South Africa: Hawks Swoop in On Free State Asbestos Project Suspects

Six suspects, among them former and current senior government officials, are expected to appear before the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court on Friday on fraud and corruption charges related to the 2014 Free State Asbestos Project.

This comes after the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), also known as the Hawks, swooped on the six suspects during a simultaneous operation in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng on Wednesday.

"Among those arrested are three senior government officials, three businessmen and five companies," said Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi in a statement.

The accused face 60 charges which include corruption, fraud, and 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).

The arrests emanate from a joint investigation by the Free State Serious Corruption Investigation, Special Investigating Unit (SIU), and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

This followed a referral from the SIU under Proclamation R39 of 2019, which led to the subsequent criminal investigation by the Hawks who worked closely with the NPA and its various units.

The allegations relate to a contract that was awarded through a procurement process that was done in a fraudulent and corrupt manner.

In addition, certain public officials received gratification from the contracted company and/or an individual amounting to several counts of corruption.

"The contract was meant to identify and remove asbestos roofs in the Free State province and failed to conduct due diligence process before participating in the contract," reads the statement.

The Hawks also alleged that the Provincial Department created an impression that they participated in a contract concluded by the Gauteng Human Settlement Department while the services were not the same as specified in the existing contract and and also the price was higher in contravention of Treasury regulations.

During the period the department incurred unauthorised, irregular or fruitless and wasteful expenditure worth over R255 million.

A warrant of arrest has been obtained for a suspect in KwaZulu-Natal who has remained unaccounted for.

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