The mystery of the missing Sassa evidence
Cops investigate after documents needed to prove syndicate was operating vanish from safe, locked drawers
Police are investigating the disappearance of SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) files that are part of a probe into corruption allegedly involving Sassa officials.
At least three files have been removed from locked drawers at the Sassa fraud unit office in Bellville, outside Cape Town, and duplicates have vanished from Sassa’s warehouse.
Sassa spokesperson Shivani Wahab said the files’ disappearance was reported to the police on August 20. “The matter is currently under criminal investigation,” she said.
Unit investigators told Times Select they believed the disappearance of the files was an “inside job” instigated by a syndicate that operated in five provinces and allegedly fleeced Sassa of millions of rand.
The syndicate, including eight Sassa officials, went on trial in the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in 2016. Four defendants have received suspended prison sentences after making plea bargains, and are expected to give evidence against the remaining accused when the trial resumes next April.
Although the syndicate’s alleged base, in the boiler room of a building in Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, has been dismantled, several sources have reported victimisation of fraud unit members investigating the syndicate.
One official who had a file disappear said: “My life can be in danger, your life can be in danger. It’s a delicate matter and a risky matter. You actually have to be careful.”
The missing files contain information about grants being paid to “ghost” children – so-called because they exist only on forged documents submitted with their grant approvals.
A fraud unit investigator said the only way fraudulent claimants could be registered by Sassa was through a syndicate, because at least three officials are needed to process a grant application. If fraud was suspected, he said, the officials involved could be traced through the Sassa computer system.
An informant who told the fraud unit about three people allegedly benefiting from grants for “ghost” children said he was surprised when Times Select informed him the file was missing.
Times Select has learnt that in the event of files going missing complainants are supposed to be contacted by the fraud unit’s management. When contacted the investigating officer would not comment, saying she needed to speak with her managers.
In another case an official’s file was stolen from her locked desk drawer. When she requested the original file from the Sassa warehouse, she was told it was missing.
Wahab said Sassa had “zero tolerance” for fraud. “The Sassa fraud prevention strategy has been vigorously implemented and we remain committed to eradicating fraud and corruption.”
She denied fraud unit investigators’ allegations of victimisation. “We are not aware of any formal investigation regarding the treatment of staff by certain members of management as alleged,” she said.
“The acting regional executive manager, Mr Henry de Grass, has an open-door policy and has recently had an engagement with staff, with a follow-up session scheduled soon. Staff have the option of escalating any matter via the grievance process for remedial action.”
Sassa has been mired in scandals over the past few years and the fraud unit’s former general manager, Renay Ogle, was suspended after a Sunday Times report in 2014 detailed how she and former Sassa CEO Virginia Peterson benefited from bodyguard services worth R2.9m.