A home affairs official at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) was arrested on Wednesday for alleged involvement in an international syndicate that gets people into South Africa when they do not have the right documents.
“He is a key link in an elaborate and well-coordinated international syndicate that operates in South Africa and Bangladesh,” Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said, following an operation at the airport.
According to the minister, syndicates use some immigration officers, ground handling staff, cleaners, security staff, and law enforcement agencies at airports.
“All of these operations are coordinated by a kingpin,” he added.
Explaining the modus operandi, Motsoaledi said the kingpin gets a runner to find Bangladeshis who want to enter South Africa but do not qualify in terms of immigration rules.
For R110 000, their passage into South Africa is arranged.
“Then a member of the airline smuggles the rogue Bangladeshis by either providing false names of the passenger or by not including the name of the passenger in [the] list of travellers on the flight,” Motsoaledi added.
This is how they do it:
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– The runner takes pictures of landmarks that the traveller needs to follow at the airport in South Africa. This includes a picture of the specific counter they must go to at the airport when they arrive. The pictures are sent to the kingpin and to the person being smuggled into the country.
– On arrival, they hang around the restroom facilities and the transit area until the immigration counters are not busy.
– A signal is given by another runner to go to the pre-identified official, who then processes them for entry without the valid documents in violation of the Immigration Act.
“Sometimes, these lawbreakers are wheeled in via those rubbish bins with wheels in what is perhaps a metaphor for their status in the country,” Motsoaledi said.
An immigration officer or runner is understood to earn around R60 000 for each person trafficked in to the country this way. The amount is shared with the other members of the syndicate.
“The arrest of this immigration official is going to lead to the arrest of other immigration officials and other members of the syndicate,” Motsoaledi vowed.
“We shall also follow up to establish how these five Bangladeshis were allowed to board the aircraft and to make sure that that airline is brought to book,” Motsoaledi added.
He asked anybody with information on the syndicate to contact the SA Police Service or the department’s Anti-Corruption Unit.
Comment from the Hawks was not immediately available, but will be added when received.
Three weeks ago a Pakistani national who is believed to be behind a fake passport syndicate was arrested along with 26 other people, including home affairs officials and other foreign nationals, in a sting operation at the Krugersdorp home affairs office.
The arrest was made in a joint operation between the Hawks and the Department of Home Affairs.
Allegations are that Pakistani national, Afran Ahmed, 39, worked with home affairs officials to recruit poor South Africans who thought they would probably never need a passport, to sell their identities for R500.
Those identities would then be used to make fake passports for foreigners looking to buy one illegally. The home affairs officials who are in on the crime, would put a picture of the person buying the passport inside the passport of a South African who sold their identity.
According to the home affairs department, in October 2021, the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Cape Town convicted former home affairs official Joseph Lebitsa of eight counts of corruption. He is serving eight years in prison.
In KwaZulu-Natal, 12 officials have been arrested for similar passport-related fraud. Four of them have been dismissed and the matter involving the other eight is still in court.
At OR Tambo International Airport, six officials were arrested for various immigration-related corruption in the past 12 months.
Their cases are at different stages in court.