UKZN spends R73m on 'cash for places' investigation

UKZN says it has spent R73m on Operation Clever, set up to investigate a cash for placement scam.
UKZN says it has spent R73m on Operation Clever, set up to investigate a cash for placement scam.
Image: Sunday Times

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) says it has spent more than R73m on Operation Clever — a four-year investigation into allegations of “places for sale” at its medical school and other corrupt activities.

In a statement released on Monday, executive head of corporate relations Normah Zondo said 31 employees were implicated and had been suspended, with students and external parties also implicated. Disciplinary proceedings had been instituted and there had been dismissals and resignations and, where necessary, outcomes reported to the police.

The statement comes in the wake of a partially successful court application launched by self-styled corruption buster and convicted fraudster Visham Panday in terms of access to information legislation in which he sought a copy of the final investigation report and other details relating to the probe.

Last month Durban high court judge Mahendra Chetty ruled that while Panday had no direct involvement in the affairs of the university, the country’s laws allowed even “busy bodies” to vindicate their rights against public bodies through access to information legislation.

In the interests of transparency, he ruled that the university must disclose the costs of the operation to date and the costs of providing a safe house and security for one of the lead investigators.

Zondo said the forensic investigation’s terms of reference were to probe fraudulent and/or irregular admissions of students, the sale of exam papers, the tampering with academic records, the provision of degree-complete certificates for students who had not completed their degrees, changing of marks on the system, and irregular allocation of student accommodation.

Criminal charges against some people were laid as far back as 2017 and were still under investigation by a state-appointed team of detectives and prosecutors.

“Criminal prosecutions are not within the powers of UKZN. While UKZN is in fact extremely keen to expose those involved in corruption, and it has done so to the extent that it can internally, it must await the outcome and decisions of the Saps and prosecuting authorities regarding any criminal prosecutions,” Zondo said.

With regards to Panday’s court application, Zondo said it had opposed the relief he sought “to protect the integrity of the investigation”. While it had considered appealing the ruling, it believed that the release of the specific information about the costs would not compromise the investigation.

Zondo said the total cost of the investigation to date was R73,560,829, which comprised security services to preserve and protect evidence pertinent to the investigation, security services to protect the investigator, including accommodation at a safe house, necessary “covert operations” and forensic specialists.

“Mrs Avril Sahadew, the lead forensic investigator, was provided with a safe house and bodyguards as a result of threats to her life. An extensive audit was done, involving inter alia the Saps, into the threats and they were found to be credible, [thus] justifying her protection.

“The university argued in court against the release of the report as it would compromise and prejudice Mrs Sahadew’s safety and would also divulge the identities of people implicated in the investigation as well as any involvement of possible syndicates, thereby compromising the investigation.”

Zondo said the university was legally and ethically obliged to conduct the investigation to protect the integrity of its academic excellence, its reputation and to be in compliance with the code of good governance.

Meanwhile, a weekend newspaper reported that Sahadew has appeared in court on charges of defeating the ends of justice, crimen injuria and kidnapping relating to an incident where she allegedly victimised a staff member and locked him in her office for probing a case linked to her.

Zondo said the university was not party to the criminal proceedings and would not comment further but would wait for a pronouncement from the court.

Sahadew had not been suspended because “she was innocent until proven guilty”. She is understood not to have appeared in court due to ill health.

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