The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has been directed by President Jacob Zuma to investigate theft, fraud, corruption and maladministration in the lodging and processing of deeds on the deeds registration system at the deeds offices in Pretoria, Cape Town and Bloemfontein.
This investigation forms part of a wider probe Zuma has asked the SIU to undertake into the affairs of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) and its service providers.
Last month Zuma directed the SIU to investigate, among other things, corruption, unlawful conduct, serious maladministration, unlawful expenditure of public money or property and intentional or negligent loss of public money or damage to public property.
This investigation involves the e-cadastre or electronic real estate registry project, also known as Project Vulindlela, which was intended to improve the management of land and land rights information.
It is believed the department has suspended work on the e-cadastre project.
The deeds office in Pretoria, in particular, has been mired in controversy over alleged fraudulent and irregular property transfers.
Thirty-three properties worth millions of rand owned by the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) were fraudulently transferred in 2010.
In minutes to a meeting with representatives from the Tshwane Metro and North West Housing Corporation (NWHC) in June 2010 chaired by the then chief registrar of deeds, Sam Lefafa, he referred to the alleged fraudulent transfer of about 30 properties owned by the Tshwane Metro and NWHC to private owners by the deeds office in Pretoria.
Thabo Tshweu, the then executive director for corporate auxiliary and administration services at the Tshwane Metro, confirmed to Business Report that an investigation had been launched by the city into properties it owned that may have been fraudulently or irregularly transferred to private owners.
Subsequent attempts by Business Report to obtain comment on the progress of this investigation were never answered.
Five lawyers were arrested by the Hawks in August 2010 over their alleged involvement in the fraudulent transfer of the 33 properties owned by the JPC.
The former chief registrar of deeds in Pretoria, Pogisa Mesefo, was suspended in July 2010. Then acting deputy registrar of deeds in Pretoria, Edmund Sibisi, was suspended in September 2010. Both suspensions were related to the fraudulent transfer of the 33 JPC properties.
A disciplinary inquiry into Sibisi’s conduct resulted in a sanction of dismissal. He has appealed. Mesefo is facing an internal disciplinary hearing related to similar offences.
Sibisi has also been charged and appeared in court with six others on fraud and corruption charges related to the irregular transfer of properties. The case has not yet been concluded.
The Hawks arrested Mesefo, Sibisi and Hazel Swartbooi, an ex-employee of Nam-Ford attorneys, in July last year on charges of corruption, fraud and theft. They were released on bail.