24 March 2022
Let me acknowledge the Director-General of the Department, Mr Tommy Makhode.
Head of the Counter-Corruption Branch in the Department of Home Affairs, Adv. Connie Moitse.
Members of the Hawks in Gauteng, led by Major-General Ebrahim Kadwa.
Senior managers present here.
Members of the media.
Fellow citizens and patriots.
Tonight, I stand in front of you extremely proud of the vigilant and dedicated employees of Home Affairs and our partner law enforcement agencies. These are the officers who are demonstrating their patriotism through their deeds, not just words.
A few moments ago, you would have witnessed the law enforcement officers taking down a kingpin of a syndicate that has been defrauding our passports, documents that are reserved exclusively for citizens. They were doing what we refer to as photo swap or using details of a South African to apply for a passport and then interfering with the system to insert a picture of a foreign national instead of the South African.
Part of today’s arrests includes 13 foreign nationals and 13 South Africans.
Sadly, this kingpin was working with some corrupt officials of Home Affairs in a network that spanned Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Mpumalanga. Today, the kingpin is being arrested together with two Home Affairs officials who are his trusted lieutenants.
Let me remind South Africans and the rogue employees in Home Affairs that our fight against fraud and corruption, at all levels, is relentless and ferocious. It is a war we are determined not to lose.
We identified the kingpin after an alert immigration officer picked up anomalies with two passports of people who wanted to leave the country via the Cape Town International Airport. That official handed over the two people and their passports to the police.
The police then worked with the Department’s Counter-Corruption Branch to get to the bottom of this.
Their investigations led them to this kingpin who has businesses in Gauteng. They then spent some time observing how this syndicate operated.
This is how this sick scheme worked.
The kingpin would recruit foreign nationals, mostly Pakistanis, who wanted to acquire South African passports while they know very well they are definitely not South Africans. Once he has a certain number, he would then task his runner to recruit South Africans who had never acquired passports before.
Once the number of foreign nationals and South Africans match, he would then activate his lieutenants who would secure an office from where they would conduct their treasonous act.
It is alleged that the kingpin bought cars for his lieutenants, presumably to enable them to be at his disposal, day and night. In other words, the lieutenants were always available to the kingpin whenever he needed them.
Once inside the office, one of the lieutenants would authenticate the applications using his fingerprints. The other lieutenant would then process those applications in the system.
It is alleged that South Africans were recruited for as little as R500 plus they were promised jobs overseas which, of course, never materialised. The lieutenants are said to have pocketed between R5 000 and R10 000 per passport while the kingpin allegedly charged anything from R40 000 a passport to any foreign national who wanted to acquire passports they don’t qualify for.
I am confident that the law enforcement officers have done a good job. Their investigations benefitted from the fingerprint-enabled authentication of transactions which was introduced to precisely fight corruption. This system is called Biometric Access Control Management (BACM) system. Before implementing BACM, officials used passwords to access the system. The corrupt officials would then hand over their passwords to their accomplices to enable them to access the system. Corrupt officials would produce an alibi, such as sick notes, to “prove” that they were not in the office at the time the transactions occurred.
Using BACM, the investigators were able to trace more than 100 suspicious passports issued by these lieutenants. They have been blocked and anyone trying to use them will be arrested in any part of the world. The probe for more passports produced in this fraudulent manner is continuing.
In the coming days, the law enforcement officers will round up all the remaining members of the syndicate. Some of the members are watching this broadcast. My message to them is that: We are coming for you!
At this point, law enforcement officers have already received sworn statements from some people who participated in the syndicate and have now turned state witnesses.
We want to assure you that there is going to be no space for rogue elements in the Department of Home Affairs.
I am saying this fully aware that our society absolutely hates corruption and they do not want to see it happening in their country.
I detest corruption. Our fight against corruption would not be as successful if we did not receive tip-offs from members of the public about acts of corruption conducted by some of our officials they interact with. I want to reassure the patriots who tip us off on acts of malfeasance that we follow each tip and act decisively. At times, it may appear that nothing is happing but patriots should rest assured that we work very hard behind the scenes to ensure that we build watertight cases that meet the requirement of proof beyond any reasonable doubt.
The actions of this kingpin and his lieutenants have the following consequences to the country:
- People who don’t qualify for South African passports are legitimised through these actions to the detriment of the sovereignty of our country.
- They can use these documents to travel the world as South Africans, and in the process they may be committing acts that are detrimental to the reputation of the country.
- More worrisome is the fact that even those who claim to be asylum seekers or refugees can travel to their home countries and in so doing, nullify the concept of the United Nations Convention of reavailment.
The unfortunate part is that South Africans who stupidly lend their identities to be utilised in this manner end up suffering serious prejudice when trying to do other transactions.
As an example, one of the South Africans who has turned state witness is a security guard who does not work for Home Affairs. She could not have her license to work as a security guard renewed by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority because when the authority verified her details with Home Affairs, a picture of a Pakistani woman appeared. She was forced to come and confess because her life is virtually at a standstill.
We can reveal that at least 10 citizens from Eldorado Park came to confess because they can no longer transact, especially with the banks who get alarmed when they see a photo of a foreign national but with South African biographics.
We have had some success in arresting and prosecuting rogue Home Affairs officials. In October 2021, the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Cape Town convicted former Home Affairs official, Joseph Lebitsa, on eight counts of corruption. He is now serving eight years direct imprisonment.
Lebitsa was arrested in May 2019 together with eight foreign nationals in a planned joint operation between the Counter-Corruption Branch and the SA Police Service in the Atlantis Home Affairs office. The joint operation was arranged following information provided by a whistle-blower.
Lebitsa and his accomplices, like the culprits arrested today, were unlawfully linking photos of foreign nationals to existing identity numbers of South African citizens to illegally issue passports. Lebitsa and his accomplices were caught in the act and no passports were issued.
Following the arrest, Lebitsa was taken through an internal Departmental disciplinary process, was found guilty and was subsequently dismissed.
One of the eight of Lebitsa’s accomplices has turned state witness. The trial for the rest of the accused is scheduled to resume in April 2022.
In KwaZulu-Natal, 12 officials have been arrested for similar passport related fraud. Four of them have been dismissed and the matter involving the other eight is still in court.
In response to this fraud, I have instructed the Department to immediately disable the passport processing system after hours.
The Counter-Corruption Branch and its law enforcement partners who are here today are following up on a few other syndicates involved in similar fraud. Arrests of those involved are imminent.
We are sending a clear message to everyone that South Africa is a country of laws and everyone who is in the country must respect our laws which have been passed by our Parliament.
I encourage anyone who may have information about corruption or any other criminal activities to contact the SA Police Service or the Anti-Corruption Unit of the Department.
People with information can contact the following:
- National Anti-Corruption Hotline on 0800 701 701.
- Home Affairs Counter Corruption Unit on 012 406 4318.
ISSUED BY DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS