State attorneys involved in defrauding the state must be arrested – Motsoaledi
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has asked that "cartels" in the form of state attorneys who are deliberately bungling cases and colluding with private lawyers through settlements on winnable cases be brought to book "as soon as possible".
Motsoaledi, along with Police Minister Bheki Cele, Justice Minister Michael Masutha and head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) advocate Jan Mothibi, on Tuesday briefed the media on the investigation into the Office of the State Attorney, which is accused of defrauding the state through litigation.
The Sunday Times reported that these cases – deliberately lost cases as well as some winnable cases settled outside of court – have cost the state around R80bn since 2013.
Following these allegations, Masutha said a proclamation by President Cyril Ramaphosa was authorised to allow the SIU to investigate allegations around collusion between members of the state attorney's office and other law firms.
"The proclamation was gazetted last month. The investigation will help the department lay to rest concerns that have been raised by members of the public, the legal fraternity and other government departments," said Masutha.
He added that several departments had also expressed disappointment in the manner in which some officials of the state attorney's office had handled their matters, resulting in unnecessary loss, financial or otherwise.
Doctors also in the firing line
Among the departments believed to have been hit hardest by the alleged collusion to defraud the state is the Department of Health.
Motsoaledi said he wanted to see arrests.
"We need to break these cartels, these networks, and we need to do it as soon as possible," said Motsoaledi.
He said that he knew of at least two cases where lawyers fraudulently claimed R100m. One case related to a botched circumcision, which upon investigation was found to have never been performed.
Another was a false diagnosis of cerebral palsy of a government hospital patient. He added that these cases were already opened with the Hawks.
Motsoaledi said that doctors would also be in the firing line of the investigations as they play a role in falsifying forms used to make claims.
Twelve months set aside for investigation
Claims amounting to more than R56bn were submitted to the department of health in the last financial year, according to Motsoaledi. He, however, conceded that it would be highly unlikely that all the claims were fraudulent.
The SIU's Mothibi said the investigation had not yet started but a team would be given 12 months to investigate the allegations.
He added that the investigations would be complex in nature as their scope of investigation would include the offices of the state attorney in all nine provinces.
Cele said his department was affected on two fronts as it was both victim and perpetrator because some police officials were part of the collusion to defraud the state.
"Very winnable cases are being settled," said Cele.
As a result, he has also tasked the Hawks with looking into these allegations, saying that they are a more relevant body to deal with any criminality unearthed in the investigations.
"There are definitely matters that the police will be taking forward," he added.