Cape Town - The offices of a Cape Town law firm were raided by Home Affairs officials because the sole attorney was allegedly operating a fraudulent scheme, selling work permits to immigrants, the department told the Western Cape High Court.
The offices of Craig Smith and Associates in central Cape Town were raided last Friday and officials seized 160 files, computers and laptops.
Craig Smith, an immigration lawyer, filed an urgent court application on Monday to have the search and seizure warrants declared invalid. The application was heard on Thursday by Judge Dennis Davis.
Smith has taken Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, the department’s director-general and two officials who executed the search to court in a bid to have the seized documents and objects returned.
In his founding affidavit Smith raised allegations of abuse of power and concerns that privileged client files would be read. But advocate Anwar Albertus SC, acting for the department, told the court that only files of clients applying for work permits had been perused.
He said the files had been placed in sealed evidence bags and kept in a vault at Cape Town Central Police Station. Albertus said the raid had been executed to seize documents supporting allegations of fraud against Smith, who supposedly used his firm to sell work permits.
He said: “If he gets the material back it may as well be the end of the investigation.”
In an affidavit before the court one of the officials who executed the raid, Kwasinkosi Msibi, an assistant director in the Department of Home Affairs, said the department had received information in September of “fraudulent activity” at Smith’s firm. He allegedly put out “false adverts” for jobs that did not exist. Smith, in applications for client’s work permits, had submitted fraudulent information to Home Affairs, Msibi said.
Albertus said the allegations were raised with Smith on the day of the raid and he did not refute the claims or provide an explanation.
Smith had asked for the affidavit from which the warrants were issued. This was the same request made by advocate Anton Katz SC, representing Smith, in court on Thursday.
Katz argued that Judge Davis should declare the warrants unconstitutional and invalid.
“What happened may have been acceptable in a police state but not in a constitutional state like ours... It smacks of apartheid security conduct,” Katz said.
He said Smith was still in the dark about the circumstances that led to his offices being searched.
The matter will be argued in court on Friday.