Johannesburg - The Hawks have smashed a national crime syndicate specialising in the illegal sale of learners’ and driving licences after raiding traffic departments in Benoni, in Ekurhuleni, and Secunda in Mpumalanga on Tuesday.
In Benoni, the Hawks carried out a dramatic arrest of five traffic police officers while minister of transport Dipuo Peters was busy addressing staff and officials as part of the Transport Month celebrations.
Four other officers, including an examiner and two civilians, were arrested later, bringing the number taken into custody in Benoni to 11.
Three officers were arrested in Secunda. One of them was in possession of official documents which he intended to process before issuing licences to his clients when the Hawks pounced.
During the raid in Benoni, Peters, accompanied by Gauteng roads and transport MEC Ismail Vadi and North West MEC for community safety and transport management Mpho Motlhabane, was present when officers from the Hawks stormed into the building.
A witness told The Star the minister was addressing the staff when two uniformed Hawks officers entered the building and blocked it to prevent anyone from exiting.
“Later, a female officer came into the building and politely asked to disturb the minister. The minister agreed and the officer then explained the reason for their presence and said it was to arrest suspects for several criminal offences.
“Another officer, who was carrying files in his hand, then read out the names and asked the suspects to raise their hands.
“They lifted their hands and later handed themselves over to the police.
“Others had to be called into the building as they were in the different offices in the building. All five of them were arrested,” the witness said.
According to the witness, Peters and her entourage appeared surprised but welcomed the arrests as an important step to destroy the syndicate and avoid road fatalities.
Hawks spokesperson Captain S’fiso Nyakane said they were arrested for fraud and corruption.
“The suspects, aged between 31 and 55, were arrested at the Benoni and Secunda traffic departments during the termination of Project Crocodile, which was registered early this year to curb fraud and corruption at Benoni and Secunda.
“It is alleged that the traffic officials and their runners pocketed thousands of rand from learner drivers desperate for licences without undergoing the testing processes,” Nyakane said.
Road Traffic Management Corporation spokesperson Simon Zwane said the arrests followed a year-long investigation.
He said the documents were being sold for R3500 for a learners’ licence and R12 000 - R15 000 for a driving licence.
Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina also welcomed the arrests, saying: “We have said that our administration has no room for fraud and corruption. Stop it now or risk going to jail.”
Hawks boss Lieutenant-General Berning Ntlemeza said: “Be warned, we will strike when we are least expected and we vow to continue with our work without fear or favour.”
The suspects were due to appear in the magistrate’s courts in Benoni and Secunda on Wednesday.