Durban - A “fake attorney” is said to be behind a scam in which government land in KwaZulu-Natal has been sold off illegally using forged documentation.
And while the Department of Public Works in the province appears to be the biggest victim of the fraud, it has emerged that others, including the South African National Defence Force and possibly some private property owners, have also been targeted.
Police are now trying to unravel who is involved in the syndicate and where the money paid for the properties has gone. But they have been pointed to a recent court application launched by the KwaZulu-Natal law society in which a woman is accused of “misrepresenting” herself as an conveyancing attorney and being involved in ten suspicious transactions involving the properties.
Recently, public works secured high court orders effectively “freezing” vacant land including a site in Pinetown, which had been “sold” to Curro Holdings for R25m for a school, and a valuable property near the La Lucia Mall which had been “bought” by property developer Simon Draycott.
This week, when the matter came back to court, neither Curro nor Draycott opposed the finalisation of the interdicts.
Draycott went a step further, agreeing to the transfer of the land - for which he paid R2 million - back to the government.
Attorney Johan Jooste, who acts for Draycott and his fiancee Rebecca Prosser - who was also involved in the transactions - said his clients were co-operating fully in the investigation.
“They believe they are innocent,” he said.
Curro Holdings did not respond to a request for comment.
A source said that Curro Holdings, Draycott and Prosser had all lost millions of rands and predicted that civil court action would be taken to recover the money.
“The police investigation is at a very sensitive stage,” the source said.
“There will be arrests.”
According to court papers in the law society’s application, the “fake attorney” was also involved in the illegal sale of land at Glenashley, owned by the defence force.
The buyer was also Draycott.
A legal source, who did not wish to be named, said the defence force had only known about the purported sale when officials arrived one morning to find chains and locks on the gate
Further investigations through the law society and the deeds office exposed 10 suspicious transactions, which included the public works properties, all handled by the same woman, who is not a registered attorney.
Documents in possession of News24, reveal that the SANDF held a board of inquiry into the the fraudulent transaction earlier this year at which it was established that the signatories to the agreement were fraudulent and the rates clearance certificate and transfer duty receipt were also forged.
In the public works matters, the tip-off came from the eThekwini Municipality which reported that fraudulent rates clearance certificates had been used in the transactions.
In her affidavit filed with the court, Mirriam (correct) Linda, the department’s Deputy Director-General, immovable assets, said in the Curro matter the properties were all transferred on the same day from the provincial government to Rebecca Ann Prosser and then to a Nulane Investments 399 Pty Ltd and then on to Curro in March this year.
Records show that Prosser paid R2.5 million for them, Nulane R11.5m and then Curro R24.8m.
She said a power of attorney had purportedly been signed by a former employee who had left in July 2012 and that her signature had been forged.
Forged signatures had also been used in the other transactions.
One of these was the sale of four plots in Pinetown to Clermont-based company Blue Destiny Property Investment Pty Ltd but the directors had not been traced and the court papers had not been served on them.
Linda said there was no question over the true ownership of the properties “whether people are innocent or not”.
She said there was a legal requirement that should the department wish to dispose of any land, it had to advertise its intentions in the Government Gazette and in the press and advise all spheres of government to ensure that it they did not need it.
In these matters, this had not been done.
This week the law society issued a circular to its members “warning about fraudulent transactions involving provincial land”.
President Umesh Jiven cautioned that only the MEC, Ravi Pillay, or the acting head of department Thulani Mdadane were authorised to sign conveyancing documents.
He urged that the authenticity of any transaction be confirmed with the department before accepting any instruction.
“Attorneys and conveyancers are warned to exercise great diligence and extreme vigilance including transactions where state property has already been transferred during the last two years….which means checking who the transferor was in every current title deed.”