Tanker company says it was 'duped' in water smuggling 'scam'

Cape Town - A national logistics organisation says it was duped by a contractor after it became caught up in allegations that it stole water to take to the drought-stricken Western Cape from the Mogale City Local Municipality.

"Crossroads has been the unwitting victim of an alleged scam as it sought to be a good Samaritan in the Western Cape water crisis and warns others against similar scams during this difficult period for millions of people," the company said in a statement, following the incident in Muldersdrift, outside Krugersdorp.

A driver and an assistant were taken in for questioning, when a councillor stopped to ask questions on Wednesday night.

The councillor had noticed that a tanker fetching water from a source the municipality uses, had a different logo to the companies contracted to Mogale City. It had also been collecting water outside of the usual water collection routine.

The tankers that usually collect water there, take it to the poor in the region and Mogale City insists that only authorised entities may draw from the supply.

WATCH: Cape Town law enforcement faces resistance from water-wasting car washers

Two other people ran away when the councillor started asking questions.

Crossroad COO Hennie van Wyk explained what happened: "As a commercial business using water in Cape Town, we felt we needed to do something positive toward helping in this time of crisis."

"We decided to have our commercial cleaning supplier commercially sterilise one of our tankers, fill it with water in Gauteng, and transport it to our facility in Cape Town where we have already initiated other water conserving activities."

'We are trying to do the right thing'

The company contacted employees of the local fire department who advised them to source water via the Internet, which the company did. 

A bulk water supplier quoted for the volume the company sought and issued an invoice, which was duly paid by Crossroads. 

"Upon arrival at the agreed pickup point for the water, the Crossroads vehicle was rerouted by the bulk water supplier personnel to a different location in Muldersdrift. 

WATCH: 'It's frustrating that legitimate businesses are harassed over water' - Car wash owner

"But, as soon as the tanker was filled at the second location, a Mogale City councillor, who had allegedly waited nearby during the entire filling operation, attempted to apprehend all people on site. 

"Our driver and assistant naturally remained where they were, but the bulk water supplier employees immediately fled the scene. 

"Our people were detained but, upon us producing the legitimate receipt for what we thought was a perfectly legal transaction, authorities were understanding of their roles and nobody has been arrested," said Van Wyk. 

"It's devastating that criminals will take advantage of us when we are trying to do the right thing."

Muldersdrift police spokesperson Warrant Officer Masedi Masedi confirmed that two people had been arrested and kept in custody until their court appearance at the Krugersdorp Magistrate's Court.

'Fingers burned'

Masedi said they would be charged with theft but it was not immediately clear who these people were, since Crossroads insisted that their staff were released after questioning, and not arrested.

"The drivers were released without charge on the night of the incident so they have no reason to appear in court," said Van Wyk.

Clarity on who appeared was not immediately available from the National Prosecuting Authority.

The company said it contacted the Department of Water Affairs spokesperson Sputnik Ratau and was informed that water suppliers must produce a valid licence issued by the department, or if the supplier is a local municipality, that proof of authorisation from the same local municipality must be provided. 

"We have agreed through our attorney to be a State witness to help the State prosecute these alleged criminals," said Van Wyk. 

"It is unfortunate that we have had our fingers burned in this way but we will endeavour to ease the burden on the people of Cape Town."

Mogale City was expected to release an update later.

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