Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi revealed that South Africans are selling their identities to a syndicate for as little as R500.
A Pakistani national alleged to be the kingpin involved in a passport fraud syndicate that paid South Africans R500 to sell their identities to foreigners who are usually self employed in South Africa, was arrested along with two Home Affairs officials in a late-night bust.
They were arrested at the Krugersdorp Home Affairs office on Thursday night in a joint operation between the Hawks and the Department of Home Affairs.
Poor South Africans were allegedly recruited and paid about R500 in exchange for their identity details that was used to falsify passport documents for foreigners. Thirteen foreigners and 13 South Africans were arrested.
Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, said police received sworn statements from people who participated in the syndicate and had now turned state’s witness.
“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.”
According to Motsoaledi, the alleged kingpin connived with two Home Affairs officials – whom he referred to as the Pakistani’s trusted lieutenants – to conduct this syndicate that spanned throughout Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Mpumalanga.
“South Africans were allegedly recruited for as little as R500 and promised jobs overseas, which never materialised, in exchange for their identity,” Motsoaledi said.
Motsoaledi added: “The Home Affairs officials 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.”
The alleged kingpin, according to Motsoaledi, was identified after an alert immigration officer picked up anomalies with two passports of people who wanted to leave the country via Cape Town International Airport.
“The official then 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 this matter. Their investigations then led them to this kingpin who has businesses in Gauteng,” said Motsoaledi.
He said the investigation team spent time navigating around how the kingpin worked and managed to crack his operation.
According to Motsoaledi, the kingpin would recruit foreign nationals – mostly Pakistanis – who wanted to acquire South African passports.
“Once the kingpin has a certain number, he would then task his runner to recruit South Africans who had never acquired passports before,” Motsoaledi said.
Motsoaledi added: “Once the number of foreign nationals and South Africans match, the kingpin would then alert his lieutenants who would secure an office from where they would conduct their treasonous act.”
Motsoaledi said the kingpin would buy cars for the Home Affairs officials to enable them to be at his disposal, day and night.
“Once inside the office, one of the officials would authenticate the applications using his fingerprints. The other official would then process those applications in the system,” said Motsoaledi.
He said the investigation team was able to trace more than 100 suspicious passports issued by these officials through the use of the Biometric Access Control Management system.
“These passports have been blocked and anyone trying to use them will be arrested in any part of the world.”
Motsoaledi vowed that the probe to track down more fraudulent passports would continue and that law enforcement officers would round up the remaining members of the syndicate.