South Africa


SAPS Wars, Part One: The blurry blue line between the cops and the Cape underworld

In February 2018, controversial Cape Town businessman Mark Lifman was arrested after returning home from an overseas trip.

Cape Town gangs are fighting one another. So what’s new? Cape Town police are also fighting — and the two battles are disturbingly intertwined.

A spat among Western Cape cops has exposed deep fractures in the police — the country’s crime intelligence head having labelled some officers a “rogue team” and a detective accusing them of colluding with underworld figures.

In turn, there are counter allegations that the detective and his allies are the ones who have taken sides in the underworld.

Adding to the murk — and the high stakes — is the way in which some gangsters are seen to have aligned themselves with the ANC factions, seeking mutual advancement and protection.

Kinnear’s complaint

Things came to a head in December when Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, a senior detective on the Cape Town gang beat, sent a 59-page complaint to his superiors alleging a plot against him and some colleagues, including Western Cape detective head Major-General Jeremy Vearey and national crime intelligence head Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs.

Kinnear blamed six officers led by a Brigadier Sanjith Hansraj, who, according to police correspondence seen by amaBhungane, is attached to the office of Western Cape crime intelligence head Major General Mzwandile Tiyo.

Kinnear also said in his complaint that two of the officers had claimed to work “under the command” of Tiyo.

To keep things simple, we will call Hansraj and his fellow officers the “Tiyo group”.

Hansraj told amaBhungane that he was working with his union and attorneys to address Kinnear’s complaint.

The truth will come out,” he said.

Tiyo referred questions to the police communications division.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo told amaBhungane that National Commissioner Khehla Sitole viewed Kinnear’s charges in a “very serious light” and had tasked two senior officers to examine the charges and counter-charges at the national level.

Two sets of claims — and cops

Kinnear is the investigating officer in a high-profile Cape Town court drama — an extortion case against businessman Nafiz Modack that goes to the heart of the alleged alignment between Cape Town underworld figures, dirty cops and politicians.

Modack is the apparent heir to the late Cyril Beeka’s bouncer empire. An intelligence operative, Beeka had dominated Cape Town nightclub security before being gunned down in March 2011. Nightclub security is often seen as associated with the illicit drugs trade.

The case against Modack, expected to go to trial in the Cape Town Regional Court in April 2019, has also been used to air counter-claims against members of Kinnear’s group — not least that they are working with Modack’s rival, controversial businessman Mark Lifman. Modack has effectively claimed that his arrest was a set-up that would benefit Lifman, who also had an interest in nightclub security.

But the allegation is mutual: In his complaint against the Tiyo group, Kinnear singled out a Captain Alfred Barker, whom he effectively claimed was aligned with Modack. Barker has declined to comment.

Modack has in court denied that he is colluding with corrupt police, saying instead that he has simply passed on information he received from others to police officers. He has also denied the criminal charges he faces.

Lifman has previously denied being involved in crime and has also claimed the state targeted him for ulterior purposes.

In mid-January Jacobs, the national crime intelligence boss, ratcheted up the conflict via an email to police bosses including National Commissioner Sitole, in which he backed Kinnear, calling the Tiyo group a “rogue team”.

Jacobs, who hails from the Western Cape, recommended the group be disbanded and its operations departmentally and criminally investigated.

Factions and the Zuma factor

The situation provincially mirrors that nationally in that tensions among police officers appear to be driven by their prior alignment, perceived or real, with former president Jacob Zuma.

There have long been suspicions that certain officers were deployed to protect Zuma and his interests and that they have been blocking the work of those seen to be anti-Zuma.

Jacobs and Vearey share a history, both as former uMkhonto weSizwe operatives and more recently as being among the cops associated with investigations viewed as embarrassing to Zuma and police brass appointed by him.

Some of this fragmentation was exposed because of a national gun-smuggling investigation that revealed how firearms meant to have been kept or destroyed by the police were channelled to Western Cape gangsters.

Guns for gangsters

Vearey, then like now provincial detective head, and Jacobs, who used to head crime intelligence in the province, had initially driven Project Impi, the firearm smuggling probe.

In June 2016, the two were pulled from the investigation when they were transferred to different posts — effectively demoted. Tiyo was appointed in Jacobs’ place and Major General Patrick Mbotho, now Hawks head in the North West, in Vearey’s.

On the same day another senior officer, Sonja Harri, the provincial crime investigation services head who had reported to Vearey, was also shifted sideways. Harri has recently lodged a complaint against Mbotho, whom she accuses of victimising her based on her “perceived affiliation to [Vearey’s] camp”.

Mbotho declined to comment, referring queries to the police communications division. Western Cape police spokesperson Andre Traut said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss the Harri complaint as it was an internal matter between employer and employee.

The June 2016 reshuffle dislodged allegations against senior officers — including Tiyo and Mbotho.

Vearey and Jacobs approached the Cape Town Labour Court to have their transfers reversed. It is there that details about Project Impi and fractures within the police were exposed.

According to their labour court affidavits, Project Impi started out as a Western Cape-based investigation in December 2013, but morphed into a national one.

It included looking into police officers issuing fraudulent gun licences; firearms being stockpiled for possible use against the state; cross-border gunrunning; and, most notably, firearms meant to have been destroyed or safeguarded by the police being sold to Cape gangsters.

Why was Project Impi hobbled?

Vearey said in his labour court affidavit that he believed his transfer was motivated in part by his perceived role when former MP Vytjie Mentor first made claims about Zuma and the Guptas. He said Mentor had asked that he personally take a statement from her, but that officers under his command did so.

Mentor’s allegations then appeared in City Press.

Vearey said he did not know who was behind the media leak, but that Mentor then revealed that he had arranged to have her statement taken. “This fuelled the narrative… that I was involving myself in factional politics. This narrative had no basis in fact…

However, I submit that they fuelled an ulterior motive which led to my transfer, contrary to the interests of the SAPS, the public interest, and the prevention of criminal gang activity in the Western Cape.”

Vearey and Jacobs were transferred to “desk jobs” that took them out of the front line.

More than meets the eye?

amaBhungane understands that Vearey believes, for reasons not yet disclosed, that his sidelining had as much to do with Project Impi as the Mentor saga.

Project Impi netted a police colonel, Chris Prinsloo, in January 2015. He entered into a plea bargain in June 2016 — just before Vearey and Jacobs were effectively demoted — and was sentenced to 18 years in jail.

Prinsloo had opened an unauthorised storeroom in Germiston. Instead of ensuring confiscated firearms were destroyed, according to his confession, he sold about 2 000 guns to Cape Town businessman Irshaad Laher.

It is the state’s case that Laher made the firearms available for sale to Western Cape gangsters. Prinsloo remains incarcerated, while Laher’s trial is yet to commence.

Laher’s pending prosecution has not been without controversy — which in turn ratcheted open the Pandora’s box of crime and collusion a little more.

Murdered lawyers

The state accused Laher’s defence team, which included Advocate Pete Mihalik and his close associate, attorney Noorudien Hassan, of accessing confidential information, including details of a police informant. The informant was from a prominent underworld family and his role in Project Impi was exposed.

Both lawyers have since been gunned down: Hassan in November 2016 and Mihalik in October 2018.

Hassan and Mihalik both specialised in criminal law; together they represented a who’s who of Cape organised crime. Although the motives for both their murders remain unknown, there are suspicions they fell victim to their inside knowledge of top gangsters or the dynamics between underworld figures and the police.

Mihalik was initially on the defence team in Modack’s extortion case, where Kinnear is the investigating officer. Kinnear charged during bail proceedings that Mihalik had involved himself in improper conduct. Mihalik withdrew despite denying the claim.

Before joining Modack’s team, Mihalik had represented suspects widely viewed as bitter rivals to Modack. This meant that when he took on the Modack matter, Mihalik may have been seen as a threat to those he represented earlier — he may have had information that could be used against them.

In particular, it is understood from several sources that Mihalik had information about certain current and former officers allegedly colluding with underworld figures — a theme that repeatedly cropped up in Modack’s bail application and is central to Modack’s claims of a conspiracy to frame him.

What Project Impi uncovered

Rewinding to the 2016 labour court case brought by Vearey and Jacobs; they had argued that by sidelining them, the firearms investigation was left rudderless. They had been close to making more arrests.

They also noted that despite the importance of the investigation, police bosses had reduced resources available to it, leaving the police vulnerable to civil claims.

They had been in possession of thousands of firearms which they were supposed to destroy. Instead, they were released to gangs who were killing many members of the public with them,” Vearey stated.

The smuggled firearms, he said, were linked to 1,666 murders, 1,403 attempted murders and 261 children being shot in Cape gang hot spots between 2010 and 2016.

Jacobs’s affidavit revealed tensions between him and Tiyo, who had replaced him as head of crime intelligence in the province — he claimed that Tiyo “still lacked” the necessary security clearance at the time and was not suitable for the post.

The labour court ruled in Vearey and Jacobs’ favour in August 2017. But for months afterwards, they remained in the positions to which they felt they had been demoted.

Only after Cyril Ramaphosa took over as head of state in February 2018 did this change.

At the end of March, Jacobs was announced as South Africa’s new crime intelligence boss, and in April Vearey was made the head of detectives in the Western Cape.

It is in these roles that Jacobs and Vearey have now, according to Kinnear’s complaint, been targeted by fellow police officers.

Two-tiered trouble

The latest leg of the Western Cape police quarrel can be superimposed on the vicious turf war that has been gripping the provincial underworld.

In recent years the nightclub security industry has undergone dramatic change — which has gone hand-in-hand with claims against certain cops.

Two main groups are involved. The first is allegedly headed by Modack, a middleman for luxury car sales, and Colin Booysen, an alleged gang boss previously convicted of murder. This has been labelled the “Modack group” in court.

Modack is widely considered to have filled a void left when Beeka was assassinated in 2011. But his entry into nightclub security was not instantaneous — and there are questions about who exactly is backing and funding him.

After Beeka’s death, security operations in Cape Town were initially consolidated under shadowy figures including Colin’s estranged brother, Jerome “Donkie” Booysen, and his associate, Lifman.

It is worth noting that a Hawks investigator in 2012 named Jerome Booysen as a suspect in Beeka’s murder and also as a boss of the Sexy Boys gang, although nothing came of these claims.

Six years after Beeka’s death and following the amalgamation of bouncer operations, Modack entered the nightclub security arena.

The Modack group now faces off against the grouping that allegedly includes Jerome Booysen and Lifman — referred to in court as the “Lifman group”.

Like Beeka before, Modack is acquainted with Zuma’s son Duduzane and parades his ANC connections. He once wore a jacket in court sporting the party’s logo.

Lifman has his own apparent political connections: In 2014 he was snapped alongside then ANC provincial chair Marius Fransman and Zuma at the then-president’s birthday celebrations in Cape Town.

And it has been alleged that during Zuma-appointee Tom Moyane’s controversial tenure at the South African Revenue Service, a tax case against Lifman was deliberately blocked from within.

Nightclubs security — arrests and a pivotal bail application

According to what has surfaced in court via police investigators, the Modack group started taking over nightclub security in March 2017, in the Cape Town city centre and further afield, effectively snatching control from the Lifman group.

Investigators believe that gaining control of the door to an establishment equates to gaining control of drugs and other illicit items that pass through it.

The nightclub security takeover has been punctuated by shootings and skirmishes.

Then in mid-December 2017, Modack, Colin Booysen and four others were arrested for allegedly forcing their security operations on to a Granger Bay establishment; this gave rise to the extortion case.

One of the four was gunned down in Goodwood, Cape Town, in August 2018.

During the bail applications, which stretched from late December 2017 to the end of February 2018, serious allegations surfaced against police officers.

The claims can be distilled into two categories — the first being that Kinnear and officers working with him were under the influence of the Lifman group, while the second was that Modack was in cahoots with at least one member of the Tiyo group.

Kinnear, as the investigating officer in the case against Modack and his co-accused, reported to Vearey.

The ‘questionable’ arrest and raids

While the bail applications were drawing to a close in February 2018, Lifman was arrested after returning to Cape Town from an overseas trip. Provincial commissioner Jula commended the detectives who made the arrest.

In his 59-page complaint claiming a plot by a member of the “Tiyo group”, Kinnear accused Barker — the officer he had insinuated was close to Modack — of being instrumental in detaining Lifman irregularly.

Lifman faced charges of intimidation and pointing a firearm. It turned out that the complainant was Modack, who was still in custody for the extortion case. Days after Lifman’s arrest, before he even set foot in a courtroom, the case against him was withdrawn.

William Booth, Lifman’s attorney, told amaBhungane in February:

Mr Lifman is in [the] process of suing the police for his unlawful arrest in Feb 2018 and an unlawful search at his home some months prior to that…”

Allegations of an unlawful search of Lifman’s home mirror previous claims by Modack. In July 2017, police officers raided his home in Plattekloof, but Modack charged that they had no search warrant and that the officers “burgled” his home and stole classified documents from a safe.

In effect, Lifman and Modack have characterised different groups within the police as “rogue”.

Spy vs spy — and Serbian connections

Modack’s take on factions within the police was revealed in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court when, during Modack’s bail application, Kinnear disclosed details of audio recordings in the state’s possession.

Kinnear said that in one recording Modack alleged that he (Kinnear) and Vearey were on the payroll of Lifman and Jerome Booysen.

Kinnear also referred to another recording, of a May 2017 meeting between Vearey, Modack and Russel Christopher, a former State Security Agency (SSA) official who Modack called “Uncle Russel”.

Vearey and Christopher both trained in ANC intelligence and appear to be close. Christopher was also close to Beeka — as well as to former senior intelligence official Mo Shaik.

Kinnear, in his testimony, alleged that during this meeting, Modack said he was dealing with high-ranking police officers and had named Tiyo and Mbotho as officers who could “sort it out” if he ever had a problem. These happen to be the two policemen who took over from Jacobs and Vearey when they were transferred in June 2016.

Then there was another recording Kinnear referred to — of Modack talking to a man from Serbia who turned out to be George Darmanovic.

Darmanovic, a South African of Montenegrin Serb extraction, previously worked with the SSA and had known Beeka. He died in a hail of bullets in the Serbian capital of Belgrade in May 2018.

Kinnear had testified that Modack’s communication with Darmanovic showed his connections to people in government.

At the time of his assassination, Darmanovic was purporting to investigate Lifman. He made claims to amaBhungane that Lifman was being protected from the highest levels of the police, the SSA and SARS.

Intriguingly, 11 days before Darmanovic’s death, a man said to be Milan Djuricic, of Serbia, was gunned down in Johannesburg.

Djuricic’s apparent killing is indirectly linked to Beeka. Djuricic was associated with another Serb, Dobrosav Gavric, who was Beeka’s driver-cum-bodyguard and was driving Beeka when he died.

Living in South Africa under a false name, Gavric was a fugitive after being convicted for the January 2000 assassination of brutal Serbian gangster and war-criminal Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan. This hit was allegedly on the orders of the Serbian secret service, where Gavric was said to be an operative.

Djuricic had also been present when Arkan was killed and, like Gavric, was convicted for his murder.

The circle was closing: Beeka, the nightclub security kingpin and intelligence operative, was being driven by Gavric, a Serbian assassin and alleged operative when he was murdered.

Seven years later Gavric’s accomplice, Djuricic, was apparently killed in South Africa shortly before Darmanovic, a former South African intelligence operative, was killed in Serbia.

The context of this violence is the Cape nightlife — where music, money, drugs, prostitution and protection intersect.

This swirling hall of mirrors is a favourite hunting ground not only for organised crime, but also for the intelligence services. And sometimes they are indistinguishable.

To be continued. DM

Look out for Part 2 to see how a Czech criminal’s alleged links to South Africa’s former president further blurred the line between cops and criminals.

The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, an independent non-profit, produced this story. Like it? Be an amaB Supporter to help us do more. Sign up for our newsletter and WhatsApp alerts to get more.


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