South Africa

House of Car(d)s: Kgomotso Phahlane, the man who could have saved SAPS

By Marianne Thamm 24 April 2017

When Lieutenant-General Kgomotso Phahlane was appointed acting National Commissioner of SAPS in October 2015 after the suspension of Riah Phiyega he was the rare career policeman to hold the key position. Many who have previously dealt with Phahlane in a professional capacity expressed admiration for the leadership and vision he brought to the troubled SAPS. However, revelations of death threats, an attempt to interfere with key witnesses, Phahlane’s unusual habit of paying personal building contractors from black bags full of cash as well as his penchant for a fleet of expensive cars, revealed in an IPID affidavit filed last week, paints a disturbing picture of a good man allegedly gone rancid. By MARIANNE THAMM.

While there were several red flags before Kgomotso Phahlane’s rise in 2015 to the terminally cursed position of SAPS National Commissioner, the career policeman initially appeared to impress those he had encountered or dealt with in a professional capacity.

In September 2016, Gareth Newham, Head, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, the Institute for Security Studies, opined, “Fortunately, there is cause for optimism in relation to policing at the current time. Under the leadership of acting SAPS National Commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane, who was appointed on 14 October 2015, a number of promising initiatives are taking place to improve policing. His ‘Back to Basics’ approach is aimed at strengthening the SAPS National Office’s ability to drive evidence-based interventions throughout the organisation.

Earlier this year, Dr Johan Burger, of the ISS Governance, Crime and Justice Division, when approached by Daily Maverick for his view on the serious allegations of fraud and defeating the ends of justice IPID is currently investigating against Phahlane, said that if these allegations were true they would amount to “one of the biggest disappointments for me personally in a very long time”.

Burger continued; “This I say because Phahlane so far met almost all the criteria for the top position in the police. He is a career policeman with more than 30 years service and some very relevant academic qualifications. Since his appointment as acting national commissioner, he has been doing very constructive work in the SAPS (restructuring, etc) as well as with the police (crime combating).”

Phahlane had, Burger said, displayed “a laudable willingness to meet and work with civil society groups such as the ISS, Afriforum, organised agriculture, police unions (at least SAPU), and others” and that the acting commissioner had also enjoyed “impressive support amongst most police officials I regularly talk to. This has had a positive impact on police morale and brought much-needed stability back into police leadership at a time when this was becoming a crises situation.”

Burger added, however, that the allegations against Phahlane are “extremely serious” and that if any of these were shown to be true and supported the allegation that he is corrupt, “not only must the law take its course, but it will disqualify him from any further employment in the SAPS and obviously from continuing as national commissioner of police”.

But before his appointment as acting National Commissioner, Phahlane’s name had already blipped onto the radar linked to those of dubious repute, including former Crime Intelligence (CI) head Richard Mdluli (the man thought to have delivered the “spy tapes” to President Zuma) and CI chief financial officer Solly Lazarus and their alleged plunder of a covert fund used to finance intelligence operations. Phahlane too had been fingered for his role in the alleged appointment of some 250 individuals (15 of them allegedly with criminal records), some of them Mdluli’s relatives, to positions in crime intelligence.

In October 2015 amaBhunganes Sally Evans revealed that Phahlane, before his appointment as National Commissioner and as head of SAPS Forensic Services, had headed SAPS Personnel Services and was also the Secretary for National Appointment Panel for SAPS. It was in this capacity that Phahlane had allegedly signed off the irregular appointments including that of one of Mdluli’s protégés, Nkosana “Killer” Ximba. Phahlane had also, according to amaBhungane, testified on behalf of Solly Lazarus against SAPS in Lazarus’ labour court challenge of his suspension in 2012.

At the time, Evans had sent a detailed list of questions to Phahlane’s then spokesperson, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, about the acting commissioner’s role in the CI appointments and promotions as well as his offering to testify on behalf of Lazarus. All Mulaudzi would say in October 2015 was that “we are not going to be destructed [sic] and lose focus on the responsibility that has been entrusted to SAPS management and there we are not prepared to entertain any groundless claims”.

While Phahlane was generally regarded as a man who was not aligned to any “faction” within the SAPS, his close proximity to Mdluli, who appears to enjoy serious political protection, is not exactly the best reference on anyone’s CV in law enforcement (depending which side of the law you stand, of course).

The “capture” of the criminal justice system – including the Hawks and the NPA – by the politically powerful has proved a key obstacle in the failure to investigate and/or prosecute major cases of corruption that have been lodged over the years, including in SAA, Transnet, Prasa and Eskom.

Fast-forward to 2017 and Phahlane is now firmly in IPID’s sights.

The affidavit deposed in the North Gauteng High Court by IPID investigator Mandlakayise Mahlangu last week reads like a B-grade crime novel, replete with expensive cars, bling homes with designer finishes, bags of cash in car boots and death threats to investigators and others, and allegedly traced back to SAPS members under Phahlane’s overall command. One threat on November 2016 was traced back to an SAPS member working at OR Tambo International Airport and another, on February 19 this year, to a handset that received its reception from SAPS Intelligence headquarters.

The sender of the threat also referred to himself/herself as a cousin of someone we were investigating. I assume that the threat came from Phahlane’s cousin as I was at that point only investigating him (Phahlane) and I had earlier received a death threat pertaining thereto. I annex hereto a copy of the second death threat sent to me in the form of a text message as ‘AA13.1’,” Mahlangu revealed in his affidavit.

Mahlangu added that there was a “high probability” of Phahlane using his office and authority to undermine the IPID investigation.

This is also clear from the fact that he has made contact with three witnesses and two of them have since deposed to affidavits pertaining to the investigation and the interviews held with them. It is possible that those affidavits were not voluntarily deposed to and displays an attempt to undermine the investigation,” Mahlangu said.

Phahlane had also accessed a court file containing an application for the subpoena of certain witnesses and information pertaining to a list of the intended witnesses.

This is also likely to compromise the investigation as witnesses may, akin to what has happened to me, be intimidated. Phahlane contends that his security was breached but he did not involve Protection Services,” states Mahlangu.

The acting commissioner had also established a task team, led by General Ntebo “Jan” Mabula, “under the pretence of investigating the alleged security breach”. Mabula is currently being investigated for possible charges of murder and torture.

It is also important to mention that other members of this task team are also being investigated for the same offences.”

It was Phahlane’s seeking of relief with regard to the search and seizure warrants issued by a magistrate on December 29, 2016 of his property in the Sable Hills Waterfront Estate in Pretoria, a review of the execution warrant as well as an attempt to bar forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan (who lodged the original complaint against Phahlane and which went nowhere) and his assistant Sarah Jane Trent from assisting IPID, that led to Mahlangu revealing IPID’s hand in the matter.

Former acting IPID head Israel Kgamanyane had initially received O’Sullivan’s complaint on February 25, 2016 and assigned it to investigator Mmakwena Morema. Morema has deposed a sworn statement that Kgamanyane then referred the complaint to Phahlane. That was all before IPID head Robert McBride, who had been illegally suspended by then police minister Nathi Nhleko, was returned to the position. It was because of this “turmoil” at IPID, says Mahlangu, that the investigations into Phahlane were “interrupted” and not followed through.

O’Sullivan’s was not the first complaint to IPID against Phahlane. In 2012 the Police and Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) lodged a complaint against Phahlane in his capacity as Divisional Commissioner of Forensic Services for various irregularities including allegations that Phahlane had received kickbacks and gifts from service providers. While Phahlane claimed a forensic investigation by CPN accounting services found no evidence of corruption, this was not the full picture.

CPN found an overpayment of almost R500,000 to Crimetech laboratories, the same company linked to an installation of an R80,000 sound system at Phahlane’s home and which forms part of the sprawling and detailed narrative in Mahlangu’s affidavit.

DA Shadow Minister of police, Zakhele Mbhele, who had obtained a copy of the full report, said it also detailed how Phahlane had altered the procurement system for the delivery of supplies to Local Criminal Record Centres, “creating an opportunity for the supplier CrimeTech to get away with not delivering goods already paid for”.

The report also found that the promotion of two brigadiers may have been irregular as they had skipped ranks and that in 2009 SAPS members had organised a birthday party for Phahlane “disguising” it as a workshop and using SAPS funds to pay for it. While these senior SAPS members, including Major-General Sandra Malebe-Thema, who is close to Phahlane, were charged with fraud, Phahlane did not institute disciplinary proceedings against them.

Mahlangu’s affidavit does not paint a flattering portrait of the country’s top policeman and sets out a forensic portrait of Phahlane’s financial dealings that have exposed gaping holes and left many unanswered questions. It also reveals how the acting commissioner drew a car dealership as well as various building suppliers and professionals into a complex web of potentially corrupt financial arrangements.

Investigations revealed that Phahlane had built his house at Sable Hills Estate using Terblanche Du Toit CC and that the building contract had cost approximately R3-million including material. During the building process, Phahlane had allegedly paid the architect R109,489.99 by Electronic Fund Transfers but the investigation revealed that Phahlane had also paid Terblanche a total of R710,000 in cash in three payments of R350,000, R350,000 and R10,000. All these payments were made in plastic bags from the boot of Phahlane’s car, said Mahlangu.

Subcontractors were also paid in cash by Phahlane using his driver, a Mr Du Preez, who had made the payments from the boot of a black BMW. Phahlane’s builder, said IPID, had received approximately seven cash payments of R14,000 each, and an extra R20,000 to build a wall and R11,000 for a staircase, swimming pool and bathroom wall, which amounted to R129,000.

The plasterer was paid R170,000 in cash that occurred on a fortnightly basis and the electrician R10,000 on four or five occasions, amounting to approximately R50,000.

Over and above this, a plumber was paid in cash by the acting commissioner in amounts that totalled R30,000, and the tiler was paid between R5,000 to R10,000 on seven or eight occasions.

Then there are Phahlane’s dealings with Kriminalistik, allegedly one of the companies which had benefited from tenders awarded during Phahlane’s tenure as the Divisional Head in the SAPS Forensics Division, to purchase electronic equipment. IPID investigators found that an invoice totalling R126,900 from the company had been paid in cash and a second invoice of R80,075 had been settled by EFT.

There is also evidence of the R80,000 audiovisual system Phahlane had installed in his home and had purchased through Jolanta Regina Komodolowicz, also known as Yola, and allegedly a kickback from CrimeTech.

The equipment included a 55” Toshiba flat screen TV, two or three 33” Samsung flat screen TVs and one Jamo home theatre system valued between R80,000 and R100,000.

The IPID investigation also exposed Phahlane’s fleet of cars and the strange phenomenon of a car dealer incurring baffling losses in its dealings with the acting commissioner which could point to money laundering.

IPID found that the acting commissioner bought in May 2011 a Landrover Discovery V6 for R765,995. The vehicle had been registered in his name but he had sold it to Inspect-a-Car in Pretoria on 21 August 2014. At the time of the trade-in, the value of the vehicle was R557,500. However, Inspect-a-Car had paid Phahlane R650,000 by means of payments made on 19 August 2014 in two instalments of R405,907.52 and R244,092.48. The R650,000 purchase price amounted to a benefit of R92,500 above the trade-in value of the vehicle. The vehicle was later sold to a Mr Anton du Plessis on 20 June 2015 for an amount of R547,500. Inspect-a-Car inexplicably incurred a loss of R106,632.72 in that deal.

Another vehicle linked to Phahlane is a Mercedes Benz C250 Elegance Automatic bought for the acting commissioner’s wife in March 2012 and which cost R482,500. Phahlane’s wife is also a senior member of the SAPS. The Mercedes was also sold to Inspect-a-Car on in January 2015.

At the time of the sale, the vehicle was valued at R318,900, according to Inspect-a-Car’s stock card. However, Inspecta-Car’s bank statement for the period reflects that someone using the reference Phahlane#225844, being the last digits of the vehicle’s identification number, was paid a total amount of R549,999.91. Therefore Inspect-a-Car paid a total amount of R549,099.91. This purchase price is R241,099.91 above the trade-in value,” said Mahlangu.

The proceeds from the sale of the Mercedes were then used to purchase a second Mercedes-Benz E250 CDI for Mrs Phahlane. She entered into an instalment agreement in January 2015. The purchase price of R756,000 was paid to Garden City Motors but a few days after the payment, Phahlane transferred R320,000 from his account to that of his wife’s held at the same bank.

Phahlane also bought, through bank finance, a 2013 Nissan Navara for R322,927 which was sold to Inspect-a-Car for R495,000 in April 2015.

The book value of the vehicle at the time of sale was R308,000. The difference between the trade-in value and the price paid by Inspect-a-Car is R187,000.”

Then on April 28, 2015, Phahlane bought yet another vehicle, a VW Amarok, telling the sales person that the deposit would be paid from the sale of the Nissan Navara that he had sold to Inspect-a-Car for R495,000. Inspect-a-Car credited R362,963 to a VW dealership on April 29, 2015 and the balance, R132,037.19, was meant to be bank financed but was paid by Inspect-a-car as settlement for the Navara to the bank.

Mahlangu found that “the effect of the sale of the Nissan Navarra to Inspect-a-Car led to Phahlane receiving an undue benefit of approximately R187,000.”

Then on December 7, 2015, Phahlane bought a Toyota Hilux 4×4 single cab bakkie for R377,360.22.

On 6 January 2016, this vehicle was registered in Phahlane’s name. This vehicle was purchased by Ms H Groenewald for Inspect-a-Car. On 15 February 2016, a VW Polo with registration number FC 98 TG GP was registered in the name of Phahlane’s wife and insured by Phahlane from 19 February 2016. Snyman [of Inspect-a-Car] purchased this vehicle as a brand new vehicle from Bidvest McCarthy Volkswagen, Wonderboom at a price of R230,681.70. This vehicle was neither registered to Snyman nor to the dealership but was delivered with all the necessary manufacturer’s documents to enable him to register the vehicle on the eNatis system.”

Snyman claims the Toyota Hilux and Polo were given to Phahlane as a sponsorship. However, says Mahlangu, this sponsorship was not mentioned by Phahlane in his founding affidavit, nor has he declared it in his official disclosures.

A drilling-down into the finances for Phahlane’s house and building revealed that he had bought the estate on April 6, 2010 for R850,000. He had paid a cash deposit of R255,000 and had obtained a bond for the balance of the purchase price of R595,000.

Bank statements revealed that the proceeds from the sale of Phahlane’s house in Queenswood totalled R513,994.87 which was only paid into his account at the end of September 2010.

It is unknown where the amount of R255,000 (paid as the deposit for the land) came from; from 2010/2011 Phahlane paid an amount of R157,064.30 into his bond account when he was only required to pay R47,292; in 2011/2012, Phahlane paid an amount of R143,870.62 into the bond account when he was only required to pay R36,576.”

Mahlangu found that during the period that Phahlane built his house the only visible payment into his bond account was an amount of R200,000.

In 2013/2014 Phahlane’s bond repayments were, pursuant to an increase in the bond amount, R128,448 and he paid R369,733.20. In 2014/2015, Phahlane was required to pay R111,984 but paid R402,733.24. In 2015/2016, Phahlane was required to pay R73,368 and he paid R330 678,768 and between March and December 2016, Phahlane was required to make payments amounting to R51,930 and he paid R244,799.93. The payments made into Phahlane’s bond account must also be considered in light of the R710,000 cash that was paid to Terblanche from the boot of his car, as well as the cash payments made to other contractors. These payments were made during the building of the house.”

There have been calls, including by Corruption Watch, for Phahlane to step down pending a full investigation.

Phiyega has launched a review application to set aside the findings of the Claassen inquiry into her fitness to hold office which found that she had lied to the Farlam Commission into Marikana and should be dismissed.

There is intense competition for this top job, an appointment that is made by President Jacob Zuma – which is, many argue, part of the problem.

It is unlikely that Phahlane will be able to remain a contender for the top job with the utterly damning investigation by IPID hovering like a Sword of Damocles.

Experts have argued that current legislation (the SAPS Act) governing the appointment of the country’s national police commissioner is deeply flawed and that the National Development Plan has recognised that the “serial crises” in the SAPS are a result of this. The recommendation for future appointments is that they are only done once a selection panel has offered suitable recommendations.

There is no doubt that police leadership in South Africa – a country with one of the highest violent crime rates in the world – is in crisis. Disgraced former Hawks head, Mthandazo Ntlemeza, is set to return to his office on Monday having found a legal loophole with regard to the court’s ruling that he is unfit for office.

Phahlane too has shown that he might have to be dragged from his office kicking and screaming.

In the end, it will be the courts again that will watch the watchmen and who will ultimately protect South Africans from those appointed to protect us. DM

Photo: Acting National Commissioner of SAPS Lieutenant-General Kgomotso Phahlane. (Photo: Leila Dee Dougan)

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