Land reform farms’ prices ‘inflated’

An investigation report confirming that government bought farms for land reform purposes at inflated prices in Mpumalanga’s Badplaas area can now be used in court to nail the perpetrators – after gathering dust for 11 years.

Fraud charges have been filed against the officials at the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights alleged to have colluded with a land speculator to buy private farms, at inflated prices, on behalf of claimants of the Ndwandwa Community Trust.

The 105 farms that cost government R51 million were eventually transferred to the trust in 2003.

In 2005 the department of land affairs hired professional valuer Derrick Griffith to revise the prices of the Ndwandwa land.

This after Badplaas conservationist Fred Daniels blew the whistle on the inflation of land prices as he was also buying farms to establish a nature reserve in Badplaas.

Daniels told City Press: “State capture started in Mpumalanga and this is a typical case.”

In Griffith’s report, which City Press has seen, it was found that the market prices determined by valuers were so grossly overstated in some cases that it was described as constituting “gross negligence”.

The report found that the average price of the land valued did not exceed R1 600 per hectare – but the land rights commission’s two valuers put prices at between R5 792 and R7 292 per hectare.

Griffith went on to state in his report that market valuation principles were not adhered to and were misconstrued by these unnamed valuers – resulting in the “flagrant overstatement” of prices.

“These valuations should be rejected as incorrect and misleading,” Griffith recommended in the report. But the recommendations were never implemented.

However, two weeks ago – on October 14 – forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan opened a case at the Sandton Police Station against Pieter Visagie, accusing him of allegedly forming the Ndwandwa Trust as “a vehicle” for filing fraudulent land restitution claims.

If prosecuted, the case will see the contents of the Griffith report revealed to the public for the first time.

This is the second case that has been opened recently relating to the controversial Badplaas land claim.

Last November, the Mpumalanga Economic Freedom Fighters laid a fraud charge with the Hawks against Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza for his alleged role in the scandal while he was agriculture MEC.

Mabuza is accused of facilitating a R3.3 million payment to Visagie after he complained that he had been underpaid for land transactions.

This happened after Mabuza appointed a task team that recommended to the commission to make the payment.

Mabuza has denied any wrongdoing, saying land claims were not his competence.

City Press has a copy of O’Sullivan’s affidavit, which accuses Visagie and unnamed officials of the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights of being responsible for the scam that saw land prices escalating between 70% and as high as an estimated 2 300%.

The commission, according to O’Sullivan, overpaid by about R10 million on a sample of six farms he investigated.

Government paid R25.9 million for these sampled farms.

O’Sullivan’s affidavit reads: “Fraud was committed using the Ndwandwa Trust as a vehicle to complete transactions and steal vast sums of money from the public purse.

The trust was formed by Pieter Visagie for the purpose of filing fraudulent land restitution claims [that] were not falling within the ambit of the [Restitution of Land Rights Act].

“Visagie offered land owners above-market prices, enticing them to enter into sales agreements [and] he used front companies for these transactions.

“Visagie then on-sold the properties prior to meeting his obligation to the owners at vastly inflated prices to the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights for the benefit of the Ndwandwa Trust.

The trust members had fake names, ID numbers and duplicated ID numbers based on a sample,” he said.

O’Sullivan said his legal standing for bringing this case was that he was a “substantial taxpayer”.

Visagie’s phone rang unanswered and he did not respond to a text message about the case.

City Press could not ascertain whether the rural development and land reform department subjected officials of the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights to any disciplinary hearing based on the Griffith report’s recommendation or even attempted to recover the difference on the land sales.

The department failed to respond to our written questions and calls.

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