'Land Bank ignored fraud'

'Land Bank ignored fraud'

2008-08-21 07:10

Johannesburg - The Land Bank has allegedly failed to pursue investigations into corrupt and fraudulent transactions that resulted in it suffering an estimated R160m in losses.

Key figures in the dodgy deals - among them a convicted illegal diamond dealer - have not been arrested or prosecuted.

And little has been done to recoup the bank's money, despite strong recommendations that "full scale" investigations and criminal actions be instituted.

The bank did not respond to emailed questions this week. Beeld understands that there is a moratorium on comments to the media.

Last week Beeld revealed that Land Bank bosses tried to cover up the theft of promissory notes and bills of exchange worth an estimated R28m that were stolen from the bank's treasury last year. They also allegedly failed to report the robbery to police or the Scorpions.

A spokesperson for the National Treasury - which now oversees the bank - said last week the Scorpions had been approached to investigate.

But Scorpions spokesperson Tlali Tlali said yesterday that the unit was still "waiting for a formal brief from the bank" before an investigation could be started.

Sources close to the bank have accused it of failing to take steps to curb rampant corruption and allowing investigations to go cold.

Beeld has seen Land Bank correspondence and forensic reports - some dating back several years - setting out detailed allegations of massive irregularities, corruption, fraud and questionable loans.

Processes bypassed

These include a mortgage bond of R17m granted to a company called Shelter Land Development in the Northern Cape. The loan was granted to the company despite the fact that two of its directors were suspected of previously defrauding the bank of R4.3m.

One of the directors was convicted in 1989 of illegal diamond trading and again in 1995 of being in possession of uncut diamonds. In terms of the Companies Act his convictions would disqualify him from being a director or a shareholder and any deals he entered into or contracts he signed would be void.

The R17m loan was initially rejected in November 2005 because of "these suspicions". But it was approved after Shelter Land resubmitted its loan application in March 2006 and again in April 2006. A forensic audit completed in September last year by Deloitte & Touche - which has never been publicly released - found that Land Bank processes were bypassed "and officials found themselves in a situation where the deal could not be reversed... exposing the assets of the Land Bank to risk".

Micro loans

In another case, R18m in irregular micro loans involving the Mafisa agricultural development fund were also granted by the bank's Tzaneen and Polokwane branches in 2005 and 2006. Administered by the department of agriculture and land affairs and disbursed by the Land Bank, Mafisa is a micro finance scheme for black farmers.

A preliminary investigation by the Land Bank found that "individuals within the Bank and outside the Bank colluded in manipulating the (loan) application process to benefit themselves."

A Land Bank sales and management consultant at the Tzaneen branch is also alleged to have given loans to benefit his sister despite the fact that his appointment letter specifically precluded his immediate family from profiting form his association with the bank.

During his disciplinary hearing, he was found guilty of fraud, dishonesty and falsifying information. He was fired but never prosecuted.

Investigators recommended that "a full scale investigation be conducted by the SAPS or the Directorate of Special Operations on all Mafisa loans that have been disbursed" in the Limpopo province. This allegedly never happened.

Questionable loans totalling R75m were also granted in Limpopo province between 1998 and 2000 based on allegedly falsified invoices.

Corruption scandals In another instance, R52m in loans were given to a company called Goodhouse in Upington in the Northern Cape for a paprika project. The money was allegedly not used for the purpose for which it was granted. The company also allegedly submitted duplicate invoices and inflated invoices to the bank. The company was liquidated by the bank but it apparently did not recover any of the money.

Management of the beleaguered Land Bank was taken over by the National Treasury last month.

The Land Bank has been rocked by a steady flow of corruption scandals and allegations of appalling financial mismanagement. In the 2006/'07 financial year, the bank reported a staggering loss of R100m.

- Beeld