Pretoria - The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has so far recovered about R1 million following the start of its investigation into 102 law firms – and the sheriffs – which received duplicate payments estimated to be about R340m from the Road Accident Fund (RAF).
The SIU presented its preliminary findings to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) this week.
The SIU has approached several legal practitioners with the evidence, and they have opted to co-operate with the SIU investigation by defraying their indebtedness by signing of acknowledgements of debt, said SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago.
According to him, to date the SIU had signed acknowledgements of debt to the value of R68m.
Kganyago said the signing of these acknowledgements did not absolve the legal practitioners from any civil litigation that the SIU may institute. It will also not mean that they will not have to face the music if the SIU decided to refer the matters for criminal prosecution. Their conduct could also be reported to a regulatory body, in this case the Legal Practice Council, Kganyago said.
Up to now, the SIU had made one referral to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) following evidence pointing to criminal conduct. There were 10 possible NPA referrals identified and five possible referrals to the Legal Practice Council, he said.
The SIU was also investigating 10 contracts for possible irregularities and fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
“Some of the contracts were flagged by the Auditor General. Four contracts to the value of approximately R837m have been identified for review and possible cancellation.”
The SIU is authorised to investigate allegations of corruption and maladministration in the affairs of the RAF and to recover any financial losses suffered by the state.
The investigation has five focus areas, which include looking into duplicate claim payments made to attorneys, claimants and sheriffs, as well as looking into procurement and tender irregularities, especially fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
The SIU will also look into RAF payment claims from service providers who have rendered services to the victims of motor vehicle accidents.
It will focus on possible inflated invoices submitted by the service providers, as well as on possible collusion between RAF employees and services providers, and the bill of cost submitted by attorneys.
Meanwhile, in yet another urgent application brought by the RAF on the issue of the extension of their 180-day payment reprieve, Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, Judge Ronel Tolmay struck the matter from the roll due to a lack of urgency.
The RAF wanted the court to suspend all writs and sales in execution of its assets for outstanding payments owed to law firms and other debtors.
The judge said any urgency that may exist in the matter was self-created.
She also ruled, after hearing arguments from the legal representatives of about 24 respondents – including law firms and the Pretoria Attorneys’ Association, who entered the fray as a friend of the court – that the application brought on an urgent basis was an abuse of the court process.
Judge Tolmay subsequently awarded a punitive costs order against the RAF in regard to the application. This means that the RAF has to foot the bill of the entire application, which includes a host of senior and junior counsel.
The main hearing in which the RAF is asking for another reprieve of 180 days in which to pay judgment debts will be heard on August 7.