South Africa

The spy wars, continued: Crime Intelligence in Mdluli turmoil

By De Wet Potgieter 12 December 2012

As the suspended crime intelligence chief Lieutenant General Richard Mdluli – the pivotal figure in the relentless spy wars between political rivals – waits in the wings to move back into his office, another damning document surfaced this week of a meeting between British intelligence (MI6) agents and two top members of the SAPS’ crime intelligence two years ago, where plans to “expose” Mdluli were discussed. The document is a situation report based on the transcription of tapes from another intelligence agency who bugged the meeting, writes DE WET POTGIETER.

The meeting, which was held in the run-up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup, was over dinner in the popular Pretoria restaurant, Cynthia’s. At the dinner were the former head of crime intelligence’s operational intelligence analysis section, Major General Mark Hankel, and Colonel Marinda Loots, from the unit’s counter-terrorism centre.

The report, which is in Daily Maverick’s possession, states that Hankel was “very talkative and boastful” that evening in the restaurant, but at times indicated his irritation because he did not get the appointment as crime intelligence chief. He regarded himself as the more experienced candidate for the job, and said Mdluli was a political appointee with no knowledge of intelligence work or managerial skills.

“This created a very bad image of Mdluli with the British intelligence people, who were clearly good friends with Hankel,” the report states. Hankel allegedly told the guests that he had done his research on Mdluli and come across a cold case that would expose him. When asked how he would be able to revive old cases, he said he knew the right people to re-open criminal cases and he would take it from there.

According to the report, a lot was said that night around the restaurant table, and although some of the conversations were difficult to follow on the tape, it was said that Mdluli was involved in a murder a long time ago.

Fast forward to end 2012, and intelligence sources claim Mdluli is now waiting in the wings to be brought back as crime intelligence chief, since a Boksburg Magistrate last month exonerated him of any involvement in the murder of a love rival, one Oupa Ramogibe, in 1999. Magistrate Jurg Viviers found that there were insufficient grounds to charge him. “What appeared to be a skeleton in the cupboard for Mdluli was, with respect, only a ghost,” said Viviers.

According to intelligence sources, however, a move to reinstate Mdluli will only be made after the Mangaung conference.

The withdrawal of the murder charge is not the end of Mdluli’s woes. In the meeting in 2010, Hankel described in length how senior police officers bought their vehicles through one “Barries” – real name Colonel Hein Barnard – from motor dealers. Barries, as the supply chain manager for crime intelligence’s secret services account, was the man who handled all the acquisitions of official police vehicles through the secret slush fund and arranged that police officers received special deals for their private vehicles as if it were state acquired vehicles.

Mdluli, together with Barries, was arrested in September last year on charges of fraud and corruption.

Now, Hankel’s role in bringing down Mdluli is becoming consistently clearer. During the 2010 meeting discussed in the report, Hankel added that Marinda Loots, the colonel who was also present, assisted him in the research to get all the information in order to build the cases against Mdluli. According to the report, Loots agreed during the conversation with Hankel’s statements.

More recently, however, Loots declined to say anything when approached for comment. Hankel, for his part, was not available, and Brigadier Phuti Setati, acting head of corporate communications, said the SAPS had no knowledge of any alleged meetings and could not comment on the matter.

Hankel, Mdluli’s former number two, is a very powerful officer in the unit and was always seen as the main rival of Mdluli for the top post. He was instrumental in drafting the controversial secret report presented to the inspector general of intelligence, Faith Radebe, earlier this year, outlining the allegations of fraud and misappropriation of the slush fund against Mdluli.

Not that he’s coming up smelling of roses. Senior colleagues of the acting head of crime intelligence, Major General Chris Ngcobo, told the Daily Maverick last week that Ngcobo was sitting on an explosive docket regarding Hankel, on which he had not acted.

The dossier recommends that action be taken against Hankel regarding the leakage of information, the illegal interception of telephone conversations of other government departments, and the use of the Secret Services Account (SSA).

Both local and foreign intelligence sources have voiced their concern to Daily Maverick that soon after Ngcobo was appointed as acting head of crime intelligence, he suspended – until after the Mangaung conference is done and dusted – all official authorisation of telephone tapping for agents working on deep cover operations within organised crime syndicates. This, in effect, put a hold on all crime prevention intelligence operations as an early warning system; although the ban on surveillance was recently eased somewhat after an investigating advocate from the prosecuting authority intervened.
The trouble is that the police’s crime intelligence division – in theory the backbone of crime prevention and the effective combating of crime in South Africa – appears to have become so politicised with factional in-fighting that it has become virtually paralysed since the struggle for the top post as spy master intensified last year.

Now, Mdluli finds himself in a strategically challenging position. Soon after his arrest, he showed his hand when he passed the so-called Ground Coverage Report to President Jacob Zuma, in which it is alleged that certain high-profile ANC leaders, including Human Settlement Minister Tokyo Sexwale, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize and Bheki Cele, plotted to overthrow Zuma. (These claims of a conspiracy against Zuma were vehemently denied.)

Sources close to Mdluli now say he should have waited until his acquittal on the murder charge to release this explosive document, as it would have had much more strategic impact if he had released it just before the Mangaung conference.

Meanwhile, as the fight for the heart of crime intelligence continues, Ngcobo and Zuma’s yes-men in crime intelligence will be out in force at Mangaung this week. They will, however, operate under the radar, as the eyes and ears on the ground to ensure a safe passage towards another term.

At the same time – more ominously – they will be identifying the dissenters and those fomenting opposition to the strawman for future use. DM

Update: The two crime intelligence officers at the centre of the scandal with the slush fund, suspended Major General Solly Lazarus and Colonel Hein “Barries” Barnard, were arrested by the Hawks and appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court earlier this week on charges of fraud, theft and corruption related to the unit’s secret fund.

They are believed to be have benefitted by about R1.1 million by buying cars for friends relatives and colleagues.

Although they were implicated earlier in fraud charges brought against Mdluli which were withdrawn under controversial circumstances in 2011, prosecutor Gerrie Nel indicated that the new charges were unrelated.

Both were released on R10,000 each. The case was postponed until 21 February 2013.

Read more:

  • SAPS Crime Intelligence: frozen in the political winter of Mangaung

Photo: Lt. General Richard Mdluli (Danielle Karallis for Rapport)

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