FREE STATE: 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. The joint team traced and disrupted the criminal network responsible for large-scale pre-paid electricity fraud and theft.
Their arrests were 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 Local Criminal Record Centre (LCRC).
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.
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 organized, well-equipped and 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 pre-paid customers.
The illegal practice of selling prepaid electricity results 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.
During their arrest, one of the suspects allegedly induced the arresting officers with R100 000 gratification and was additionally charged for corruption. Meanwhile other suspects were allegedly found in possession of illegal firearms and ammunition and were additionally 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.
The National Head of the Hawks, Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya said “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. Once more, 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”.
The persistent and skillful work done by the Eskom Investigators and the Hawks, are ground-breaking and highly commendable as these credit-dispensing units are concealed and protected by these criminals at great cost as they enrich these individuals with little to no effort. This will help restore confidence in Eskom, said De Ruyter as we continue to fight the scourge of crime that plagues the Institution and the country. This is economic sabotage of the highest degree and the perpetrators of such crimes must be brought to book and dealt 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 urges 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.
All the suspects are expected to appear in the Fochville Magistrate’s Court on Friday,11 June 2021.