The Hawks have arrested a prominent Durban couple in connection with fraud involving the placement of students for medicine and health sciences at UKZN. Picture: Leon Lestrade
Durban – Durban restaurateurs accused of selling spots to study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s medical school were granted R40 000 bail in the Pinetown Magistrate's Court on Monday.

Varsha, 44, Hitesh Bhatt, 46, and co-accused Preshni Hiraman, 54, made a brief court appearance on Monday after their arrests by the Hawks on Friday.

The couple run a popular, internationally rated restaurant, Little Gujarat, in the Durban CBD.

The trio face charges of corruption for allegedly selling spaces at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine and other health science places at the university for a fee of between R250 000 and R500 000.

The racket was exposed by The Mercury’s sister paper the Sunday Tribune.

Provincial National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Natasha Kara said the magistrate had granted bail of R40 000 each on condition that they surrender their passports, that they do not go to UKZN or leave Durban without the consent of the investigating officer.

They were ordered not to interfere with the investigation.

Hawks spokesperson Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo said the police investigation was ongoing and further arrests were imminent.

According to the Sunday Tribune the trio “are accused of working as agents in cahoots with a syndicate at UKZN to fraudulently enrol students in the health science faculty and school of medicine”.

Evidence was seized in raids of their uMhlanga and La Lucia homes as well as at their restaurant.

In February, The Mercury reported that UKZN vice-chancellor Dr Albert van Jaarsveld had called on the Hawks to investigate allegations of corruption at the medical school.

This was in response to questions from the national higher education and training portfolio committee during the KZN leg of its probe into the state of universities.

Van Jaarsveld told the committee that a KPMG forensic investigation had identified serious issues which required police investigation.

The university confirmed in June last year that it was investigating a syndicate suspected of selling sought-after places at the medical school.

It is believed that high-ranking academics and administration staff are involved.

Van Jaarsveld told the Sunday Tribune that he had handed information against the syndicate to the Hawks.

UKZN had not responded to questions at the time of going to print on Monday night.

Universities South Africa chief executive Professor Ahmed Bawa welcomed the swift action against the alleged syndicate.

“South Africa’s 26 public universities depend on their reputation for transparency, for fairness, for their role in nation-building and in building the economy."

“How else can the knowledge that they produce and the students that they graduate be trusted?"

“They are funded through the public purse and through the fees paid by students. It is of vital importance that any attempt – both from within the institutions or without – to subvert the processes of selection and admission must be acted upon and eradicated,” Bawa said.

The matter will continue on August 31.

The Mercury