Pretoria - Eight men and one woman have been arrested for allegedly operating a large-scale value added tax (VAT) fraud scam "with a potential loss to the fiscus of more than R90m", a Hawks spokesperson said on Thursday.
Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said Hawks teams arrested the nine suspects - aged between 35 and 70 - at their homes in upmarket residential areas in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal during a search and seizure operation conducted simultaneously at 12 premises at dawn on Wednesday.
He said a number of business premises were also searched during the operation.
The operation was planned with the assistance of the Hawks' cybercrime and commercial crime units and the South African Police Service tactical response units following an investigation by criminal investigators from the South African Revenue Service (SARS), Mulaudzi said in a statement.
He said the SARS investigation revealed that the syndicate, which included a bookkeeper who works in Durban and in Benoni, allegedly claimed R99m fraudulent refunds through 15 registered "but fictitious VAT vendors".
"False VAT vendor details, with fraudulent supporting documents, were used to register the vendors," he said.
He said SARS had already paid out approximately R30.6m before the scam was uncovered. Further payments have been stopped, he said.
"The proceeds of the scam were deposited in bank accounts from where the money was allegedly laundered through at least 35 so-called suppliers," he said.
An AK47 and a pistol whose serial number had been filed off as well as approximately €2 300, (R250 000) in cash, several gold bars, Krugerrands worth millions and bags full of possibly incriminating documents were seized during the operation.
"Among the documents detained were identity documents and bank cards of the people who had been registered as VAT vendors. Vehicles parked in front of the posh homes in Wierda Park, a Centurion estate where operations were conducted, included a Maserati and a Mercedes Benz Gelandewagen," he said.
The suspects were expected to appear in the commercial crime courts in Durban and Pretoria on Thursday, he added.
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