South Africa

Analysis: The corrosive effect of corruption – court convicts former Provincial Commissioner, Arno Lamoer

By Marianne Thamm 20 February 2018

Former Provincial Commissioner Arno Lamoer was found not guilty in the Western Cape High Court on Monday on charges of money laundering and racketeering – a charge that carries massive fines and even life imprisonment – but guilty on a charge of corruption. Lamoer, after first pleading not guilty, later changed his plea, admitting that he received financial gratification from Cape Town businessman Salim Dawjee between December 2011 and September 2013 amounting to around R75,000. Lamoer was tipped off thrice by former National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega that he was being investigated by the Hawks. We may never know why. The conviction marks the end of a sorry saga of need, greed and high-level corruption. By MARIANNE THAMM.

In 1997, Independent UK journalist Mary Braid reported on the then open warfare on the Cape Flats between gang and druglords and People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad), a militant vigilante group formed the previous year. Back then Arno Lamoer headed a crisis task force aimed at rooting out corruption in the region. A year later he headed the Organised Crime and Public Safety directorates in the region and moved up the ranks to become commander for special operations.

If gang and Pagad duplicity were all he had to deal with he would be a happy man. Much worse is the involvement of corrupt police officers and politicians,” wrote Braid.

On Monday, 21 years after Braid’s story appeared, Lamoer found himself convicted on a charge of corruption for having received financial inducements from “businessman” Salim Dawjee, a fellow accused in the matter.

Other accused were former Stellenbosch police cluster commander Brigadier Darius van der Ross, former provincial head of the inspectorate Brigadier Kolindren Govender as well as Govender’s wife, former Bellville station commander, Brigadier Sharon Govender.

Sharon Govender was acquitted of all charges while her husband as well as Van der Ross were also convicted of corruption. Dawjee was found guilty of corruption and fraud.

Lamoer, speaking to Braid in 1997, recounted how during the apartheid era gangs had been used by both the government and anti-apartheid activists.

If we arrested someone, the first thing they would say is call brigadier or colonel so-and-so,” Lamoer told Braid, who described him later as “widely recognised as an honest cop (and was denied promotion throughout the Eighties).”

The original charge sheet in the Lamoer corruption and racketeering trial set out how Dawjee had given the former provincial commissioner and his co-accused money and gifts and had paid for rented cars for relatives in exchange for police protection.

Dawjee had paid for a holiday for Lamoer as well as settled his clothing store account. The state alleged that Lamoer received a total of R75,524, and Van der Ross R7,324, while Kolindren Govender received the lion’s share of R192,260.

The indictment set out how Dawjee had “sought to persuade police to act as he required them to. Relying on his police connectivity, he threatened SAPS members to act as he required and threatened to report them to Lamoer, Govender, Van der Ross and Sharon Govender if they did not act in accordance with his wishes”.

A tragic full circle.

After initially protesting his innocence, Lamoer changed his plea to guilty on 8 February, explaining that he had done so to speed up the trial process.

In his revised plea he set out how his wife had died in 2005, leaving him to care for his three daughters. He had served the SAPS for 35 years with “distinction and loyalty towards our country and its people” and said that in all those years he had never been investigated or departmentally charged for any misconduct.

He said he had met Dawjee more than 25 years ago when he had been stationed at the Manenberg SAPS.

We became friends and remain friends through all these years. During this friendship, we supported one another in good times and in difficult times,” said Lamoer.

However, he admitted that he made loans from Dawjee and his businesses Towbars Cape and Towbars King (listed as accused No 2 and 3 in the indictment), between December 2011 and September 2013 with the understanding that these loans would be paid back on request or after his retirement.

I honoured the agreement after my retirement,” said Lamoer.

The former top cop was suspended in 2015 and retired in 2016. Lamoer, however, explained that he had not provided any favours to Dawjee until November 2013 when “I accordingly admit that I wrongfully, unlawfully and intentionally gave a letter of good standing to accused no 1 (Dawjee) for the benefit of accused 1 to 3.”

Lamoer wrote that he had not been aware of any criminal investigation against Dawjee with regards to money laundering, drug dealing or criminal activity.

As the provincial commissioner of the South African Police Service Western Cape, Mr Dawjee is known to the undersigned for 20 years and is not aware and neither bears knowledge of Mr Dawjee being investigated or convicted of any criminal activity. As an officer of the law for almost 34 years and in my position as provincial commissioner and senior official, I cannot and will not associate myself with any person, who is involved in any criminal activity,” wrote Lamoer on an SAPS letterhead for use by Dawjee.

Kolindren Govender told the court that Dawjee was his cousin and that he had received R24,601.44 between 2011 and 2013.

I admit that my intention to commit this crime was dolus eventualis as when I accepted the aforesaid gratifications I foresaw the possibility that such gratifications would induce me in the execution of my duties to act, personally or by influencing another to act in a manner that amounts to improper preferential treatment of (Dawjee and his company). Despite foreseeing this possibility, I still accepted gratifications” Govender told the court.

Govender’s admissions were that in 2013 he had gone to an address in Gugulethu after work hours to check on a vehicle used in a burglary at Dawjee’s brother’s house; that in the same year he had introduced a warrant officer to Dawjee to assist him with his daughter’s appeal regarding her gun licence application; that he had put a Lieutenant-General in Mpumalanga who had asked about tickets to attend a jazz festival in touch with Dawjee, who had a spare ticket, and finally that he had introduced Dawjee to a captain in July 2013 to assist him with an application to temporarily possess a firearm.

Van der Ross said he had met Dawjee through his SAPS work and that they had become “friends”. Dawjee, he added, had always been involved with police “in various helpful ways, especially through sponsorships and donations as well as other community upliftment projects. I always saw [Dawjee] as a friend to the police,” Van der Ross told the court. The former Brigadier admitted to using Dawjee’s petrol card to fill up his personal vehicle. The amount in this charge is R3,324.60.

While the conviction of Lamoer on Monday brings a certain closure to the ongoing saga, there are still many unanswered questions including why it was that former National Commissioner Riah Phiyega had warned Lamoer that he was being investigated by the Hawks.

A notable subplot in the cop-eat-cop saga is that the original undercover investigation, titled Operation Toffee, was registered by controversial Western Cape head of Crime Intelligence, Brigadier Mzwandile Tiyo.

Much of the information about the operation was later revealed in Tiyo’s 2014 Labour Court hearing brought by POPCRU on behalf of Tiyo who was appointed Acting Provincial Head, Crime Intelligence Western Cape between June 2010 and October 2010 and again from February 2012 to December 2013.

Tiyo was later replaced by Major-General Peter Jacobs. At the time Tiyo, whose qualifications and security clearance were questioned, said he had been sidelined because of his investigation into Lamoer. Later, now suspended acting Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane illegally demoted Jacobs and reinstated Tiyo. This was overturned by the labour court. Jacobs is still waiting to return to his job.

In his labour court papers Tiyo said Operation Toffee had been registered for 12 months following reports from various sources that Dawjee was bribing senior SAPS leaders in the Western Cape.

He had applied for the registration of Operation Toffee on 22 May 2013. Because of this, said Tiyo, he had received authorisation in terms of the SAPS Act and the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act to monitor and intercept communications. The legality of these interceptions were later questioned by the defence during Lamoer’s trial-within-a-trial.

It has been suggested that Lamoer had been investigating criminal elements in CI who had been abusing a secret slush fund, which in turn resulted in his being investigated and caught out.

Tiyo had reported his findings of Lamoer’s relationship with Dawjee to then acting National Crime Intelligence head Major-General Chris Ngcobo who had been appointed to the position in 2012 after the suspension of Richard Mdluli on charges of fraud and corruption.

Ngcobo himself resigned in 2015 after “discrepancies” were discovered with regard to his matric qualifications.

It was Ngcobo who had informed Phiyega of the investigation into Lamoer.

Phiyega on 15 October 2013 called Lamoer and in detail discussed with Lamoer the ongoing active investigation monitoring of his cellphone as part of Operation Toffee,” said Tiyo.

Phiyega’s call was in turn monitored by Colonel Daniel Lourens who in turn informed Tiyo, who told Ngcobo.

All in a day’s work.

After Tiyo had opened a case docket as instructed by Ngcobo, Phiyega had intervened, announcing the splitting of functions of Crime Intelligence and Protection Services which had been managed by Ngcobo.

In 2014 IPID intimated that it was investigating Phiyega for tipping off Lamoer, but the NPA, led at the time by Mxolisi Nxasana, had later refused to charge her with defeating the ends of justice as “there are no reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution”.

Go figure.

Lamoer’s conviction and admission of guilt is yet another sorry tale of a good cop turned bad trading principle for the want of money. The amount that Lamoer took from Dawjee is minuscule compared with the millions siphoned off by other top cops and their accomplices who are yet to be brought to book.

Until criminal cops are flushed out of the system, charged, convicted and in some instances jailed (and not in the hospital wing, like former National Commissioner Jackie Selebi), the SAPS will continue to suffer a serious deficit of trust and respect, regardless of the many good men and women who do serve with honour and distinction.

Arno Lamoer might once have been one of those officers. Now his long career is over and his reputation in tatters. The lesson: it is never worth it. DM

Photo: Western Cape Provincial commissioner Arno Lamoer seen testifying on Tuesday, 1 April 2014, the last day of phase one of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into alleged police inefficiency in the area. The commission was set up by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille after complaints of police inefficiency in Khayelitsha. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA

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