South African corruption probe flags COVID contracts worth $137 million

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a press conference after the G20 Compact with Africa conference at the Chancellery in Berlin
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a news conference after the G20 Compact with Africa conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany August 27, 2021. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

JOHANNESBURG, Jan 25 (Reuters) - South African investigators have flagged COVID-19 contracts worth around 2.1 billion rand ($137.12 million) for possible corruption and fraud, a report into corruption linked to the pandemic showed on Tuesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the investigation into his government's coronavirus spending in 2020 following a spate of scandals that caused public outrage.

Anger over corruption was one reason why the governing African National Congress last year recorded its worst-ever election result, with its share of the vote dropping below 50% in municipal polls. read more

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU), which led the investigation, had said previously that it had uncovered instances where personal protective equipment was overpriced, procurement rules flouted and services not delivered despite money being paid.

In a statement accompanying the SIU's final report on Tuesday, Ramaphosa's office said: "It is unacceptable that so many contracts associated with saving lives and protecting livelihoods were irregular, unlawful or fraudulent."

The 2.1 billion rand of contracts under suspicion have been enrolled in the Special Tribunal, which is mandated to recover public funds lost through corruption, fraud and illicit money flows, the more than 700-page report said.

The SIU referred 224 officials in government departments or entities for disciplinary action after finding 2,803 contracts were irregular. It identified some of those facing accusations and estimated that the value of cash and assets to be recovered was around 552 million rand.

South Africa has reported more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other country on the African continent after being hit by four infection waves.

($1 = 15.3149 rand)

Reporting by Alexander Winning, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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