Fake passport syndicate worms its way deep into Home Affairs

An explosive report prepared by the Department of Home Affairs’ top brass has lifted the lid on the extent to which the recently uncovered fake passport syndicate has penetrated the department, which is a “serious” security breach for the republic.

On Thursday, members of the Home Affairs Counter Corruption Branch and Hawks arrested a Pakistani man at the Cape Town International Airport for suspected fraudulent activities that include the production of bogus passports.

Majid Hussain, who was trying to flee South Africa, appeared in the Bellville Magistrate’s Court this week on charges of fraud, corruption, contravention of the Immigration Act, and the possession of suspected fraudulent documents.

Last week, another Pakistani man, the kingpin of the syndicate, along with his wife and 29 others, was arrested after a raid at the department’s Krugersdorp offices.

It has now emerged that the criminal network – which includes 13 foreigners and 13 South Africans – spanned Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and Mpumalanga.

A confidential report we have seen shows that the syndicate has been working with security guards and corrupt department officials to gain access to offices throughout the country and produce fraudulent documents outside working hours, at times in the wee hours of the morning.

The report, prepared for Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, shows that at the Maponya Mall in Soweto, three officials – who include an office manager – involved in the scam helped more than 50 foreigners obtain fake passports. At the Germiston office, two officials have helped 15 foreigners get fraudulent passports.

In KwaZulu-Natal, two officials have assisted five foreigners at the Ndwedwe office; at the Durban medium office in Commercial Road, seven foreigners were assisted by two officials to get fake documents; and an official at the Tongaat office was identified as helping a foreigner get a bogus passport.

The report further says that seven foreigners and a South African were transported from Gauteng to the Mpumalanga White River office to obtain counterfeit passports in a transaction that happened at 4 am.

Other places where the syndicate operates include the Vereeniging large office, where an official has already assisted seven foreigners to get passports through the photo swapping scam, while in the Western Cape’s Nyanga and Atlantis offices, officials have been fingered for working with the criminals to issue fake passports to seven foreigners.

Sunday World understands more arrests are expected this week in connection with the syndicate that has been behind the so-called “photo swap”, which operated nationally using vulnerable young people who sold their identities to foreigners, effectively removing the locals from the population register.

In the scam, South Africans are ferried at night to a Home Affairs office. Officials then help the kingpin access the details of the South African through his fingerprints. The South African’s photo is then replaced with a picture of a foreign national. The photo-swapping scandal is not only compromising the security of the country but has the potential to become an issue for South Africans wishing to travel abroad.

“If the problem of photo swapping in the passport application process is not addressed urgently, it will result in further visa restrictions to the country and the security of the country [being] compromised,” the report states.

In September last year, two foreigners were arrested at the Cape Town International Airport for being in possession of fake passports. It later transpired they were working in cahoots with Home Affairs officials and the matter was reported to the police.

“Our efforts to close loopholes in the passport processes, however, also resulted in criminals changing their modus operandi to acquire South African enabling documents. Four Cameroonians recently acquired South African passports with the assistance of South Africans who displayed similar looks and features  [so-called lookalikes],” the report notes.

A high-ranking Home Affairs official said they had found that most of the counterfeit passports were sold to Pakistanis. “We want to get rid of the security companies that were complicit. This is a serious security breach,” he said.

Last week, the ANC national executive committee (NEC) supported measures by Motsoaledi to ensure effective border management, strengthen Home Affairs systems to prevent illegal activities, and address equitable access to employment for SA citizens.

“It [the NEC] urges citizens who have legitimate concerns regarding the presence of illegal and undocumented immigrants to work with the relevant authorities to ensure that our laws are implemented.

“The ANC calls upon law enforcement and other agencies to act against both illegal and undocumented immigrants, unscrupulous employers, and corrupt officials who fail to enforce our laws.”

The integrity of the South African passport has come under the spotlight and resulted in the UK introducing a strict passport regime for South Africans seeking entry into the UK.

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