Sunday Independent De Wet Potgieter
The Hawks have swooped on a Pakistani-run factory in Brits just north of Pretoria to bust an operation they described as a "mini-Home Affairs" office.
The early morning operation - which began early on Wednesday morning and continued late into the night - came as part of an ongoing investigation into what the police believe is a highly organised Pakistani-led criminal syndicate.
It is thought that this syndicate has its tentacles across the country.
In earlier busts in Gauteng over recent weeks, the unit arrested more than 30 Pakistani nationals who were suspected
of immigration fraud.
At the Brits property, investigators found a sophisticated operation where you could buy matching identity documents and passports at a bargain price of R24 000.
Also on the premises police found:
# Several thousand blank birth certificates;
# Nearly 100 000 temporary and permanent work permits waiting to be filled in;
# Bags full of blank identity documents;
# Thousands of blank South African passports; and,
# More than 500 passports waiting for delivery or collection - already signed and stamped, with bearer details and photographs affixed.
There was also equipment for taking fingerprint impressions and an official Department of Home Affairs stamp.
This stamp was glued to a Coke bottle cap.
According to investigators, many of the blank passports found at the house included hi-tech security features recently added to the document to make it virtually impossible to forge.
"This means that these passports were acquired by the crime syndicate from corrupt officials working for Home Affairs," said one of the detectives.
The bulk of fake passports and other documentation waiting to be picked up were papers prepared for Pakistani, Nigerian and Bangladeshi citizens.
It was also revealed to Independent Newspapers during the operation that more than 80 000 blank temporary work permits had been identified as having gone missing from the government printer in Pretoria.
Piles of such permits found in the Brits one-stop-identity shop suggested to investigators that the culprits could have accomplices at the nerve centre of government bureaucracy.
During the swoop, six Pakistani nationals were arrested at the Brits address, and in mop-up operations, several other Pakistani-owned businesses were raided in the course of the day.
Led by the Hawks, the task team also included undercover detectives from the police's Crime Intelligence Gathering unit as well as Department of Home Affairs inspectors.
The new breakthrough came after the special task unit arrested eight alleged syndicate members in Heidelberg last month.
A total of 25 people were arrested in Soshanguve and three were held in Lenasia. The suspects are awaiting trial.
It was said that all of them could be part of a bigger picture involving the Pakistani mafia operating in South Africa.
A possible link with international jihadist activities is also being investigated.
Fake South African passports have been found on several al-Qaeda operatives arrested in Europe and the Middle East, over the last decade.
International concerns over the integrity of the South African passport led to its official devaluation by the European community and the US, with stringent visa requirements coming into force in 2008 and 2009.