More arrests loom as South Africa’s COVID billions are probed


AS South Africa’s crackdown on COVID-19 corruption gains steam, it has emerged that a staggering 67% of the R15-billion spent by the government on personal protective equipment (PPE) is suspicious and now the subject of high-level investigations.

SA’s law enforcement agencies, brought together by President Cyril Ramaphosa to co-ordinate their investigations into COVID-19 related fraud and corruption, have revealed to the country’s parliament the true extent of the suspected graft and disclosed that more arrests would be made, some as early as tomorrow.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the Hawks – the elite crime busters – and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) briefed parliament’s standing committee on public accounts on the progress made in bringing those suspected of stealing COVID-19 billions to book.

Advocate Andy Mothibi, head of the SIU, revealed that of the R15.6-billion spent by the SA government on PPEs, an expenditure of R10.5-billion, representing 67% of the total budget, is under investigation. 

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Mothibi further disclosed that of the R10.5-billion under investigation, steps have been taken, throught the SIU’s special tribunal, to set aside contracts worth R223-million and recover the losses.

He said the SIU has finalised 20 cases and referred them to the NPA, among them are five cases involving the Gauteng Health Department, where the prosecuting authority is expected to take decisions whether or not to prefer criminal charges against high ranking officials implicated in irregularities invloving over R4-billion spent on PPEs.

Mothibi said the SIU had uncovered instances where personal protective equipment was overpriced, procurement rules flouted and services not delivered despite money being paid.

General Godfrey Lebeya, head of the Hawks told parliament he has formed special teams in SA’s nine provinces to probe over 80 000 suspicious transactions. He said he expected some successes from the team in the form of arrests.

Lebeya said that the Hawks were dealing with a huge influx of cases, the bulk of which were referred to by Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu, who in a  special report on COVID-19 corruption highlighted 80,000 exceptions or illegal payments that needed to be followed up.

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South Africa has recorded more than 700,000 coronavirus infections, the most on the African continent, with millions of its citizens losing their jobs or being pushed deeper into poverty this year.

Ramaphosa has likened those responsible for corruption during the pandemic to a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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