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R2000 bail for immigration officer in accused of smuggling Bangladeshi nationals into SA

Cape Town - 181101 - National minister of health Dr Pakishe Aaron Motsoaledi discuss South Africa's possible trajectory towards universal health coverage at FNB Portside Building.

Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says there is a well-coordinated international syndicate that operates in South Africa and Bangladesh. Pictures: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 15, 2022

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Rustenburg - A 36-year-old immigration officer arrested for smuggling immigrants into the country was released on a R2000 bail, Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, (Hawks) said.

Spokesperson Brigadier Thandi Mbambo, said Pone Simon Dithipe was arrested for contravening the Immigration Act during a multi-disciplinary sting operation on Wednesday at the OR Tambo International Airport.

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"The Hawks' Serious Organised Crime Investigation in Germiston together with the department of home affairs embarked on an operation related to smuggling of illegal immigrants into the country without valid visa.

"It was reported that the suspect allegedly charged a substantial amount from each traveller to be unlawfully and illegally granted permission to enter South Africa," Brigadier Mbambo said.

She said the investigating team together with the department of home affairs' counter corruption successfully obtained substantial evidence against the perpetrators which resulted to the issuing of the warrant of arrest.

"Further probing into the matter, authorities sent all five Bangladeshis back to their country as they did not possess any valid travelling documents," she said.

Dithipe appeared in the Kempton Park Magistrates' Court on Thursday, where he was granted R2000 bail. The case was postponed to May 25 for investigation.

His arrest followed the recent arrest of 28 people accused of fraud targeting department of home affairs in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg.

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Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said Dithipe was a key link in an elaborate and well-coordinated international syndicate that operates in South Africa and Bangladesh.

"At this airport [OR Tambo International], the network of the syndicates involves an immigration officer and other role-players such as a member of the ground handling staff, cleaners, security personnel as well as the law enforcement agencies.

"In Bangladesh, the syndicate includes a runner who recruits Bangladeshi who do not qualify to visit South Africa and members of the airline. All of these operations are coordinated by a kingpin."

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Motsoaledi said the kingpin get the runner to recruit Bangladeshis who want to come to South Africa but do not qualify. He charges them around R110 000.

"Then, a member of the airline smuggles the rogue Bangladeshis by either providing false names of the passenger or by not including the name of the passenger in the list of travellers on the flight.

"Here at this airport, a runner takes pictures of landmarks that the traveller needs to follow and the picture of the counter the rogue traveller needs to go to. These pictures are then sent to the kingpin. These are the pictures that help the rogue travellers to navigate their way through the airport," he said.

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He said on arrival, they hang around the restroom facilities and the transit area until the immigration counters were not busy.

"A signal is given by another runner to go to the pre-identified official who then processes them for entry without valid documents – in violation of the Immigration Act.

"Sometimes, these lawbreakers are wheeled in via those rubbish bins with wheels – in what is perhaps a metaphor for their status in the country."

The immigration officer or runner is paid around R60 000 for each lawbreaker who was facilitated into the country. This amount is shared with other members of the network involved in the criminal act.

Motsoaledi said the arrest of the immigration official was going to lead to the arrest of other immigration officials and other members of the syndicate.

"We shall also follow up to establish how these five Bangladeshis were allowed to board the aircraft and to make sure that that airline is brought to book.

“Ordinarily, each traveller has to be cleared by our operations centre in Pretoria which operates for 24 hours. Airlines have to submit the full list of everyone on board their aircraft through the Advanced Passenger Processing system,," he said.

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