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State pleads ignorance over probe into multimillion-rand land claim ‘scam’

2016-11-01 18:26

Criminal charges have been laid relating to one of the biggest land claim scams in the country – potentially costing the government millions – but the rural development and land reform department says it knows nothing about it.

Forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan opened a criminal case on October 14 regarding the inflation of land prices in the Badplaas area.

O’Sullivan wants businessman Pieter Visagie and officials from the Mpumalanga Commission on Restitution of Land Rights to be brought to book for their role in the case, which saw land prices increasing by between 70% and 2300% in 2003.

Visagie allegedly approached individual land owners in the area to sell him their farms. He allegedly did not have the money to purchase the farms but sold them on to the commission.

Visagie also allegedly formed the Ndwandwa Community Trust. Sullivan said this was to be used as a vehicle to defraud the government. The trust, according to Sullivan, had fictitious members.

The Ndwandwa Trust benefited 105 farms worth R51 million.

Viljoen did not respond to repeated phone calls and text messages from City Press.

“The department is not aware of the criminal charges laid regarding this claim and therefore we cannot comment,” Mpumalanga rural development and land reform spokesperson, Zithini Dlamini.

This is the second case to be opened relating to the Badplaas land claim.

The Mpumalanga Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) laid a fraud charge with the Hawks Unit against Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza last November.

When Mabuza was agriculture MEC, he allegedly facilitated a R3.3 million payment to Visagie after he complained that he was underpaid for land transactions. Mabuza allegedly appointed a task team to investigate Visagie’s complaint. The team recommended that Visagie should be paid.

The Hawks are investigating this matter, and approached the Mpumalanga agriculture department to give a statement, according to a progress report given to the EFF on October 28.

O’Sullivan’s complaint is broader and intends to net officials from the commission.

He alleges in his affidavit that the commissions overpaid R10 million on a sample of six farms that he has investigated. The government paid R25.9 million for these farms.

O’Sullivan said that his legal standing for bringing this case was that he was a “substantial taxpayer”.

Dlamini also said that there was no action the department could take regarding the inflated prices because they were determined by valuers.

The commission hired a professional valuer, Derrick Griffith, to revise the prices of the Ndwandwa land after Badplaas conservationist, Fred Daniels, blew the whistle on the inflation of land prices.

Griffith found that the valuers “grossly overstated” market values of the farms.

Griffith found that average price of land he valued did not exceed R1600 a hectare, while the commission’s two valuers put prices at R5792 and R7292 a hectare.

“These valuations should be rejected as incorrect and misleading,” Griffith recommended.

Dlamini said: “No, It was never established that any official was involved in the scam of inflating prices.

The officials used the valuation report compiled by professional valuers and therefore they could not be held personally liable for prices determined by the valuers. The difference in opinions from one valuer to the other can best be dealt with by the South African Council for the Property Valuers who regulates how they function and disputes can also be adjudicated by the Valuer-General.”

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November 18 2018