Cement scam escalates as shortages trouble suppliers, South Africa

Cement scam escalates as shortages trouble suppliers, South Africa
Published: 26 February 2007

Bogus agents are attempting to take advantage of cement shortages in an alleged scam aimed at building material merchants, government buyers and agents. 
 
Documents in the possession of Business Report indicate that some of the alleged bogus agents operate under the names of Alphabet Street Properties 54, Baps Logistics, Hohlo Logistics, Superstrike Investments and Tofy Distributors.
 
David Chamberlain, the managing director of Chamberlain’s Hardware, said the group had received almost 20 approaches from companies claiming to have access to vast quantities of cement produced by Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC), Lafarge and Holcim. 
 
Chamberlain said one firm had insisted on a bank guarantee and had even tried to organise this directly with his bank without contacting him first. 
 
On another occasion, cement worth about R30 000 was delivered without any prior arrangements in an apparent attempt to prove the company had access to cement and thereafter demanded a bank guarantee for about R7.8 million for further regular supplies. 
 
“We believe they had bought it from a retailer. They removed it on our instruction. 
 
“You have to be very careful when you get offers from companies of no stature,” he said. 
 
Lim Hong Siang, the managing director of Singaporean cement exporter Evermont International, which in June last year obtained SA Bureau of Standards (SABS) certification for Chinese-manufactured Conch Cement, also said there were people in South Africa claiming to represent the company and to have access to large quantities of cement. 
 
He said Evermont had not appointed anyone to market Conch Cement in South Africa and these people were using letters related to its SABS certification, issued by Sipho Tleane of the trade and industry department and Dareth Baker of the SABS, to make them look authentic. 
 
“They take deposits from buyers and never deliver. They are spoiling Conch Cement’s name and people suffer because they lose their money. We have not yet brought any cement into South Africa,” he said. 
 
Lim added that a 17,000t consignment of Conch Cement had been bought by ICC UK and it would be arriving at Durban next month. 
 
Orrie Fenn, PPC’s chief operating officer, said the group had received several calls about the scam, which appeared to have escalated of late. 
 
“We’re talking about thousands of bags of cement and millions of rands deposit. We don’t have agents and we don’t ask for money upfront. It’s not the way we operate. The public should beware,” he said. 
 
Graham Grieve, the managing director of the Cement and Concrete Institute, said the scam first came to the body’s attention about two to three years ago. “It’s not a new thing but the scale is new,” he said. 
 
Grieve provided Business Report with a copy of an e-mail from a person claiming to have 900,000 bags of Holcim cement. 
 
“How does someone get hold of 900,000 bags of cement when there is supposedly a shortage? It doesn’t make sense,” he said.