- In theory, South Africa welcomes foreigners worth at least R12 million who want to settle locally.
- A couple in their 70s from Singapore – valued at R49 million – found it a bit difficult to take advantage of that welcome.
- First National Bank falsely said they had filed a fraudulent account statement.
- Even after that mistake was corrected, the Interior Ministry refused to grant them residence permits until they were fought in court.
- The DHA has now been ordered to issue their permits and cover their legal costs.
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A wealthy couple from Singapore should finally be granted permanent residency in South Africa by the end of this month, after a three-and-a-half-year struggle to take advantage of immigration regulations designed to attract rich people and their money.
And the Department of the Interior (DHA) will have to foot their legal bill.
On Friday, the Western Cape Supreme Court gave the Director-General of the Interior and his minister 20 days to issue residence permits to Yew Teck Ling and See Hie Chua, a married couple of Singaporean nationals in their early 70s.
They have a net worth of at least R49 million, well above the R12 million threshold used in South Africa to determine whether people are wealthy enough for special treatment.
But that didn’t matter when things went horribly wrong after they filed their permanent residency application in January 2019.
The couple filed nine statements from three different banks, showing how much cash they had. As it turned out, it took the DHA almost exactly two years to ask one of those banks, First National Bank, to verify some of those statements. FNB’s specialized bank statement verification unit immediately returned with a response: at least one statement “appears to be fraudulent, as the transactions displayed on it do [sic] do not match the transactions on the Bank’s systems.”
It took another eight months, until September 2021, for DHA to deliver that news to the couple, telling them that their attempted fraud makes them people “not of good and sane character”, and thus not welcome in South Africa.
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DHA didn’t tell them which bank statement was considered fake, not when they asked for it in October, not when they asked for it in November, and not when they asked for it in December.
Only this year, in the face of legal action, did their lawyers receive first the record of the decision, then an admission that blaring fraud had been “a mistake”.
Armed with that, their lawyers went back to Home Affairs in May to suggest it would stop fighting their court applications for their permits.
DHA refused. The couple, it said, had now exceeded their previous permits. They first had to fill out the appropriate forms to explain why they had not extended their temporary visa. After thus attempting to legalize their residence, they could either reapply for permanent residency or appeal the previous decision, having first sought approval for the late filing of that appeal.
Either way, they would not “be given the opportunity to submit correct and verified bank statements with proof thereof”.
This, the DHA’s attorneys told their attorneys, would be a “practical and pragmatic solution” going forward.
In fact, there was absolutely no other way to handle the matter, Interior Director-General Livhuwani Makhode told the court. His decision to reject the application had been correct, he said; the fact that he’d done this based on someone else’s mistake didn’t make his decision wrong or unreasonable.
And now, Makhode said, it was utterly impossible to reconsider. Since the file on the application was closed, any further action on it – such as correcting FNB’s mistake – would undermine the departmental procedure that cannot be deviated from.
He did not say how exactly the couple could reapply in light of an uncorrected finding that they had committed fraud, nor how long their new application would take.
But given South Africa’s approach to attracting wealthy foreigners — at least in theory — there’s no reason to let the couple experience the uncertainty of a new application, judge Judith Cloete ruled. Instead, DHA should just issue their permits.
And in order not to “make a mockery of their accountability”, the DG and Home Secretary can also pay their legal fees in their official capacity.