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Transport: Cape traffic fine scam probe
4 Jun 2010 ... The City of Cape Town and the Hawks are investigating a traffic fine scam involving a top official and a civilian.

The City of Cape Town and the elite police unit, the Hawks, are investigating a traffic fine scam involving a top official and a civilian where serial traffic offenders were allegedly fleeced of cash.

The investigation centres on how the civilian was allowed into the city's mobile bus unit, which processes fines during roadblocks.

He allegedly offered arrested motorists, who owed the city thousands in unpaid traffic fines, bank guaranteed cheques in exchange for their cash, and charged up to R1 500 for "handling fees".

The South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) claims that a senior traffic official allowed the civilian to operate at the roadblocks. The union now wants the city to charge the senior officer who allegedly allowed this.

An ongoing internal city investigation into the traffic official - whose identity is known to the Cape Argus - has identified about 10 people who fell victim to the scam.

But Samwu says the number of victims could be much greater.

The roadblocks in question were part of "Operation Reclaim", which was launched to nab drivers with outstanding warrants for unpaid fines. In one week in October, ö motorists were caught for unpaid traffic fines totalling more than R500 000. Over 700 warrants of arrests for offending motorists were issued in one week last March, totalling more than R600 000 in outstanding fines.

A former consultant in the clothing industry, who is now the CEO for a major manufacturing group, was arrested at a roadblock on the M5 in February last year, along with eight other motorists.

The businessman, who lives in Rondebosch but did not want to be named, owed the city R6 000 in unpaid fines and says he was told he could pay with a bank guaranteed cheque. The only other way he could pay was by cash, and he was told he had to cough up R7 500 or spend the weekend in jail.

He said he was not informed of the option of paying his outstanding fines at the police station closest to the roadblock.

His two adult children arrived at the roadblock with the money and his son asked for a list of the fines and warrants, and a receipt.

But the businessman says his son's request was denied.

He said there was a man in plain-clothes who wrote out a bank guaranteed cheque and said the receipt would be issued at a later stage.

The businessman said the man wrote out a R6 000 cheque in favour of the city, with R1 500 earmarked for "handling fees".

The businessman was then released but has never received his receipt.

In another incident, a driver for a catering company was told he owed the city R4 000 but would have to pay R4 800. He called his employer who brought R4 800 in cash.

The driver said he was told that R4 000 was for the city and the R800 was for "handling fees".

Later that day the catering company's boss spoke to a traffic officer who raised the alarm with traffic chiefs.

Samwu's Mikel Khumalo claimed that a senior traffic officer was sent to a roadblock to investigate the claims.

He said the civilian, who had allegedly written out the cheques, fled as the senior officer arrived.

Metro police officers took photographs of him in the bus as well as of his car.

Khumalo told the Cape Argus that Samwu had requested an investigation but nothing had come of it.

He said one of their members, Ashraf Cottle, a senior traffic officer who had blown the whistle on the alleged scam and had gathered evidence from a number of people, faces eight charges for misconduct.

Khumalo says Samwu's investigation revealed that the civilian had been operating at roadblocks from December 2008 to February 2009.

Samwu approached the Hawks with their evidence and a preliminary investigation is now under way.

The city's executive director for Safety and Security, Richard Bosman, was scheduled to meet Hawks investigators this morning.

But Bosman said yesterday that the meeting may now only take place next week.

He said the city's own investigation was continuing and would be concluded by next Friday.

Bosman confirmed that the investigation was being conducted in his own directorate under the guidance of the city's forensic audit unit.

He said the investigation had traced about 10 cheques allegedly written by the civilian at the roadblock. He said there was no evidence that any city official had received money from the suspect.

What was being investigated, he explained, was how the civilian was allowed at the roadblocks.

Bosman said Samwu had brought the allegations to his attention at the end of April and he had launched an investigation.

Story first publiched by:  4 June 2010

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