UKZN sets the record straight on 'Operation Clever' probe into fraud at medical school
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DURBAN - THE University of KwaZulu-Natal has slammed the media reporting on matters in relations to 'Operation Clever', an investigation into allegations of fraud at its medical school.
The allegations, which were exposed by the Sunday Tribune, came to light in 2016, following allegations of bribery to gain placement at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine.
According to UKZN acting corporate affairs executive, Normah Zondo, the four-year investigation involved no less than 31 employees, and resulted in suspensions, disciplinary inquiries, resignations and dismissals. In addition, students and external parties were also implicated.
She said that after due consideration of the allegations at the time, UKZN instituted a wide-scope forensic investigation.
"Insofar as the criminal prosecutions are concerned, it is pertinent to record that UKZN laid criminal charges in 2017 with the police. Subsequent to the appointment of an investigative team by the state, UKZN has at all material times co-operated to the full extent with the investigating officers and National Prosecuting Authority. The investigations are accordingly in the hands of the Hawks of the SAPS, as they have been for a considerable time, and UKZN is informed that they are still ongoing," Zondo said.
She said in 2019, businessman, Visham Panday, an anti-corruption activist and the founder of VP Justice Foundation, brought a High Court application against the university to be supplied with the outcome of the internal investigation, a copy of a written report of the outcome, a timeline on how long a safe house was provided to the investigator, documents of proof reflecting the cost of the safe house, costs and proof of bodyguards provided for the safe house and the cost of conducting Operation Clever from inception to date along with accompanying documents.
Zondo said UKZN opposed Panday's application.
"It was essential in UKZN’s view, supported by the SAPS, to protect the integrity of the investigation as disclosure of all information and reports requested would compromise it. The court, however, ordered that four aspects pertinent to the investigation be disclosed to Mr Panday, in connection with various costs of the investigation. Although UKZN has received legal advice that even those orders are appealable in law on the facts relevant to the application, UKZN will accede to the court ruling and not make any endeavour to appeal it. This is because that information will not compromise the integrity of the investigation; and because as an institution, UKZN is and has always been committed to transparency and accountability," Zondo said.
She said Panday had applied to the court to grant him access to seven areas of the investigation, including the release of the report.
"The court refused to grant all of the relief he had sought. Against that background, UKZN wishes to set out the following in light of the negative, and often incorrect, reporting of this matter in the press,“ Zondo said.
“The KPMG report, commissioned in 2016 by previous Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Albert Van Jaarsveld, focused on allegations of corruption involving admissions to the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, as well as colleges and university operations.
"The University at the time uncovered a criminal syndicate working together with a small number of UKZN employees to admit students to the medical school. The internal investigation was concluded, and the matter was handed over to the State criminal prosecuting authorities in 2017, including the Hawks, for further investigation and possible criminal prosecution.
“Criminal prosecutions are not within the powers of UKZN. Whilst UKZN is in fact extremely keen to expose those involved in corruption, and it has done so to the extent that it can internally, it must await the outcome and decisions of the SAPS and prosecuting authorities regarding any criminal prosecutions. As was pointed out by the Judge himself, any request for a written report into Operation Clever is premature."
The cost of the investigation to date is R73 560 829.00, which comprises:
- Security services to preserve and protect evidence pertinent to the investigation.
- Security services to protect the investigator, including accommodation at a safe house.
- Necessary “covert operations”.
- Forensic specialists.
Zondo said the lead forensic investigator was provided with a safe house and bodyguards as a result of threats to her life.
“An extensive audit was done, involving inter alia the SAPS, into the threats and they were found to be credible justifying the investigator’s protection,” she added.
The university argued in court against the release of the report as it would compromise and prejudice the investigator’s safety and would also divulge the identities of people implicated in the investigation as well as any involvement of possible syndicates, thereby compromising the investigation.
“The university wishes to emphasise that it was legally and ethically obliged to conduct this investigation to protect the integrity of its academic excellence, its reputation and to be in compliance with the code of good governance. To this end the University would like to express great appreciation to its stakeholders for their unwavering support and similarly extend its gratitude to all staff members for their co-operation, fortitude and understanding throughout the investigation thus far,” Zondo said.