Durban - The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is probing the R49 million sale of a KwaZulu-Natal farm – sold as part of the government’s land redistribution programme.
It is alleged that the farm ended up in the hands of crooked officials and not the poor farming communities it was intended for.
On Thursday members of the SIU, as well as the police’s Anti-Corruption Task Team and the Assets Forfeiture Unit, swooped on the 2 100-hectare Boschhoek Farm in Melmoth, northern KZN.
It was placed under curatorship while an investigation of the dodgy deal is concluded.
An order had been granted in December in the Pietermaritzburg High Court for the curatorship, and was served last week by the SIU.
According to sources close to the probe, investigators have identified the main players in the scam and are closing in on them.
Arrests are expected in the next few weeks.
The alleged scam was uncovered in 2012 after investigators from the SIU began probing several land redistribution deals.
The SIU’s primary mandate is to recover and prevent financial losses to the State caused by acts of corruption, fraud and maladministration.
The alleged scam involved officials in the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform who assisted communities in land claims and redistribution sales.
In 2009 an official, as part of her normal duties, submitted a list of 361 “beneficiaries” to the department, of people who planned to buy the Boschhoek farm.
A trust, called Amala Trust, was set up to facilitate the deal.
As the beneficiaries had their own livestock and were apparently living on the farm already, a Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development grant (LRAD) was applied for.
The LRAD grant is used to cover land acquisition costs, or the cost of acquiring shares for qualifying beneficiaries.
The intended beneficiaries of this grant are primarily small-scale farmers who are able to make their own contribution but who need top-up funding to cover their land purchases, according to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
Politicians holding public office, traditional leaders who receive remuneration from the State and employees from all spheres of government are not eligible for the grant.
The application for the grant was submitted in January 2009 for approval for the acquisition of land for agricultural development.
On May 13, the department approved the acquisition and paid out a R49 585 155 grant to the Amala Trust to assist in the purchase of Boschhoek farm.
The farm was transferred a month later to the trust.
An 18-month probe into the deal, however, uncovered that the department had been duped into approving it, allegedly based on “misrepresentations” of its officials.
The investigators tracked down 79 people listed on the beneficiary list and obtained statements from them.
The statements reveal that of these 79 beneficiaries of the Amala Trust:
* 35 were not aware that they were beneficiaries;
* 22 did not even know where the farm was located;
* 40 did not reside or work on the farm;
* Three denied submitting their names in respect of the project and claimed their names were submitted without their knowledge; and
* Eight out of the 361 beneficiaries were employed by the State and as such they did not qualify as beneficiaries for the LRAD grant.
Investigators believe the use of the alleged beneficiaries without their knowledge and consent was to artificially inflate the value of the grant, as each beneficiary was awarded R137 355 from the government.
In addition, the investigation uncovered that 48 out of 361 beneficiaries’ identity numbers were found to be incorrect or invalid.
Of the five beneficiaries who had died, investigators found that two of them had died in 2007 – two years before the Amala Trust was established.
An investigator who spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said that in addition to submitting fraudulent names, officials also allegedly submitted fraudulent valuations for game and livestock on the farm.
“There are poor farm people living in poverty who are part owners of this farm and they do not even know about it.
“Some of them say they went to a community meeting and were asked to bring their IDs along, which they did and never heard from anyone again,” he said.
“There are even those who can’t even tell you where the farm is on a map.
“What makes this thing sad is that these are really poor people who have not seen a cent from the proceeds of the farm.”
The investigator said that while the main players had been identified they were hoping to establish who else benefited from the deal.
“The question we are asking ourselves is how far and how wide does this thing go and are there any other such sales that have been concluded?”