A South African passport syndicate, which made and sold the country’s travel documents at nearly US$3,000 a copy, was busted in Johannesburg on Thursday night, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has announced.
Speaking during a take-down operation in the city’s Krugersdorp Township, the minister said a kingpin and two other officials from his ministry were arrested on the spot – including 13 foreign nationals and 13 South Africans who were also involved in the passport-making scheme.
What the syndicate was doing “is referred to as photo swapping – or using the 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 a South African,” Motsoaledi said.
The modus operandi was that the unnamed kingpin recruited the foreign nationals, mostly Pakistanis, who wanted to acquire South African passports, he explained.
He added that once the kingpin had a certain number, he then tasked his runner to recruit South Africans who had never acquired passports before.
Once the number of foreign nationals and South Africans matched, the kingpin then prompted his lieutenants who secured an office from where they conducted their illicit business, he said.
“It is alleged that the kingpin bought cars for his lieutenants, presumably to enable them to be at his disposal at any time,” Motsoaledi said.
The South Africans were given between US$333 and US$667 per passport and a promise of overseas jobs – while the kingpin sold the passports at US$2,700 each, the minister said.
He said he was proud of the vigilant and dedicated employees of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and partner law enforcement agencies in making the bust.