All 15 Masters’ Offices raided
SEARCH AND SEIZURE OPERATIONS: GRAFT APPARENTLY WIDESPREAD AND ON GRAND SCALE
‘A breeding ground for predators looking to pick at the cadavers of deceased estates.’
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola announced on Monday that all 15 Masters’ Offices within the high courts were to be shut down for a day while the Specialised Investigating Unit (SIU) conducted search and seizure operations.
Lamola apologised for any inconvenience, adding: “This investigation was necessitated by several allegations of maladministration and corruption and the Mpumalanga case wherein it is alleged an official in the Master’s amassed R1.7 million through fraudulent activities, which further highlighted the need for an investigation of this nature.
“As a result, we will be shutting down all Masters’ Offices across the country to enable the SIU to gather, collate and retrieve information relevant to the investigation without any hindrance.”
One of the primary tasks of the Master’s Office is administration of deceased and insolvent estates. It also administers the Guardian’s Fund, which manages money on behalf of those deemed legally incapable, minors, unborn heirs and missing or untraceable people.
King Sibiya, head of Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation, which defends the poor against abusive creditor practices, said he has been complaining for years about corruption in and around the Masters’ Offices, which he said were breeding grounds for predators looking to pick at the cadavers of deceased estates.
“We are inundated with cases of widows whose husbands have passed on and who, in terms of the law, are the rightful executors of the deceased estate.
“But it is common practice among banks to have themselves appointed as executors instead, particularly where there is an outstanding mortgage loan owed by the deceased.
“This leads to huge conflicts of interest where banks are deciding how to share the spoils in their favour, with no proper oversight whatsoever from the Master. The banks then rush to court to foreclose on a mortgaged property without following the law.
“I am obviously extremely pleased the SIU is now looking into this and that we might finally get some justice for the thousands of people who have been financially ripped off by this kind of predatory behaviour.”
Tony Kay, a KwaZulu-Natal property developer, has campaigned for years for police to investigate the nexus between liquidators and the Masters’ Offices after a Shelly Beach property deal he was involved in went pear-shaped. It was then that the liquidators stepped in. The property developers in this case, like many others, complained the auction process was irregular.
The Pretoria Master’s Office last year launched an inquiry into a botched property deal in which Pietermaritzburg liquidator Pierre Berrange was involved. In recent years, the complaints against liquidators and Masters’ Offices have multiplied – along with the sums involved.
“We want a Master’s Office that will conduct its affairs with
We might finally get some justice for the people