Home Affairs Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi has revealed how his department caught a kingpin and arrested several people including Pakistanis involved in a scam to unlawfully acquire South African passports.

On Thursday night home affairs officials and law enforcement agency members swooped on the syndicate’s illegal operation in Krugersdorp, where 13 foreign nationals and 13 South Africans were arrested.

Recounting events that led to the arrests, Dr. Motsoaledi said law enforcement officers took down the kingpin of a syndicate that had been fraudulently issuing South African passports, and other documents reserved exclusively for citizens to other nationals.

“They were doing what we refer to as photo swap or using details of a South African to apply for a passport and then interfering with the system to insert a picture of a foreign national instead of the South African,” explained Dr. Motsoaledi.

“Sadly, this kingpin was working with some corrupt officials of Home Affairs in a network that spanned Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Mpumalanga.”

The minister said the kingpin was arrested together with two home affairs officials “who are his trusted lieutenants”.

He said the kingpin was identified after an alert immigration officer picked up anomalies with two passports of people who wanted to leave the country via the Cape Town International Airport.

“That official handed over the two people and their passports to the police,” said Dr. Motsoaledi.

He said the police and the home affairs department’s counter-corruption Branch investigations led them to this kingpin who has businesses in Gauteng.

Investigators observed the syndicate’s operations for some time before they swooped on them on Thursday.

Using the Biometric Access Control Management system, the investigators were able to trace more than 100 suspicious passports.

Investigations showed that the kingpin allegedly recruited foreign nationals, mostly Pakistanis, who wanted to acquire South African passports.

The minister said the Kingpin’s “runners” then recruited gullible South Africans who had never acquired passports before.

“It is alleged that South Africans were recruited for as little as R500 plus they were promised jobs overseas which, of course, never materialised,” said Dr. Motsoaledi.

The lieutenants are said to have pocketed between R5 000 and R10 000 per passport while the kingpin allegedly charged anything from R40 000 a passport to any foreign national who wanted to acquire passports they don’t qualify for.

“Once the number of foreign nationals and South Africans match, he would then activate his lieutenants who would secure an office from where they would conduct their treasonous act,” explained the minister.

“It is alleged that the kingpin bought cars for his lieutenants, presumably to enable them to be at his disposal, day and night. In other words, the lieutenants were always available to the kingpin whenever he needed them.”

Dr. Motsoaledi said law enforcement officers will soon round up all the remaining members of the syndicate.

“Tonight, I stand in front of you extremely proud of the vigilant and dedicated employees of Home Affairs and our partner law enforcement agencies,” said Dr. Motsoaledi after the raid.

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