South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Neren Rau. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Neren Rau. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

WHILE measures to fight white-collar crime in South Africa have become more stringent, businesses also needed to perform thorough due diligence on those parties they interact with, speakers at a seminar on white-collar crime and corruption, held in Johannesburg, said on Tuesday.

South Africa has been increasing its efforts to fight corruption, and initiatives such as the anticorruption task team, established two years ago by the government, and Corruption Watch — which is supported by Ernst & Young, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and Business Leadership South Africa — have been a part of this endeavour.

At the seminar, which was hosted by law firm Nortons and the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci), Nortons founder and director Anthony Norton said companies needed to comply with policies about fighting corruption, and that civil society had a role to play in combating a culture of corruption in the country.

"If an organisation has tenders from public or private companies as a result of criminal activity, the profit from those ventures can be forfeited to the state," Mr Norton said.

Willie Hofmeyr, head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in the office of the national director of public prosecutions, said the unit dealt with those complicated cases that did not go through the legal system quickly.

"We don’t have to find the direct proceeds of the criminal activity. It can be executed against the property of the guilty party," he said.

Mr Hofmeyr said it was important that businesses had adequate processes in place to ensure they did not possess, or profit from, any proceeds of crime.

The unit had so far dealt with 400 suspects, half of which have appeared in court, resulting in 16 convictions. Overall, it has dealt with 2,700 cases with frozen assets, of which 2,300 cases, collectively valued at R1,5bn, were finalised.

Sacci CEO Neren Rau said the tone for proper conduct and behaviour in business had to be set "from the top".

"Out of more than 182 countries in the world, South Africa ranks 64th in terms of perceptions of corruption. South Africa and Africa seem to suffer from poor perception regarding business practice. We are not as bad as we or the world is made to believe," he said.

Transparency International ranked South Africa 64th on its 2011 index of perceptions of corruption in the public sector, behind Georgia, Latvia and Turkey, but ahead of Italy and Ghana. South Africa had a score of 4.1 on a scale where zero equalled highly corrupt, and 10 equalled very clean.

Mr Rau said it was important that businesses researched those parties they were considering as partners in joint ventures, to avoid being scammed.

"Some businesspeople rely heavily on internet presence. When we deal with businesses that were scammed or unknowingly drawn into a scam by fraudsters, they often tell us, ‘They had a website.’ A website may cost R200 to maintain monthly. It’s amazing the lack of due diligence that is found when avoiding scams," he said.