Fusion Centre's efforts pay off

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

National Head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya, has outlined the progress and successes achieved by the Fusion Centre in its bid to prevent and combat corruption. 

“Since May 2020 to date, the Fusion Centre has achieved a significant number of successes in arrests, prosecution, freezing orders and recoveries. These significant achievements serve to amplify that government’s sharp focus on capacitating the agencies focused on fighting crime and corruption is yielding results,” Lebeya said, while addressing a media briefing in Pretoria, on Wednesday.

The centre was established in May 2020 by the Anti-Corruption Task Team (ACTT) and the National Priority Committee on Organised Crime (NPCOC) as a multi-disciplinary and collaborative effort by all corruption-fighting agencies that are actively involved in the prevention and combating of corruption.

It follows an intelligence-driven approach in investigating corruption and uses comprehensive data and information analysis. It also fast tracks and expedites the processing of cases, thus reducing delays in the pursuit of justice.

"The Fusion Centre broadens the scope of investigations by combining the expertise of multiple agencies, working within their legislative mandates and enhancing the quality and depth of each inquiry. This results in improving the quality of investigations, and increasing prosecution successes," he said.

Progress made

The Fusion Centre has achieved successes relating to the following cases:

  • 556 cases and incidents of fraud, maladministration, tax evasion and corruption involving 168 accused persons were investigated;
  • 51 natural persons and 43 entities were convicted for various crimes, including corruption, fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and others; and
  • 48 cases are still in court.

Lebeya explained that some of the cases handled by the Fusion Centre are complex commercial crimes, involving networks of organised criminal syndicates.

“The investigators from the Fusion Centre had to trace the networks and the syndicates in order to arrive at conclusive evidence of wrongdoing. The first case involved an accountant who defrauded the COVID-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) [of] over R11 million by claiming relief funds on behalf of a number of companies without their knowledge.

“The investigators uncovered a network of 17 persons, 26 entities, 53 banking accounts and 983 transactions involved in the flow of the financial proceeds from the accountant. The funds were used to purchase immoveable and moveable assets such as houses and a car,” he said.

Preservation orders against two accountants to the value of R3 065 114.08 were obtained as well as four immoveable properties valued at R2 662 986.60. One vehicle was bought with an amount of R665 000.

The accused accountant, Lindelani Bert Gumede, was arrested and convicted for fraud, theft, and money laundering. He was sentenced in 2022 to 135 years imprisonment.

“The second case also involved an accountant who, using the names of six companies, defrauded the TERS scheme to the amount of R884 308.06. Crime analysis revealed that the accountant was behind the companies that claimed the funds.

“This accountant was charged and an amount of R482 258.71 was recovered in an FNB account registered under the name of the accountant. Through the recovery process by the Fusion Centre, he agreed to refund the funds derived from defrauding the scheme. The accountant, Mark Voster, was sentenced to six years imprisonment,” Lt-Gen Lebeya said.

The third case involved an Eastern Cape Taxi Association, which fraudulently claimed R220 million from the TERS scheme using 66 accounts.

The Fusion Centre issued Section 34 directives on the 26 bank accounts securing a preservation order of R26.9 million against the taxi association.

The personal protective equipment (PPE) contract of the taxi association was declared irregular and unlawful. The criminal trial is still proceeding.

In terms of the freezing orders and recoveries, the following successes were achieved:

  • The Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) obtained 25 orders worth R274 million;
  • The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) obtained 42 orders worth over R331 million;
  • The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) obtained 29 orders amounting to R465 million and
  • South African Revenue Service (SARS) obtained 22 freezing orders worth over R740 million.

Lt-Gen Lebeya said public officials were involved in some of the cases of maladministration or did not follow the legislative frameworks in the appointment of service providers, and payments made to service providers and third parties.

“There were 97 referrals for disciplinary and executive actions against officials in government departments and state-owned entities. So far, 11 public officials have been dismissed for various cases of maladministration, fraud and corruption. Three have resigned, eight were suspended, 71 pending and one has received a written warning,” he said.

Other referrals include 58 cases to the Competition Commission, 57 to the South African Health Product Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and 29 companies referred to National Treasury to blacklist them on the Central Supplier Database (CSD).

In addition, 47 referrals from the SIU to the National Prosecuting Authority and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) were made.

Fusion Centre's Mandate

The operationalisation of the Fusion Centre coincided with the need to identify and stem misappropriation of funds set aside by government for social and economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially it focused on money laundering, corruption and other financial crimes related to procurement of personal protective equipment and other COVID19 related procurement.

However, since the success of the collaborative approach, the mandate of the Fusion Centre has been expanded to include organised crime, money laundering, fraud, maladministration, terrorist financing and other serious financial crimes both in public and private institutions

“We are calling upon the business sector, specifically, to partner and collaborate with the Fusion Centre and support the enhancement of forensic investigation skills and other critical skills which will lead to a higher rate of prosecution for commercial corruption crimes.

“The Fusion Centre contributes towards the implementation of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) action plan in respect of South Africa in addressing deficiencies in the anti-money laundering system,” he said. –SAnews.gov.za