SA authorities arrest four in asbestos audit probe

South African authorities arrested four suspects in an investigation into a R255 million ($15-million) asbestos audit project awarded by a provincial housing department.

Three more people are expected to be detained by the end of the day, Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, told reporters Wednesday in Johannesburg. The seven, whose identities are being withheld until they appear in court on Friday, are “senior government officials” and business people, he said.

The arrests add credence to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s pledge to clamp down on state graft that became endemic during his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s administration. The government estimates more than R500 billion ($30 billion) was stolen from its coffers during Zuma’s nine-year tenure, but no one has been successfully prosecuted so far.

Ramaphosa in July revised regulations to allow evidence presented at an ongoing inquiry into state corruption, led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, to be used by law-enforcement agencies. That amendment helped accelerate investigations being carried out by the National Prosecuting Authority, the head of its investigating directorate, Hermione Cronje, said last month.

Those detained are key figures in a scheme in which the Free State province’s Department of Human Settlements paid for an unlawful asbestos-audit project, the Johannesburg-based Daily Maverick news website reported. Of the the R230 million the department ended up paying, only R21.3 million went toward actually covering the cost of the contract, it said.

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