Tue, Jan 25, 2005 - Page 6 News List

South African politicians charged with fraud

CORRUPTION Conspiring with travel agents, 40 MPs allegedly used government travel vouchers to go on luxurious holidays or to buy free air tickets for relatives

THE GUARDIAN , PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA

Forty South African members of parliament (MPs), past and present, were to be charged with fraud yesterday in the biggest corruption scandal in the country's post-apartheid history.

The 40 MPs -- 27 current and 13 former -- will be charged with illegally using parliamentary travel vouchers worth about US$2.82 million to pay for lavish trips for themselves and relatives, according to prosecutors.

The identities of those to be charged have not been revealed but it is known that most will be from the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Representatives from two other parties will also be charged.

The ANC claims the charges prove that President Thabo Mbeki's government is tough on corruption.

"We will inform those to be charged in Cape Town and they will be told to appear in court immediately," Makhosini Nkosi, a prosecution spokesman, told the UK's Guardian newspaper.

"Travelgate" was first exposed by South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper in July last year and is the largest corruption case since the country achieved majority rule in 1994.

The newspaper revealed how members of parliament used travel vouchers, issued by the government to allow them to visit their constituencies, to go on luxurious holidays unrelated to their work.

Conspiring with unscrupulous travel agents, some MPs allegedly inflated claims for their travel allowances and banked the surplus. Others reportedly gave free air tickets to relatives.

South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) questioned 135 MPs, representing almost every party in the 400-member national assembly.

Seven employees of a travel agency have already been arrested and charged with fraud.

Two members of the DA have admitted guilt. The MP Craig Morkel repaid the equivalent of US$5,600.

A former DA MP, Charles Redcliffe, admitted last year that he used the travel vouchers to take a US$2,800 cruise with his wife and to pay for his son's US$1,880 honeymoon near the Kruger game park.

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