R73.5m spent on 'Operation Clever' probe into medical school admissions, UKZN reveals

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  • UKZN has spent R73.5 million on a probe into the irregular admittance of students to its medical school.
  • The amount was disclosed following a court application requesting information on the investigation.
  • Some of the funds were used to provide security and a safe house for the investigator.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has spent more than R73.5 million rand on an investigation into the irregular admission of students at its Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine.

The university released this information to comply with a court order to release certain details of the probe.

The investigation, dubbed "Operation Clever", was commissioned to investigate the alleged irregular admission of prospective students, the sale of exam papers, tampering with academic records, changing of marks and the irregular provision of student accommodation, among other accusations.

According to the Sunday Tribune, businessman and anti-corruption activist Visham Panday filed an application under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, which was turned down by UKZN, to access the details of the investigation. Among the requested information was the cost of the investigation.

"That application was opposed by UKZN for reasons fully set out in the papers before the court. It was essential in UKZN's view, supported by the SAPS, to protect the integrity of the investigation as disclosure of all information and reports requested would compromise it," the university's spokesperson, Normah Zondo, said in a statement.

Panday's 2019 application requested details of the cost of the investigation, details of security provided to the investigator and a copy of the report produced by the investigation.

Panday then approached the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban, which granted the order in January.

The court ordered that four aspects pertinent to the investigation be disclosed to Panday, said Zondo.

READ | Admissions scam uncovered at UKZN’s medical school

"UKZN will accede to the court ruling and not make any endeavour to appeal it. This is because that information will not compromise the integrity of the investigation, and because as an institution, UKZN is and has always been committed to transparency and accountability," Zondo said.

The total cost of the investigation to date is R73 560 829, Zondo said, which included security to protect the evidence in the investigation, forensic specialists, covert operations and security for the investigator.

"[Avril] Sahadew, the lead forensic investigator, was provided with a safe house and bodyguards as a result of threats to her life. An extensive audit was done, involving inter alia the SAPS, into the threats and they were found to be credible, justifying her protection," Zondo said.

The university argued in court against the release of the report as it said it would compromise Sahadew's safety and would also divulge the identities of people implicated, in turn compromising the investigation.

The four-year investigation involved 31 employees and has resulted in suspensions, disciplinary inquiries, resignations and dismissals. Student and external parties have also been implicated.

Zondo added that any release of the report would be premature.

"The university at the time uncovered a criminal syndicate working together with a small number of UKZN employees to admit students to the medical school. The internal investigation was concluded and the matter was handed over to the state criminal prosecuting authorities in 2017, including the Hawks, for further investigation and possible criminal prosecution."

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