Saturday, March 17, 2012

Comical cops pass the buck

Comical cops pass the buck
Monica Laganparsad | 18 March, 2012 00:17

THE testimonies of SAPS chief operations officer Lieutenant-General Bonang Mgwenya and KwaZulu-Natal provincial commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni were always going to be crucial.

Both women hold powerful positions, having been hand-picked by General Bheki Cele himself after he took office in 2009.

But their testimonies and performances under oath belied their exalted positions and might just have sealed his fate.

This week, they fell over themselves trying to explain their way out of the controversial R1.7-billion lease deals, without much success.

Ngobeni and Mgwenya tried to shift the blame onto the now retired head of supply-chain management, General Hamilton Hlela.

The board of inquiry was set up by President Jacob Zuma to probe Cele's fitness for office after the public protector found that the procurement of the two building leases was unlawful.

The police had initially struck the deal with business tycoon Roux Shabangu.

On Thursday, Mgwenya said she went with Hlela and Cele's legal adviser, General Julius Molefe, on the first site visit to the Middestad building in Pretoria in March 2010.

She said she was ''invited" to view the building at Hlela's request, even though property procurement was not part of her job.

Embarrassingly, she first claimed she had never been to the building before and did not know where it was.

But when told by the inquiry chairman, Judge Jake Moloi, that the building was a ''stone's throw away" from the police's current head office, she admitted: ''It's across the road."

She then told the inquiry that although she had worked across the road from Middestad for 16 years, she had never noticed the building, because she worked "mostly at nights" and was never ''idle".

Molefe, however, appeared to be more alert to his surroundings.

When asked about the building, he gestured wildly with his hands and said: " It says 'Sanlam' in big, bold writing ... everyone knows that building.''

He said he could not remember if Shabangu was at the meeting, while Mgwenya, in response to the same questions, said: ''There were a number of men."

It took several questions to jog her memory, and she finally confirmed that the businessman was, indeed, in attendance.

After Mgwenya's amnesia-struck performance, it was the turn of Ngobeni. KwaZulu-Natal's top cop tried hard to explain why she could not be reached by the board earlier in the week, saying she had not been ''emotionally or psychologically" prepared.

She was named by a senior public works official as having identified the Transnet building in Durban as the base for the SAPS provincial headquarters.

She initially dodged direct questions and responded with sometimes incoherent and lengthy explanations.

This eventually led to an inquiry member, Advocate Terry Motau, reprimanding her: "If you can't recall, then answer that you can't recall."

She brought some light relief and drew chuckles from the gallery when, quizzed about a site meeting at the building, she asked the inquiry panel to explain its definition of a meeting.

She said: ''I'm trying to understand the meaning of a meeting ... is it people sitting around a table or something else?"

Ngobeni was implicated last week as a central figure in the decision to lease the Transnet building during testimony by the KwaZulu-Natal head of procurement, Brigadier Alph-eus Ngema.

He said that, on a site visit, he had raised concerns about the absence of a public works official.

But Ngobeni's "instructions to me were to obtain the information regarding the occupation of the current building, because she had a meeting that afternoon at the airport with ... Cele regarding the same issue".

But Ngobeni this week disputed that, saying: "I find it strange that I would collect info and give it to somebody at the airport. That's not how we work in the SAPS."

On Friday, the inquiry was forced to postpone proceedings when the final witness it called pleaded ill-health.

Mokgaetji Tlolane, an official of the Department of Public Works, first delayed proceedings on Tuesday by refusing to testify unless she was given immunity from prosecution .

When she eventually took the stand on Friday, Tlolane on three occasions said she did not understand how to take the prescribed oath.

This forced the judge to intervene. He told her to say: "So help me, God." But immediately after taking the oath, Tlolane told the board: ''I won't be able to testify. I am not feeling well. I'll testify when the doctor confirms I'm in a condition to do so."

This left the board with no choice but to postpone the inquiry until the end of March.

Tlolane was identified by Shabangu, according to papers filed by him in a court case, as the official who told him that the police wanted to lease the Middestad building and that a negotiated process would follow, instead of it going out to tender.

Shabangu and the Department of Public Works are currently embroiled in a court action to decide on the validity of the Middestad lease.
Politics of paranoia:
How JZ is winning the spy battle

Control of the intelligence services is emerging as a crucial and destructive battleground in the run-up to the ANC's national conference at Mangaung, according to a range of senior security sources.

The process appears to be a rerun of the pre-Polokwane period, which was characterised by factional abuse of the security services and at its height resulted in the crime intelligence division intercepting conversations between then-Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and supporters of president Thabo Mbeki, including former prosecutions boss Bulelani Ngcuka and Mbeki himself.

The sources, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues, placed the current political battle to secure the survival of suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli at the apex of their concerns.

Said one veteran senior manager: "I believe that it's about the run-up to Mangaung -- it's about who is going to control the [communications] interception capacity of the state."

The sources also referenced the recent departure of the country's top three spy officials as symptomatic of the problem.

State Security Agency director general Jeff Maqetuka and his deputy for domestic intelligence, Lizo Njenje, quit last year amid allegations that the agency was in "crisis" and state security minister Siyabonga Cwele had pushed Njenje to spy on Cabinet colleagues.

Foreign intelligence supremo Moe Shaik left last month following a protracted battle with Cwele.

In several developments flowing from the politicisation of the security services the M&G can reveal that:
•The broad investigation of abuses in the Crime Intelligence Service (CIS) initiated by the Hawks has been put on ice;

•Hawks boss Anwa Dramat was angered by the December withdrawal of fraud charges against Mdluli, which formed part of the CIS probe;

•Several sources have said that Dramat is on the brink of resigning or being fired; and

•There has been a lobbying campaign against Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya, who has been in charge of the police disciplinary process against Mdluli and is regarded as an obstacle to his return.
Probe in the balance
According to a senior source, the instruction to Dramat to "suspend" the crime intelligence probe came from acting police commissioner Major General Nhlanhla Sibusiso Mkhwanazi, who was appointed by President Jacob Zuma in the wake of his suspension of Bheki Cele.

It appears that Mkhwanazi was taking his cue from Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who has attempted to shift the inquiry into the financial abuses of the police's covert fund to the inspector general of intelligence, advocate Faith Radebe.

The Citizen reported earlier this month that more than a dozen investigation dockets relating to crime intelligence funds had been transferred to the inspector general of intelligence on Mthethwa's instructions.

The minister's spokesperson was quoted as saying Mthethwa was within his rights to involve Radebe, saying the inspector general herself had raised some of the issues and Mthethwa had asked her to follow them up.

But critics have charged that Radebe was simply being used to sideline the Hawks' investigation.

Mthethwa is regarded as a key Cabinet ally of Zuma and it may be that a secret probe by Radebe would more readily contain any fallout from the Mdluli matter than a criminal investigation by the Hawks.

Allegations being probed include claims that vehicles were illegally purchased for relatives and payments were authorised to family and friends posing as sources or agents.

Said one senior source: "The rumours have been that there were significant political beneficiaries to the secret service account. There appears to have been a policy to corrupt the politicians as they come through.

Now the Hawks have been told to stop the investigation and use the inspector general … There is huge tension -- Dramat is on the edge of being fired for taking a stand on a number of issues, including the CIS investigation. His view is that it is so rotten it has to be abolished."

Mdluli fights back
The Hawks investigation was part of a probe that led to fraud charges being laid against Mdluli in relation to allegations that he received discounts in return for official vehicle purchases.

The charges, which Mdluli claimed were part of a political conspiracy against him, were controversially withdrawn in mid-December.

The decision has been partly blamed for tension between specialist commercial crime prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach -- who was in charge of the case against Mdluli -- and her superiors, who ordered the prosecution to be halted.

Said one senior police source: "Office talk is that Mdluli wants to come back. Politicians are protecting Mdluli …"

Dramat has expressed anger to colleagues over the withdrawal of the charges, the M&G was told, citing what he saw as political interference to protect Mdluli.

Mdluli is still facing internal disciplinary proceedings, but even those appear to be in the balance.

According to one well-placed source, a key ally of Mdluli has been lobbying both the president's office and senior police officers on Mdluli's behalf and against the man to whom he reported, General Lebeya.

Said one source: "Lebeya is a career cop and he doesn't want Mdluli back, on principle. Also, Lebeya would have been part of all the disciplinary processes when charges were investigated against Mdluli, so that could add to the reasons why Mdluli is targeting him."

The police have been tight lipped about the disciplinary charges against Mdluli, but they are said to include the way in which he allegedly declassified the so-called Mdluli dossier when he distributed it.

The dossier, which was apparently sent to Zuma and also leaked to the media, was key to Mdluli's fight-back campaign after he became aware of a decade-old murder investigation involving him that had been revived soon after Cele took over as national police commissioner.

The dossier contained top secret allegations that Cele was part of a political conspiracy by Zuma's political rivals and was purportedly declassified by Mdluli himself, prior to its distribution. However, it is understood that Mdluli may claim that his signature was forged.

Said one source: "The suspicion is [that] they will use this as a basis for withdrawing the disciplinary charges against him."

Contrast with Cele
Cele's fortunes could not be more different. He has been suspended and is facing a judicial board of inquiry into his involvement in the alleged improper leasing of new police headquarters.

Asked to comment, police spokesperson Brigadier Lindela Mashigo said: "Unfortunately, the merits of the cases ... cannot be discussed in public platforms because that affects the constitutional rights of individuals concerned."

A senior police officer said that the Mdluli dossier appeared to have been successful in feeding Zuma's sense of distrust: "It has created fertile ground for Mdluli to exploit the political conditions and try to get back into the police."

That may be working. A senior official close to Zuma told the M&G that the president viewed Mdluli as the "top cop" in the country. Said one seasoned intelligence official: "They have done to Zuma what the same Iagos did to Mbeki … they have fuelled the politics of paranoia."

Another put it more bluntly: "It seems Mdluli has several people by the balls."

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