Truck roadworthy scandal risks lives
Johannesburg - “I am absolutely flabbergasted that more people are not being killed by accidents caused by unroadworthy heavy-duty trucks.”
This is the view of businessman Alberto Lorenzo Pavoncelli, who bought six trucks last year from a subsidiary of what he believed was a large trucking company, only to find out later that the truck’s roadworthy certificates had been forged.
Pavoncelli came out publicly with his case after an accident last month in which a heavy-duty truck ploughed into 48 vehicles, killing three people, on the N12 East near Alberton.
The truck driver, Isaac Maruding, who has a previous conviction for culpable homicide and reckless and negligent driving, claimed the brakes failed. Gauteng traffic police spokesman Obed Sibasa confirmed that the truck was not roadworthy at the time of the accident.
Pavoncelli works for Mapajo Logistics, which transports dry bulk goods.
In an affidavit Pavoncelli gave to the police, he details how his company bought six trucks from a company in Boksburg called Atlas Truck and Trailer.
The purchase was made on condition that the trucks were put through and passed a roadworthy test. Pavoncelli said they were given six independent temporary certificates, which showed the trucks had been through the roadworthy process and could operate on a public road.
A few weeks after collection, one of the trucks was stopped by the KwaZulu-Natal traffic inspectorate. The officers said the eNatis vehicle register indicated the truck had not been through a roadworthiness test and it would be impounded.
Pavoncelli said they contacted a director of Atlas, Kuben Moonsamy, and he said the trucks had all been to the Jet Park testing station for roadworthy tests, but when they asked for actual test results, none were provided.
“I have ascertained that no test results in fact exist, as the vehicle was never dispatched to the Jet Park testing station by Atlas,” Pavoncelli said in the affidavit.
He said the man at the testing station later admitted that Atlas was a big customer of his and he would often issue them with roadworthy certificates without having sight of the vehicles.
ONE FAKE CERTIFICATE, COMING UP
When Pavoncelli asked how the situation would be rectified, he was allegedly told by the tester that he would prepare a roadworthy certificate that pre-dated the truck being impounded and he would provide the falsified document to the eNatis authorities.
Also, the system would be “corrected” to reflect that the truck had been through a roadworthy test.
“I advised him that what had been proposed by him was unlawful and that Mapajo wanted no part of any such scheme or conduct,” Pavoncelli said.
He said they then demanded a refund from Atlas, but were told they had to discuss the issue with what they were told was Atlas’s parent company, Royal Transport. They followed someone called Kuben, who, according to the affidavit, stopped at a service station and asked them to come over.
The affidavit said he handed over a document which showed that the truck had passed a roadworthy test at the Clayville testing station on August 23 last year. Pavoncelli refused to take the document.
In the meantime, the company received a call from the road traffic authorities in Pietermaritzburg who said the truck’s status had been changed on the eNatis system, but as the truck had not left the weighbridge, this could not be possible.
The officer said that what they had done was fraudulent and they would be launching an investigation.
Pavoncelli then laid a complaint with the police, and they took the trucks for roadworthy tests, where it was found the brakes needed replacing, the rear axle needed replacing and there was an oil leak under the gearbox.
“There were serious problems with the trucks. Can you imagine vehicles like that ‘passing’ roadworthy,” Pavoncelli said.
He said the company sells about 40 to 50 trucks a month.
Pavoncelli referred the case to IRS Forensic Investigations.
“Accidents involving unroadworthy trucks are becoming a common occurrence. People are dying as a result of these accidents,” said Chad Thomas, an investigator with IRS.
“The issuing of fake roadworthy certificates, PDPs (public driver permits) and driving licences should be treated as priority crimes because people are losing their lives, and unroadworthy trucks involved in accidents are causing millions of rand in damages.”
“CHARGE THEM WITH CULPABLE HOMICIDE”
Howard Dembovsky, from Justice Project SA, said the only way fraudulent roadworthy certificates would stop being issued was for authorities to charge those who issued the certificate with culpable homicide.
“All the people in the chain need to be held responsible. Part of law enforcement is to send a deterrent message,” he said.
Atlas Truck and Trailer director Moonsamy denied all the allegations. “We are a truck sales company and do not do any roadworthy as we are not a testing station,” he said.
“We outsource our roadworthy to Jet Park testing station. I have proof of payments for all the trucks we sell that go for roadworthy there,” he said.
COMPLAINTS FALL ON DEAF EARS
When trying to contact Atlas Truck and Trailer for comment, The Star mistakenly took the company for Atlas Truck Centre, which is also located in Boksburg.
Atlas Truck Centre director Jaco van der Merwe said they have laid complaints against Atlas Truck and Trailer Sales with Sars, various banks, the Hawks and the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) for fraud.
Van der Merwe alleges, and has documentary proof, that Atlas Truck and Trailer is using their VAT number.
He said his company first noticed that something strange was happening when clients arrived at their business with quotes from Atlas Truck and Trailer Sales.
They then saw internet adverts with photos taken from their yard and quoting their VAT number.
Last year, the company’s lawyers sent Atlas Truck and Trailer Sales a letter to cease trading deceitfully as them.
The letter said the company’s name was deceptively similar, that they need to stop using their client’s VAT number and that they must stop acting in a way which deceives clients, who mistakenly believe they are conducting business with Atlas Truck Centre.
In response, Atlas Truck and Trailer said they would liquidate their name and apologised for any loss of business they may have caused.
According to the CIPC, the company is in the process of being deregistered.
Van der Merwe said the company disappears for a few months and then reappears.
The general manager at Alpha and Royal Transport, Sylvester Mohlabane, said a group of “fraudsters” acting under the name Sizanani Commercial were agents selling trucks from legitimate companies to others.
The Star tried to contact the directors of Atlas Truck and Trailer Sales, but all its numbers were out of service.