Fraudsters are enjoying brisk business producing fake exemption letters which they design for those who want to move around in violation of national lockdown rules, The Herald has established.
Cartels using letterheads of reputable institutions to produce counterfeit letters are charging between US$5 and US$10 for a document, taking advantage of the growing pressure at checkpoints as more and more people are legitimately exempted.
Due to the health threat posed by Covid-19, Governments instituted a raft of measures to curb the scourge, which among others, include restriction of movement.
Zimbabwe, like other affected countries, introduced this measure to prevent the spread of the virus.
Under lockdown, only exempted people and organisations who offer essential services are allowed to travel from one place to another.
Such holders of exemption letters must produce the documents upon demand by law enforcement agents at checkpoints or at any public places.
At some checkpoints, people with dubious letters are turned away, with some police officers going as far as tearing up these letters. Generally speaking, an exemption letter from an employer coupled with a company ID card in support is considered good evidence of a genuine letter but careful police officers look for other clues that suggest a letter is fake or genuine.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said letters are scrutinised at checkpoints for authenticity.
“Letters produced by people at checkpoints are scrutinised for authenticity and checked against the particulars of the individual concerned.
“Some members of the public have been turned back where law enforcement agents are not satisfied with the authenticity of the exemption letters produced. The position of the police on fake letters is that offenders risk being arrested for violating the law,” he said.
However, a private investigator and security expert, Mr Brian Kashangura, said the police needed capacitation to be able to verify the authenticity of exemption letters.
“I suggest that the police should be capacitated. There is need to ensure that at every checkpoint, there is at least a cell phone with airtime that can be used by officers to make calls to verify with relevant employers when they are in doubt.
In its quest to unearth the rot, The Herald went undercover and managed to obtain a fake exemption letter produced in one of Harare’s high density suburbs for US$5. The person who is into the business of manufacturing these letters, uses proxies to source clients.
The Herald managed to obtain the exemption letter through the man’s agent in Glen View.
Appearing on the fake letter, are the full names and national Identity particulars of the undercover reporter and his fake job title.
The letter portrays the journalist as a laboratory assistant in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, stationed at Harare Central Hospital in Southerton.
It has specific and clear instructions to allow the holder of the letter to pass through police checkpoints so that he can perform his duties during lockdown.
Any queries regarding the exemption letter, the document reads, should be directed to a Mr B Gonga, whose signature appears on the document in his capacity as “human resources assistant”.
After obtaining the letter, the journalist used it to pass through several checkpoints in Harare.
Although he is permitted to travel on the basis of a Press card issued to all newsmen, the journalist had to use the fake letter to prove the system could find it difficult to distinguish between fake and genuine exemption letters.
The document had a Harare Central Hospital date stamp but further investigations revealed that genuine letters use the new hospital’s name, “Sally Mugabe Central Hospital”.
However, the date stamps used on the documents, look alike.
Another fake exemption letter purported to have originated from Alliance Health was picked up from the streets by a journalist.
A visit to the health institution confirmed that the letter was indeed fake.
The letter, purportedly signed by the organisation’s general manager, states that one Samuel Munyenyiwa Munyuki and Getrude Munyuki should be allowed to visit the Avenues Clinic in Harare, fortnightly, from Gutu for medical check-up.
Mr Munyuki, according to the document, was said to have been diagnosed with “Lucania stage 2”, raising suspicion because there is no such disease.
The letter had bad English, raising suspicion.
Further research by The Herald revealed the name of the general manager of Alliance Health, Ms Millicent Banda, had been abused in the criminal enterprise.
“I can confirm that the letter you presented to me yesterday is not authentic and was not generated from my office,” said Ms Banda.