Hawks arrest syndicate behind nationwide pre-paid electricity fraud
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Johannesburg - The Hawks have arrested seven people aged between 28 and 67 who are believed to be behind a large-scale pre-paid electricity fraud and theft.
They were allegedly illegally selling electricity to pre-paid customers.
The men were arrested in the early hours of Wednesday morning by a multidisciplinary team comprising the Free State Hawks, Eskom Investigators, Tactical Response Team, Public Order Policing as well as Local Criminal Record Centre.
The team swooped in on them at various premises in Gauteng. During the arrest, one of the suspects allegedly tried to bribe the arresting officers with R100 000 and was additionally charged with corruption.
Lieutenant Colonel Philani Nkwalase of the Free State Hawks said investigations into the matter started in May last year in Bloemfontein where they probed the illicit sale of electricity facilitated by illegal vendors who had illegal electricity vending machines in their possession.
The syndicates, he said, reportedly operates in groups nationally and generate income of approximately R150 000 to R250 000 per day from illicit sales of electricity.
“They are highly organised, well-equipped, closely networked and are difficult to track due to the fact that these machines do not transact on a network or at a single place, but are constantly roving.
“The suspects were allegedly responsible for selling illegal electricity to pre-paid customers.”
According to Nkwalase, the illegal practice of selling prepaid electricity results in multi-million rand losses to Eskom per annum.
“This loss of revenue and the increase in non-technical losses contributes significantly to the electricity woes of the country. These arrests come at a time when the country has been plunged into load shedding due to the bleak power situation.
“During their arrest, one of the suspects allegedly enticed the arresting officers with R100 000 gratification and was additionally charged with corruption. Meanwhile, other suspects were allegedly found in possession of illegal firearms as well as ammunition and were additionally charged accordingly.
“Several cell phones, laptops, Sim cards, a total cash amount of R714 800, seven luxury vehicles, electricity pre-paid vouchers and transaction records were seized for further investigation,” he said.
The National Head of the Hawks, Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya commended the work of the investigating team saying investigations were continuing.
“The team shall not rest until all the members of this organised criminal group are accounted for. Once more, I call upon the community not to buy electricity from illegitimate vendors. May the community be reminded that the Hawks do not accept gratification to negatively influence the cases that they are handling. Those who try to corrupt the members will be arrested and the offered gift forfeited to the State,” he said.
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter said the persistent and skilful work done by their investigators and the Hawks were ground-breaking and highly commendable.
He said the credit-dispensing units were concealed and protected by “these criminals” at great cost as they enrich themselves with little to no effort.
“This is economic sabotage of the highest degree and the perpetrators of such crimes must be brought to book and dealt with to the full might of the law. We shall pursue the investigations together with the Hawks to ensure that the entire operations of the syndicate are disrupted.
De Ruyter said the arrests will help restore confidence in Eskom urged the public to stop buying illegal pre-paid electricity from ghost vendors and to report information regarding electricity theft and fraud, to the Eskom Crime Line number: 0800 11 27 22.
The seven suspects were expected to appear in the Fochville Magistrate’s Court on Friday.