruption and bad management for the state-owned carrier's final liquidation on September 15. During the insolvency inquiry, key SA Express directors and executives were subpoenaed regarding financial and operational impropriety, with legal inquiries ongoing.