South Africa

House of Cards: Did SAPS Commissioner Phahlane mislead Parliament?

By Marianne Thamm 21 February 2017

The fallout surrounding acting police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane, who is being investigated by IPID on charges of defeating the ends of justice and possible corruption related to his R8-million home, continues. Did Phahlane mislead Parliament when he claimed he did not know IPID was investigating him and also when he stated that a CPN independent forensic report into corruption while he headed SAPS forensic division had “cleared him of all wronging”? There is much still to be unpacked in the CPN report including an illicit birthday party thrown for Phahlane in 2009 and involving Major-General Sandra Malebe-Thema, who has recently been implicated in the Life Esidimeni scandal. By MARIANNE THAMM.

Lying to Parliament is a serious transgression. It is considered a statutory offence under the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act of 2004. Here the offence of “impeding Parliament from exercising its functions and authority is an offence under the Act, punishable by fine or imprisonment of up to three years. This offence would include its crucial oversight of the national executive (section 55 of the Constitution),” according to Corruption Watch.

Lying to Parliament is not the same as perjury or contempt of court, both of which are crimes only in the context of judicial proceedings. But lying to Parliament may amount to the crime of fraud,” states Corruption Watch.

On February 2, Acting Commissioner Phahlane, flanked and supported by Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko and a team of senior SAPS officials, briefed Parliament’s portfolio committee on police with regard to an independent forensic report by CPN Forensic and Accounting Services into claims by police union Popcru that Phahlane, in his former job as head of the SAPS forensic division, had been guilty of serious fraud and mismanagement.

In December 2016 Phahlane called a media briefing to release the “findings”, albeit selectively, of the CPN investigation and claimed that the report had essentially “cleared” him of all wrongdoing.

We hope that by releasing the findings of the independent investigation, this matter can finally be put to rest, as in the past only the allegations were made known and never the findings. The civil litigation instituted by me is still in process as my reputation has been brought into disrepute on several occasions,” said Phahlane at the media briefing.

The full report was not released to the media at the time but was later obtained by the DA on January 27 this year. The party then posted the full report online. We suggest you read it to keep track later of aspects that did not face closer scrutiny during Parliament’s police committee hearing.

It was left, however, to Brigadier Lindie Kleinhans on February 2 to take MPs through the CPN audit during which she reiterated Phahlane’s claim that the allegations by Popcru were part of an ongoing campaign to “undermine the integrity of the acting national commissioner and to harm his reputation”. She added that this was a campaign by “so-called whistle-blowers” who themselves were facing charges of misconduct.

During his presentation to the police committee, Phahlane also stated clearly that he had been unaware that the IPID had been investigating him, a claim that IPID head Robert McBride rubbished later when he appeared before the same committee.

General Phahlane denied here in front of the House and in public that he was aware of the investigation. This is false. We have documentary proof that not only was he informed about it, but his own signature is in the document asking his PA to schedule a meeting regarding the case and that’s as early as June 2016,” said a calm McBride.

McBride also told the committee that Phahlane had in fact discussed the case with his IPID predecessor, Israel Kgamanyane.

Did Phahlane mislead Parliament in this regard? It certainly appears so.

And while SAPS senior officers might have told MPs that the CPN investigation had cleared Phahlane, there are damning comments in the report with regard to Phahlane’s management of supplier Crimetech Laboratories CC as well as his appointment of the company owner, in her private capacity, as his interior designer.

Over and above this are the details, on pages Pages 78 to 89, of an illicit birthday party, paid for by SAPS, and thrown for Phahlane in the East Hall of the Pretoria West Training Institution. The event was held on May 29, 2009 and was investigated after complaints about “loud music from the SAPS band”.

The event took place during working hours and caused a disruption to various meetings and other functions,” states the report, and was reported by a Lieutenant-General Kruser to the National Inspectorate of the Divisional Commissioner, says the report.

The party had been billed as a “personnel services work session” where “feedback on provinces and divisions” was to be given to around 50 “attendees” at the cost of R190 a head. The report states while those involved had stated that “the correct financial procurement procedures” for the party had been followed, these were done so “under false pretenses”.

Turns out that SAPS Major General Sandra Malebe-Thema who has now been implicated in the Life Esidimeni scandal that led to the death of 94 psychiatric patients who were transferred to other often unregistered NGOS, was also involved in Phahlane’s birthday celebrations.

Malebe-Thema, who describes herself as a businesswoman and who is the current head of the SAPS Training Division, received 100 Life Esidimeni patients at her Re-Bafenyi Victim Empowerment Centre in Atteridgeville. She received R270,000 for this. The forensic report states that Malebe-Thema, who was a brigadier at the time, “was responsible for setting the round tables at the venue the evening before the event”. On her LinkedIn profile, Malebe-Thema boasts that she is the owner of an “events and mining and logistical supplier”.

Malebe-Thema, the CPN report now shows, was arrested in May 2011 and later appeared in the Regional Court where she was acquitted on charges of fraud in June 2012. The DPCI then took up the case. In 2013 the CPN investigators state that they had consulted with a Brigadier Mmolawa “with regard to the lack of institution of disciplinary action against the two arrested members” but that Brigadier Mmolawa had claimed she had been unaware of the arrests.

Lt-Gen Phahlane stated in an information note dated 10 July 2012 that the investigation and subsequent arrest and the trial of the two members were malicious and aimed at attacking the integrity of himself,” says the report.

Malebe-Thema resigned from SAPS in 2013; however, her LinkedIn biography states that she “retired at Brigadier level to establish a centre for victim empowerment”.

Malebe-Thema was re-employed as a Major-General in March 2016 after Phahlane had been appointed to the acting National Commissioner position in 2015.

There are several other aspects of the detailed report which also call for further interrogation and scrutiny.

These include:

Page 46 of the report which references R29-million worth of supplies with no proof of delivery and paid for out of the Criminal Justice System budget. However, this is not a procurement budget.

Page 47, 5.3 indicates that the supplier is Crimetech Laboratories CC (the company owned by Phahlane’s interior-designer).

Page 47, 5.5 states, “as a consequence of our investigation specific facts and/or allegations came to our attention relevant to the procurement of the goods and not only the delivery thereof because of the seriousness and importance thereof, it has been deemed imperative to report thereon”.

Page 48, 5.8 states that Phahlane “at some stage during 2011, ordered that delivery must first be done to the CRC [Central Record Centre] (in Pretoria) and that the supplier must thereafter distribute the goods to the LCRCs [Local Criminal Record Centres]”.

According to a statement by the Democratic Alliance, this “possibly created an opportunity for the supplier, CrimeTech, to get away with not delivering goods already paid for. Specifically the report identifies that deliveries related to seven orders cannot be confirmed, meaning that in all likelihood, the supplies were never in fact delivered, although they were paid for.”

The effect of this, said one source, is that CRC made massive purchases, far in excess of required product, and stockpiled these at CRC (in Pretoria). The goods that were not used or required were subsequently rendered useless as they had expired.

Page 49, 5.9 raises the issue of the expiry dates and the financial losses incurred by the over-ordering of products.

Page 51, 5.14 of the report deals with the drastic increase, over the period of 3 years” and which resulted in orders for 2011/2012 being 346% of the 2010/2011 supply and supplies in 2012/2013 being 235% of the supplies in 2010/11. The value of the increase in 2011/2012 amounted to more than R24-million while the increase in 2012/13 amounts to over R13-million.

The report also found that the orders for supplies began to escalate shortly before the contract with CrimeTech expired.

This happens to coincide with a period when Phahlane built his house with cash which allegedly cannot be explained and which IPID chief director of investigations, Matthews Soko, alluded to when he told committee members that while IPID were not claiming Phahlane is guilty, “something does not add up” and “what we have so far suggests wrongdoing or needs further explanation”.

Page 57 indicates that a further R12.3-million in supplies was paid for with no proof of delivery. The oversupply is blamed on one Brigadier Diko and his assumption that stations needed more stock.

Pages 61/62 show evidence that in a period of six months, over-supply of R39.9-million took place. This price included VAT.

A source has stated that the VAT component would have been R4.9-million, yet no VAT was paid to SARS. Since VAT is collected as “agent” for SARS, this means that Crimetech Laboratories may have been responsible for the loss of R4.9-million in VAT, from the police, or from SARS, or both.

Page 63 of the report makes it clear that stock was being delivered to LCRCs that had not been requisitioned and that the warehouse at CRC was packed to capacity so stock had to be moved to a variety of LCRCs, including the Kwa-Mhlanga office which does not have a crime laboratory yet “received high volumes of chemicals”.

What can be gleaned from that which was not discussed at the police portfolio committee hearing is that Phahlane clearly failed to comply with the Public Finance Management Act which appears to have cost SAPS millions of rand in fruitless and wasteful expenditure. Also, his relationship with Crimetech has not been thoroughly probed.

The Fat Lady awaits in the wings for acting Commissioner Phahlane. DM

Photo: SAPS Commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane. (Photo Leila Dee Dougan for DM Chronicle Digital)

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