Taking back stolen land

2010-10-08 00:00

THE NPAs asset forfeiture unit has put six farms belonging to Ladysmith businessman Roshen Sewpersad and his wife Neresha under curatorship yesterday.

An affidavit by the crime investigating unit states that the Elandsjagt Billygreen Ranches were bought for labour tenants by the provincial government in early 2001 at a value of more than R36 million.

Between 1999 and 2000 the tenants allegedly filed an application for ownership with the Rural Development and Land Reform Department under the government’s land restitution and redistribution policy.

The farms, situated in the Elandslaagte area near Ladysmith, were consolidated and a legal entity Abrina 6822 was set up to take transfer, excluding the labour tenant claimants.

In March 2010 the department opened a criminal docket with the commercial crimes unit.

The investigations revealed that no trust or association was formed on behalf of the beneficiaries and they didn’t even know that they owned the farms.

The Sewpersad’s name never appeared in the original agreement of purchase and sale as beneficiaries.

It appears that the compilation of the list of beneficiaries and the transfer of the farms were fraudulent.

In this transaction two land affairs officials are implicated as being the ones who tricked people into signing forms without knowing what they were signing for.

The officials have since been suspended pending investigation.

One claimant whose signature appears on the application form, Phum­zile Mabaso, stated in an affidavit that he did not know that he owned a farm.

He said he is uneducated and has been herding cattle all his life.

Acting Regional Head for the asset forfeiture unit, Knorx Molelle, said the KZN government has lost land to the value of R800 million to fraudsters who claim to represent the tenants.

“From January to date we have seized properties to the value of about R300 million. In KZN alone we have identified farms valued at R800 million which were obtained using fraudulent means.

Arrests in all these cases will be made and state property will be taken back to the rightful owners,” said Molelle.

He said his department has a five-year plan starting from 2010, focusing on government corruption.

Democratic Alliance MP Alf Lees said the biggest problem with land reform is the inability of the department to handle the process.

Lees said about five farms in the Ladysmith area have already been bought for the tenants, but have not been handed over to them.

“This department needs a system in place to check and verify who does and does not qualify to claim for farms,” he said.

Sewpersad’s lawyer Dev Maharaj said there was a complete distortion of the facts in the court order given to his client,

“All allegations or insinuations of dishonesty, fraud, improper conduct or corruption on the part of our clients are strenuously denied. The acquisition of the farm by Abrina from the seller and financing thereof by the department was legitimate,” said Maharaj.

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