Syndicate selling govt land with forged signatures - KZN Public Works

Dept takes legal steps against those involved, 'freezes' 10 sites preventing any sale or development

Syndicate selling govt land with forged signatures - KZN Public Works

13 July 2017

Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Public Works says it has unearthed a syndicate which, it says, has been selling government land using forged signatures and rates clearance certificates.

On Wednesday, the department took legal steps against those it claims are involved - securing interim orders effectively "freezing" the 10 sites and preventing any on-sale or development. This, while it arranges for them to be transferred back into government stock.

One of the orders was granted against JSE-listed investment company Curro Holdings, which focuses on education and owns many private schools in South Africa. The company recently bought three of the now disputed sites in Pinetown, paying almost R25m for them.

Mirriam Linda, the department’s deputy director general for immovable assets, says in her affidavit - which came before Durban High Court Judge Nompumulelo Radebe - that while Curro "may well have been an innocent purchaser and some sympathy is not misplaced", it should have ensured that all the statutory provisions had been met, either itself or through a conveyancer.

In the Curro matter, Linda says the three properties were all transferred on the same day from the provincial government to Durban North entrepreneur Rebecca Ann Prosser, and then to Nulane Investments 399 Pty Ltd, and then on to Curro in March 2017.

'I was alarmed'

Records show that Prosser paid R2.5m for them, Nulane R11.5m, and Curro R24.8m. The tip-off that something was up, in this and the other cases, came from the eThekwini Municipality which reported that fraudulent rates clearance certificates had been used in the transactions.

"I was alarmed," said Linda. "When I did a WinDeed search, I indeed found that the properties had been transferred. Apparently, a power of attorney had purportedly been signed by a former employee who had left in July 2012. Her signature had been deliberately forged."

Another matter involves almost identical circumstances. This involves Nulane and Prosser and land, also in Pinetown, which was transferred from the government to Prosser and then to Nulane in March this year.

The same "forged signature" was used. Similar allegations are made in a case against Simon Draycott, who shares the same residential address as Prosser and who "bought" a 2.6ha site in La Lucia for R2m on March 6.

In the final matter, it is alleged that Clermont-based company Blue Destiny Property Investment Pty Ltd acquired four plots of land in Pinetown this year.

The power of attorney was signed by another former government employee, alleged to be the head of the Department of Human Settlements. 'Investigating a syndicate' Linda said he had never held the position and had left government service in April 2016 - four months before the power of attorney was allegedly executed. Linda said there was no question over the true ownership of the properties, "whether people are innocent or not".

She said there was a legal requirement that, should the department wish to dispose of any land, it had to advertise its intentions in the Government Gazette and in the media, and advise all spheres of government to ensure that they did not need it.

In these matters, this had not been done. She said she was now concerned that the buyers might begin to develop the properties, sell them again, or register mortgage bonds for them.

"The police were now investigating a syndicate which is behind the transfers, which points to criminal conduct on the part of persons who may or may not be conveyancers." The orders granted on Wednesday were all taken by consent, except for the one against Blue Destiny, which had not yet been officially served with the applications. Prosser and Draycott are believed to be overseas. The matters will be back in court in August.