Bribery claims stoke Deeds Office flames

At least one senior official at the Deeds Office in Pretoria allegedly demanded bribes to speed up property transfers.

Several independent sources have told Business Report a "going rate" of R1 000 was charged for expediting transfers and R500 for inserting a transfer duty certificate after lodgement of a deed.

One official, whose name is known to Business Report, pocketed thousands of rands a day, one source claimed.

This is the latest revelation in the saga of the fraudulent transfer of 33 properties owned by the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) to private firms and alleged fraudulent transfer of about 30 sites owned by the Tshwane Metro and North West Housing Corporation.

The Rural Development and Land Reform Department is engaged in an internal probe into activities at the office. Attempts to obtain comment from the department on whether alleged bribes form part of the investigation were unsuccessful.

Sam Lefafa, the chief registrar of deeds, has prohibited the expediting of deeds in all deeds registries, with the exception of deeds related to land reform and RDP housing project transactions. The circular issued last month stated that "all other deeds must follow the normal processes and time frames that are prescribed".

The circular instructed registrars of deeds to "strictly control" the expediting procedures and monitor expediting through the regular inspection of the register.

Pogiso Mesefo, the registrar of the Deeds Office in Pretoria, was suspended by the department earlier this month.

However, the department has refused to disclose the reason for his suspension.

Edwin Maphosa, an assistant registrar, is also believed to have been suspended, but the department has refused to confirm or deny this.

It also declined to comment on what action is being taken against Edmund Sibisi, the deputy registrar, who facilitated the fraudulent transfer of 33 properties owned by the JPC.

The Hawks, the police's elite crime-fighting unit, is investigating the irregular and fraudulent transfers by the office.

Berry Everitt, the chief executive of the Chas Everitt International property group, said the skulduggery in the Deeds Office raised the possibility of local property owners having to take out title deed insurance, as was done in the US and other countries.

"At the very least, this scandal has proved that the Deeds Office security procedures can be compromised and South African property owners may not in future be able to rely entirely on these for their security of tenure," he said.

Everitt said this was a "very scary prospect", adding that this type of cover was a requirement in the US for almost anyone with a mortgage.

He said the property owner or buyer paid a once-off premium to a "title company" that guaranteed undisputed ownership of the property at the time of purchase and would alert owners to any attempt to illegally transfer it to anyone else.

Business Report