Hawks nab 7 men for illicit electricity sales

The ‘ghost vending’ syndicates generate income of between R150,000 and R250,000 a day from the illicit sale of electricity, say police

Seven suspects between the age of 28 and 67 were arrested at the crack of dawn by a multidisciplinary team that swooped in on various premises in Gauteng.
Seven suspects between the age of 28 and 67 were arrested at the crack of dawn by a multidisciplinary team that swooped in on various premises in Gauteng.
Image: Supplied: HAWKS

Seven men between the ages of 28 and 67 were arrested at various locations across Gauteng on Wednesday.

They are accused of large-scale prepaid electricity fraud and theft. They are expected to appear in the Fochville magistrate’s court on Friday. 

Hawks spokesperson Col Philani Nkwalase said one of the suspects allegedly enticed the arresting officers with a R100,000 bribe during their arrest, and was also charged with corruption.

Meanwhile, Nkwalase said the other suspects were allegedly found in possession of illegal firearms as well as ammunition, and will face additional charges related to this.

Nkwalase said their arrests followed an investigation that started last year.

“This project-driven investigation ensued in May 2020 in Bloemfontein, Free State, probing the illicit sale of electricity facilitated by illegal vendors who have in their possession illegal electricity vending machines. ‘Ghost vending’ involves the illegal sales and purchases of electricity,” said Nkwalase.

Nkwalase said the syndicates reportedly operate in groups across the country and generate income of about R150,000 to R250,000 a 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. The suspects were allegedly responsible for selling illegal electricity to prepaid customers. 

“The illegal practice of selling prepaid electricity results in multimillion-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,” said Nkwalase.  

Nkwalase said several cellphones, laptops, sim cards, a cash amount of R714,800, seven luxury vehicles, electricity prepaid vouchers and transaction records were seized for further investigation.

During the arrest, one of the suspects allegedly enticed the arresting officers with R100,000 bribe and was additionally charged with corruption.
During the arrest, one of the suspects allegedly enticed the arresting officers with R100,000 bribe and was additionally charged with corruption.
Image: Supplied:HAWKS

The National Head of the Hawks, Lt-Gen Godfrey Lebeya said the work of the investigating team was commendable. 

“This work is continuing and the team will not rest until all the members of this organised criminal group are accounted for. Once more, I call upon the community not to buy electricity from illegitimate vendors,” said Lebeya.

“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.” 

Eskom CEO André de Ruyter said this will help restore confidence in Eskom as the power utility continues to fight the scourge of crime that plagues the Institution and the country.

“The persistent and skilful work done by the Eskom investigators and the Hawks are groundbreaking and highly commendable as these credit-dispensing units are concealed and protected by criminals at great cost as they enrich themselves with little to no effort,” said De Ruyter.

“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 prepaid electricity from ghost vendors and to report information regarding electricity theft and fraud to the Eskom Crime Line number: 080-011-2722.

TimesLIVE


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