Over the space of two months in mid-2010 Major General Johan Booysen would repeatedly be ordered to stop a criminal investigation into wealthy Durban businessman, Thoshan Panday’s dodgy deals at SAPS.
The controversial businessman is a powerful figure now known to have had business ties with former president Jacob Zuma’s son, Edward.
What started out as a standard investigation over inflated prices for bed and breakfasts, the purchase of two Sony TV sets, blankets and flip charts would later escalate into a drawn-out battle that would bit-by-bit show how certain elements, entrusted with law enforcement in South Africa, had become “captured”.
Booysen, boasting an unblemished career spanning over 40 years in the police service, is the first senior career cop to testify at the Commission.
His testimony is set to cover a broad range of developments involving high-profile cases and the conduct of senior personnel within SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority and politicians in the period 2010 to 2017.
He kicked off with events that occurred in 2010 shortly after a colleague handed him a file containing details of an alleged corrupt relationship between Panday and KZN policemen.
At that early stage, at face value, Booysen said, it seemed there had been procurement irregularities around Panday’s deals involving accommodation for policemen deployed in the province during the run-up to the Fifa Soccer World Cup.
“Indications were that all transactions relating to the World Cup period had gone through Panday’s company.”
But Booysen had not even had a chance to properly consider the report when then provincial police commissioner, Mmamonnye Ngobeni, called him during a drive home to demand what investigation he was busy with.
“I could hear from her voice, she was irritated.”
She wanted to know what investigation he was busy with – there were many, so he asked if she could be specific.
Ngobeni then referred to the procurement investigation.
“I tried to explain but she kept interrupting.”
The police in KwaZulu-Natal, she had allegedly told him, were already faced with huge embarrassment as a result of the manipulation of crime statistics at the Mountain Rise police station and could not afford another.
Ngobeni, Booysen testified, told him to stop the investigation and abruptly ended the call.
She was adamant, didn’t ask about the case, the magnitude of the investigation, the role players – she just wanted it to end.
While she had the right to issue instructions to him, Booysen says this most definitely did not provide for an order to stop a criminal investigation.
“In my view, that was an unlawful instruction.”
He told his investigating team about the order, took back the file but the investigation continued away from prying eyes as it implicated some of their colleagues in SAPS.
But Booysen received another call from Ngobeni about a week later on 8 May 2010.
“She shouted at me, was very irritated, and said ‘Johan, I told you to stop this investigation’.”
Booysen said he tried to convince her otherwise after checking back with his team.
A few weeks later, in late May 2010, during a meeting of provincial Hawks, his real boss, then national head of the Hawks, Major General Anwa Dramat cornered him during a tea break asking why the investigation had been stopped.
He assumed his colleagues had gone to Dramat, back then, probably assuming that he had sided with Ngobeni.
“I told him, that Ngobeni is adamant (for the investigation to stop). I told him there were clear indications of irregularity and he (Dramat) suggested we continue with the case but that they should report to the head office of the Hawks instead.
Only later on did Booysen become aware that Panday had allegedly whipped out his credit card to pay for a surprise birthday party for Ngobeni’s husband around the end of May 2010.
At a subsequent meeting of senior staff, Ngobeni would allegedly have a rant about some of them being more concerned with “money” as opposed to the lives of citizens.
When his team kept pressing about the importance of continuing with the investigation, Ngobeni then assigned a different person to head it.
This, said Booysen, was but a ruse, to pacify him.
She wanted the investigation concluded within two weeks.
“There is no way, even myself with the resources at my disposal at the time, could have pulled that off. (It would be) impossible to finalise a case of that magnitude in such a short period of time,” he says.
Two weeks later, Booysen’s lead investigator gave him a progress report which he then took to Ngobeni.
There was a clear case of fraud and corruption that warranted further investigation, he told her.
One of two reports handed to Ngobeni showed, among other things, that SAPS had paid Panday’s company, Goldcoast Trading, in excess of R15-million and preliminary evidence suggested that the team needed to scrutinise Panday’s ties with certain policemen.
The police had used Panday’s company to hire 13 C-class Mercedes Benz vehicles in early 2010, that he had billed SAPS for R172,000 for accommodation costs for six policemen while investigators found the actual cost had been just R33,000.
In one case, SAPS was slapped with a bill of R1,350 per person per night while the actual rate charged by the guest house was just R350 per night.
And, Panday’s company was not registered as an agent to have warranted those substantial commissions, Booysen said.
Booysen said upon seeing this report, he realised that certain crimes had been committed, his investigators were confident that if they were allowed to continue without any interference, they could produce a solid corruption and fraud docket.
But Ngobeni’s alleged incessant drive to block the investigation continued. Booysen testified to two meetings in her office, in both cases he had been called upstairs and once there, Panday, a key suspect of the criminal investigation, was seated there along with his attorney.
In both instances, Ngobeni sat back as Panday and or his lawyer allegedly attacked him over what he says they claimed was an unlawful investigation.
It was during one of these meetings that he realised that sensitive information about the investigation that had only been handed to Ngobeni, had somehow landed up with Panday.
During one of these meetings, Booysen said, Panday and his lawyer accused his lead investigator on the case of allegedly having tried to extort him.
When they were asked for an affidavit, a half-page document arrived. It contained no details about his investigator, only that an anonymous person had supposedly called Panday for R1-million to stop the investigation.
Booysen anyway investigated this serious claim and sent a docket to the NPA which later declined to prosecute.
Booysen’s testimony continues this afternoon. DM
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A medium popcorn & soft drink combo is the nutritional equivalent of three quarter-pounders and 12 pieces of butter.