COVID-19 Fund: South African investigators probe $900m fraud

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PHOTO USED TO ILLUSTRATE STORY: A healthcare worker speaks with a woman queuing for a PCR Covid-19 test at the Lancet laboratory in Johannesburg on November 30, 2021. PHOTO:EMMANUEL CROSET / AFP

South African investigators have referred for prosecution and disciplinary action 940 cases of malfeasance and fraud involving more than $900 million of Covid funds, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Tuesday.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU), an independent law enforcement agency with similar powers to the FBI, probed 5,467 contracts awarded for Covid-19 services and supplies.

More than half of the contracts were found to be irregular.

With more than 3.5 million diagnosed infections and over 94,000 fatalities, South Africa’s pandemic toll is the highest on the continent.

“It is unacceptable that so many contracts associated with saving lives and protecting livelihoods were irregular, unlawful or fraudulent,” Ramaphosa said in a statement.

The investigators have referred 386 of the cases to the National Prosecuting Authority.

Another 224 cases were sent for disciplinary action against government officials, while 330 will be handed in for “administrative action”, including blacklisting from public contracts.

“This investigation targeted individuals and institutions who believed they could exploit a moment of national vulnerability to enrich themselves and those with whom they colluded to abuse public resources,” said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa came to power in 2018 on the promise to curb corruption. He said the report marked an “important step in our fight against corruption in the public and private sectors, and against maladministration”.

He was dealt a blow when a close associate, ex-health minister Zweli Mkhize, was implicated in a Covid communications fund scandal last year.

The SIU has already started recovering some of the funds. (AFP)

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