A “ghost” Eskom electricity vendor offered a policeman a R100 000 bribe and was charged with corruption when the Hawks swooped on a major syndicate at the crack of dawn on Wednesday.
Hawks spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Philani Nkwalase said a multidisciplinary investigative team had swooped on seven suspects aged between 28 and 67 at various premises in Gauteng.
“The joint team traced and disrupted the criminal network responsible for large-scale pre-paid electricity fraud and theft,” Nkwalase said.
He said said the arrests had been effected during the first phase of the project driven investigation carried out by the Free State Hawks Serious Commercial Crime Investigation team in concert with Eskom investigators, Hawks Digital Forensic Investigation (DFI), Tactical Response Team (TRT), Public Order Policing (POP) as well as the Local Criminal Record Centre (LCRC).
The arrests follow a long investigation into the illicit sale of electricity by illegal vendors, who have illegal electricity vending machines in their possession. The investigation started in May 2020 in Bloemfontein.
“The syndicates reportedly operate in groups nationally and generate income of approximately R150 000 to R250 000 per day from illicit sales of electricity. They are highly organised, well-equipped, closely networked and are difficult to track due to the fact that these machines do not transact on a network or at a single place, but are constantly roving,” Nkwalase said.
“The suspects were allegedly responsible for selling illegal electricity to pre-paid customers.”
He said the illegal practice of selling prepaid electricity resulted in multi-million rand losses to Eskom per annum.
“This loss of revenue and the increase in non-technical losses contributes significantly to the electricity woes of the country. These arrests come at a time when the country has been plunged into load shedding due to the bleak power situation,” he said.
Nkwalase added that during the arrest, one of the suspects had allegedly attempted to entice an arresting officer with a R100 000 bribe and was slapped with a corruption charge.
Meanwhile, other suspects were allegedly found in possession of illegal firearms and ammunition and were charged accordingly.
“Several cell phones, laptops, sim cards, total cash amount of R714 800, seven luxury vehicles, electricity pre-paid vouchers and transaction records were seized for further investigation,” he added.
National Hawks head, Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya called on Eskom consumers not to buy electricity illegally.
“The work of the investigating team is commendable. This work is continuing and the team shall not rest until all the members of this organised criminal group are accounted for,” he said.
“I call upon the community not to buy electricity from illegitimate vendors. May the community be reminded that the Hawks do not accept gratification to negatively influence the cases that they are handling. Those who try to corrupt the members will be arrested and the offered gift forfeited to the state,” he said.
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter commended the investigators for their “ground-breaking” work.
“These credit-dispensing units are concealed and protected by these criminals at great cost as they enrich themselves with little to no effort. This will help restore confidence in Eskom as we continue to fight the scourge of crime that plagues the institution,” de Ruyter said.
“This is economic sabotage of the highest degree and the perpetrators of such crimes must be brought to book and dealt with to the full might of the law. We shall pursue the investigations together with the Hawks to ensure that the entire operations of the syndicate are disrupted.”
Eskom has urged the public to stop buying illegal pre-paid electricity from ghost vendors and to report information regarding electricity theft and fraud, to the Eskom Crime Line number: 0800 11 27 22.
The suspects are expected to appear in the Fochville Magistrate’s Court on Friday 11 June 2021.