A 53-year-old Indian-origin woman in South Africa has been killed allegedly for providing critical information about a multi-million-Dollar PPE fraud during COVID-19 lockdown in the country last year, prompting the authorities to launch a high-level investigation into the incident. Babita Deokaran, who was a senior official at the Gauteng provincial Department of Health, was shot multiple times through her car door when she returned home in a Johannesburg suburb after dropping her child at school on Tuesday. She was rushed to hospital but succumbed to her injuries.
A high-level investigation has been launched into the killing of Deokaran, who had provided critical information regarding a more than 330 million rand (over USD 20 million) fraud into the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa last year. Serious Crime Investigation Unit (SIU) spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said that Deokaran had been one of the witnesses in the investigation by the unit into corruption in the health department, which was already nearing an end.
Kganyago said Deokaran had never indicated that she felt threatened by her participation in the process. Gauteng Premier David Makhura said that a dedicated provincial police task team has been established to hunt down the perpetrators.
The SIU in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is also investigating claims by informed sources that Deokaran’s murder is linked to the information she had provided on the fraud allegations. Makhura said that Deokaran had been moved from her position as chief director of financial accounting to Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in August 2020 in the wake of the PPE fraud claims, which had resulted in the provincial minister of Health being among those dismissed last year.
Deokaran was a distinguished and exemplary public servant who served the people of Gauteng and the Department of Health with exceptional professionalism, unswerving dedication and high ethical standards, the premier said. Makhura confirmed that Deokaran had unearthed corruption and stopped payments for a number of irregular contracts in the department.
She took to heart the call to bring perpetrators of corruption and looting of public resources to book. As a result of her conscientious and courageous leadership, Ms Deokaran provided crucial evidence to the disciplinary processes conducted by the Office of the Premier and the SIU investigations. The result of her good deeds led to successful dismissals within the department and saw the institution of civil claims to recover public funds from businesses and government officials responsible for malfeasance and corruption, Makhura said in a statement.
On behalf of the provincial government, I wish to extend my heartfelt condolences to the Deokaran family and her colleagues in the Gauteng Department of Health. The perpetrators of this brutal murder of an outstanding public servant must know that we have put in place all the necessary resources to find them and bring them to justice. In honour of Babita Deokaran, we will do everything in our power to ensure that the perpetrators of corrupt tender processes and the callous killing of officials face the full might of the law. We will not be cowed down by criminal gangs who want to loot state resources. We are taking steps to protect officials who have become targets of threats, intimidation and wanton murder, Makhura added.
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