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Free State asbestos case: 6 arrested ‘face 60 charges’, one suspect still at large

Free State asbestos case: 6 arrested ‘face 60 charges’, one suspect still at large

Hawks have arrested 6 people in relation to a Free State tender.

Hawks have arrested 6 people in relation to a Free State tender.

Gallo Images / Sowetan / Tiro Ramatlhatse

  • Six people have been arrested in three provinces on charges of fraud and corruption.
  • They face 60 charges relating to a contract to assess and replace asbestos roofing in the Free State. 
  • A warrant of arrest for a seventh person in KZN has been obtained.

Three senior government officials and three business people were arrested in a multi-province operation carried out by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks).

The arrests are linked to an investigation into alleged corruption and fraud in the housing programme in the Free State, amounting to R255 million.

The money was supposed to have been spent on assessing, removing and replacing asbestos from roofs. Asbestos is considered dangerous in a domestic setting.

EXPLAINER | What you need to know about the Free State asbestos deal

The arrests by the Hawks come after a referral by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) under proclamation R39 of 2019.

This was signed off by President Cyril Ramaphosa last year and allowed for an investigation into the affairs of the Free State Department of Human Settlements, and the losses it had sustained. 

It also carries the weight of recommendations made in a report by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who laid bare how money was irregularly cleared and disbursed, instead of going into the programme.

60 charges

The report found that an old contract from the Gauteng government was used in the subterfuge to get money released, and even though this was highlighted, the money kept flowing out. 

READ | Hawks arrest alleged masterminds in R255m Free State asbestos audit scandal

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the 60 charges the accused face include money laundering in contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (POCA) as well as Contravention of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). 

He explained that the arrests emanated from a joint investigation by the Free State Serious Corruption Investigation, the SIU, and the National Prosecuting Authority.

Officials allegedly also received gratifications from a contractor or individual.  

“It is alleged that the provincial department created an impression that they participated in a contract concluded by the Gauteng Human Settlements Department while the services were not the same as specified in the existing contract and also the price was higher, in contravention of Treasury regulations,” Mulaudzi said. 

It involves “unauthorised, irregular or fruitless and wasteful expenditure” worth over R255 million. 

One person from KwaZulu-Natal is still unaccounted for and a warrant of arrest for that individual has been issued.

The group will appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on Friday. 

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