South Africa


Hawks’ struggle to fix the years of Ntlemeza damage and assume meaningful role in State Capture investigation

Hawks’ struggle to fix the years of Ntlemeza damage and assume meaningful role in State Capture investigation
Head of the Hawks Lt Gen Godfrey Lebeya, 57, during an interview on September 07, 2018 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Alaister Russell)

MPs heard on Wednesday that for up to three years the Hawks have been sitting with a pile of State Capture cases involving Eskom, Tegeta, Transnet, Estina, the Guptas and others; there have yet to be trials, never mind convictions. The Steinhoff and VBS Mutual Bank fraud and corruption investigations also remain ‘in progress’.

Nine months after Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya, an advocate with a doctorate in law, was appointed to head the Hawks, 205 vacancies finally have been filled.

There had been 229 posts, but 19 were withdrawn for various reasons, the Hawks boss told MPs of Parliament’s police committee on Tuesday. Most of the appointment came from the ranks of the South African Police Service (SAPS); there had also been 143 promotions.

It’s a start for the Hawks, as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) is generally known. It shows renewed confidence after years of internecine battles, but lagging seriously behind are the two specialised units under its wing.

According to documents presented to MPs, the National Bureau for Illegal Firearms Control and Priority Violent Crimes — yes, the official acronym really is NBIFCPVC — should have 926 members, but has only 232, leaving it 694 employees short. And the South African Narcotics Enforcement Bureau (SANEB) has just 143 staff when it should have 977.

Both entities, established in 2016, are meant to play key roles in fighting drug trafficking and manufacture, and cracking down on, illegal firearms, explosives and related violent crime.

Until Lebeya’s appointment in May 2018, the Hawks for a year had an acting boss; for two years before that, it was led by Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, whose September 2015 appointment was widely seen as a move to capture the elite investigating unit.

Ntlemeza was appointed by former police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko despite court rulings describing him as dishonest and untrustworthy. Ntlemeza had taken over from Anwa Dramat, who after being suspended in December 2014 accepted a settlement following a tense stand-off with the minister over the rendition of six Zimbabweans six years earlier.

Former police minister Fikile Mbalula retired Ntlemeza in September 2017, whose court challenges ultimately proved unsuccessful.

On Tuesday Lebeya briefed MPs on a range of institutional issues: Forensic audit and financial analysis capacity remains a challenge as do nuts and bolts stuff such as water damage taking out two vehicles at the Free State office and how the roof was blown off another provincial office. And there was an update showing not much progress on high-profile investigations such as the State Capture cases.

We will not be dealing with details (of the State Capture cases)… Just to hint, we have seconded a colonel to sit in with the (Zondo) commission so we don’t miss anything…” said Lebeya, who was a little more forthcoming over what seems to have been a boost following the appointment of the new prosecutions boss, Shamila Batohi.

We are making headway. The working relationship is good,” said the quietly spoken general, adding that he had seconded his deputy to work with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on the establishment of the new prosecutions directorate for State Capture and other serious corruption that had been announced in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) in February.

But decisions on whether to prosecute Hawks cases “still take months”, MPs were told. One outstanding decision is in respect of alleged R11-million fraud over misrepresentations former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe made to the power utility’s pension fund as ventilated at the parliamentary State Capture inquiry in 2017.

On the back of charges laid at Sandton police station, the Hawks investigated fraud charges and contraventions of the Prevention of Corrupt Activities Act against “Eskom board and one person” — and with 17 statements taken it’s now a case of “awaiting a decision by the prosecutor”.

In other cases such as the Vrede dairy farm, where suspects were released after several court appearances, it was a matter of outstanding requests for mutual legal assistance from India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Outstanding information from the Bank of Baroda and a forensic report are needed in addition to the collected 810 statements to finalise the R2.4-billion fraud, corruption and money laundering case involving Eskom and the Gupta-linked Tegeta probe. It is also linked to alleged misuse of mine rehabilitation funds and payments involving international consultants McKinsey and its South African partner Trillian.

Financial analysis is also outstanding before the R100-million fraud, corruption and money laundering case involving payments to Gupta-linked companies by the South African division of the German IT firm SAP to secure contracts at Eskom and Transnet can go ahead.

The list goes on. The outlook is the same: Despite scores of statements, financial analysis and forensic audits delay finalisation. And then there are the outstanding mutual legal assistance requests.

The lack of feedback from such a mutual legal assistance request from Austria seems to be holding back the Steinhoff investigation into fraud, theft and contraventions of the Companies Act, Prevention of Corrupt Activities Act and Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

Charges were laid in December 2017, and in August 2018, after Steinhoff’s shares were almost wiped out when irregularities emerged in late 2017. Former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste told Parliament’s finance committee in September 2018 he knew nothing of accounting and financial irregularities across the worldwide group.

Away from the State Capture front, there are successes: Five gold bars valued at around R9-million were forfeited to the state following a sting operation, a North West taxi hitman was jailed for life while a Durban businessman was jailed for 12 years for having defrauded the Co-operative Governance Department of R7.5-million.

Tuesday’s polite meeting between the police committee and Hawks was the last between these lawmakers and law enforcers before the 8 May elections.

But this police committee has a wish list: The Hawks special units, the South African Narcotics Enforcement Bureau and the National Bureau for Illegal Firearms Control and Priority Violent Crimes, should become fully operational to do their bit in the fight against crime; skills to investigate and deliver prosecutable commercial crimes cases must be strengthened and there must be a separate budget for the Hawks.

As police committee chairperson Francois Beukman urged in a later statement:

The Zondo Commission has proven invaluable in providing information that the Hawks can use in the investigation and prosecution of crimes of corruption.” DM


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