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R60,000 for each person smuggled into SA: Immigration officer bust at Joburg airport

'Even smuggled into SA in a wheelie bin', more arrests to come

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi. File photo.
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

An immigration officer at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport accused of running a syndicate enabling Bangladeshi nationals without legal documents to enter SA was arrested on Wednesday during a sting operation conducted by the department of home affairs.

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi, speaking to eNCA, said the suspect worked for a kingpin, who is a Bangladeshi. The person worked with a runner in Bangladesh who recruits people who don’t have the required documents to come to SA.

“They travel on the passports of their country, they have no visas meaning they are not allowed into SA but they get recruited anyway and they pay R110,000 each to the kingpin.

“Then the kingpin provides them with the map of the airport and they come into SA using that map and they say we are in transit, we are not coming into SA. Many of them said they are going to Eswatini,” he said.

“They wait and sit at the transit lounge. When the airport is not busy somebody gives them a signal and shows them the counter where they must go, where these corrupt officials are. And they enter readily into SA because that official is not going to check anything,” he said.

He said they were appalled to also discover that some of the cleaners were also assisting by wheeling people out inside rubbish bins.

“You find out that there is a Bangladeshi who is being wheeled out of the airport.

“When you actually think people are going through their everyday work of cleaning, they are actually wheeling somebody illegally into the country,” he said.

Motsoaledi said they began their observation after the scheme was picked up by customs before Covid-19.

When you go out of the airport you go through immigration and your passport is stamped. Then you are allowed in. From there you go to customs where they may or may not decide to check your luggage. It was during the check of this luggage that Sars discovered people who are supposed to be coming into the country from Bangladesh but they went through immigration without any document, without even a stamp. They were sent back to the head of home affairs at OR Tambo — and he discovered that indeed something is wrong.

“From there we have been observing and we formed a joint team with Sars and other law enforcement agencies. We worked with them to observe this syndicate,” he said.

Motsoaledi said more arrests are expected.

“We can’t claim there is only one but that’s the one that we have observed over this period,” he said.

“While we are taking heart [by having made the arrest] we are worried that even cleaners, drivers — the ground staff — are involved in this scheme.

“The Bangladeshi kingpin pays R60,000 to this official who shares it with the other people who are working with him, so we believe there is a whole lot of people who are going to be arrested.”

He said they are also investigating if people working for airline companies might have aided the syndicate.

TimesLIVE


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