South Africa

IPID trades blows with SAPS while calls grow for acting police commissioner to step down

By Greg Nicolson 31 May 2017

SAPS and IPID are at it again. The investigation into Acting Police Commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane on Wednesday saw IPID scared its offices would be raided. The feud continues to erode confidence in the police and has raised the question: Shouldn’t the minister ask Phahlane to step down? By GREG NICOLSON.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) on Wednesday condemned a planned police raid on its national office and claimed there was a systemic campaign by the South African Police Service (SAPS) to derail the investigation in Acting Police Commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane, accused of money laundering, defeating the ends of justice and corruption.

In a statement, IPID spokesperson Moses Dlamini said there was “reliable evidence” the National Intervention Unit (NIU), an elite police squad trained to deal with high-risk operations, was told to be on standby for the raid. Dlamini said IPID will continue to investigate the “serious” and “valid” allegations against the country’s top cop regardless of Phahlane’s attempts to interfere.

The acting commissioner and IPID boss Robert McBride have been in a long-running battle since the Phahlane investigations began and the feud bleeds into the broader political battle of who controls the arms of the criminal justice cluster. It has probably had a negative effect on the public’s perception of the police and recently appointed Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has been roped in to sort out the mess.

It is shocking that police resources would be used to shield a suspect just because of the position he holds,” said McBride on Wednesday. “The audacity to abuse power and disregard for the rule of law for personal interest is staggering. This is reminiscent of similar conduct by the same policemen who arrested Advocate Gerrie Nel and others to protect their masters.”

IPID last week served court papers on Phahlane to interdict him from interfering with its investigation. The investigation has been met with tit-for-tat responses from both parties as the feud continues to escalate. SAPS have launched investigations into some of the IPID officers investigating Phahlane. To make matters more confusing, some the SAPS officers investigating IPID officers are also under investigation by the watchdog.

On Tuesday, a court ordered that two IPID officers, Mandla Mahlangu and Temane Binang, who are facing charges for the manner in which they have investigated Phahlane, could not have any contact with seven key witnesses. The pair have been charged alongside private investigator Paul O’Sullivan, who Phahlane has painted as his arch-enemy, and O’Sullivan’s secretary. SAPS accused them of flouting the law through during their investigation, despite IPID’s claims O’Sullivan had only a minor role in the process.

Phahlane on Wednesday responded to IPID in a statement through SAPS spokesperson Major-General Sally de Beer. He said the claims that a raid would occur were “outrageous” and said he had consistently resisted using the media to discuss criminal investigations. However, he has on multiple occasions defended himself in the media.

The acting commissioner said he can “categorically state” that to his knowledge or on his instructions there was no plan to raid IPID on Wednesday. Phahlane has distanced himself from the SAPS investigations into IPID by claiming they were conducted by crime intelligence, which doesn’t report to him. The suspected raid on IPID comes after the watchdog raided his home for evidence of corruption, which clearly angered Phahlane.

The propaganda campaign embarked upon by IPID and this baseless allegation, which is completely unsubstantiated by facts, must be responded to as it casts the South African Police Service in an undeservedly bad light,” he said on Wednesday.

IPID’s statement refers to ‘reliable information’ relating to a planned raid without giving any clarity as to the source of such ‘reliable information’ or elaborating on why, if such raid had been planned, it was not carried out,” Phahlane continued.

IPID’s Dlamini wasn’t available for comment on Wednesday to respond to Phahlane’s allegations, but the complex story of investigations and counterinvestigations regarding two of the country’s crime-fighting units – one tasked to investigate general crime and the other tasked to investigate crime within the police service – could lower the public’s trust in the police.

This really does look like a war between two institutions and it’s not doing either institution well,” said Gareth Newham, head of governance, crime and justice at the Institute for Security Studies. He compared it to the fight between the now-disbanded unit, the Scorpions, and SAPS while the Scorpions were investigating former SAPS commissioner Jackie Selebi. That saw SAPS’s crime intelligence illegally gather intel from the Scorpions and the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) Nomgcobo Jiba approve the arrest of the Scorpions’ Advocate Gerrie Nel.

Newham said the battle between SAPS and IPID is likely to negatively affect the public’s perception of the police and he called on Minister Fikile Mbalula to ask Phahlane to temporarily step down. While IPID is mandated to investigate the police, Phahlane’s actions will look like he is interfering with an investigation and he should step aside, said Newham. If he believes in his innocence, he should allow the NPA and courts to do their work and he’ll be provided a chance to vindicate himself. While under investigation, Phahlane’s attempts to redeem himself, and the SAPS’s counterinvestigation, only weaken the perception of the SAPS image.

Newham referred to Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) head Chris Ngcobo. Ngcobo temporarily stepped down when he faced allegations of wrongdoing and after being cleared he returned to municipal policing without having sacrificed the image of the JMPD.

Newham said Phahlane’s alleged interference in the investigation will only slow down the process and weaken SAPS. “We really need to see action taken to protect the institution, which is much bigger than the two individuals,” he said, calling on Mbalula to ask Phahlane to step down while investigations are ongoing.

Mbalula’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga, on Wednesday had just read the reports on the planned raid on IPID. “The minister is taking serious legal advice on that matter of the conflict between the two different institutions,” he said. Mhaga couldn’t provide a timeline but said Mbalula would act after he is done receiving legal advice. DM

Photo: (Left) Acting Police Commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane (Leila Dee Dougan/DM Chronicles), (Right) IPID boss Robert McBride (SAPA)

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