Days of Zondo

Johan Booysen shows there’s no holding back a straight cop on a mission

By Jessica Bezuidenhout 17 April 2019
Caption
Archive photo: Former head of the KZN Hawks General Major Johan Booysen during a press conference on November 16, 2017 in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.(Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier)

Former top cop Johan Booysen took the stand in the State Capture inquiry on Wednesday. He makes it sound like carrying a sensitive docket is akin to walking around with a loaded gun, aimed at yourself. How else do you even begin to describe the chain of events set off by a R60-million corruption case involving wealthy Durban businessman Thoshan Panday?

The bank account of Thoshan Panday’s company, Gold Coast Trading, was virtually barren until the millions started rolling in, thanks to a few dodgy deals linked to the 2010 Fifa World Cup bagged from the SA Police Services in late 2009 and 2010 — neatly coinciding with his purchase a R2.5-million Ferrari.

This criminal case has lingered for eight years and has more twists and turns than South Africa has had Cabinet reshuffles over that time.

The case also marks the genesis of a long-standing campaign to “clip” Booysen’s wings as the former head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal.

A career cop, Booysen would ultimately be burdened by a scandal involving dead suspects linked to cases of a unit under his command. He has successfully challenged multiple proceedings following his arrest in June 2012 on charges of racketeering emanating from the so-called Cato Manor “death squad” case.

That case against Booysen and several others was widely seen to have been part of a broader plan to capture South Africa’s law enforcement agencies by removing dedicated civil servants and replacing them with pliant characters.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the first subtle threat that the Cato Manor deaths could be used against him first popped up when he agreed to meet fellow cop, Colonel Navin Madhoe, at the Elangeni Hotel during a discussion about the need for his “help” in the ongoing Panday investigation.

The case involved irregular police tenders awarded to Panday’s company, inflated invoices for police accommodation, TV sets and blankets bought for police stations.

Madhoe, one of Panday’s “boys”, worked in the police’s supply chain management unit and was implicated along with the flashy businessman.

At that meeting back in 2011, Madhoe took out a laptop and began clicking away for Booysen to view a series of police photographs — of dead bodies.

He didn’t quite explain why he was presenting these police exhibits, but told Booysen there were “more” where they came from.

Madhoe was later arrested in the car park at his office, mere moments after handing Booysen part of a R2-million bribe in exchange for an altered document that would have invalidated search and seizure warrants and thereby, also the case against him, Panday and others.

This sting operation was handled by Booysen with full authorisation from the National Prosecuting Authority and his team investigating the case including lead investigator, Colonel Vasan Soobramoney.

Testifying at the State Capture Commission on Wednesday, Booysen dissected the journey of this one little corruption case, the meddling from higher up, and showed there were at least as many good cops as there were rotten apples who tried to scupper it.

Official telephone calls intercepted by the police’s Crime Intelligence Unit showed how on the day of Madhoe’s arrest, Panday was on the phone with a business partner, allegedly a relative of former president Jacob Zuma, named Deebo Mazobe. Panday was livid.

Who on earth did Booysen think he was, behaving “like the Mafia”.

It was time to “clip” his wings.

Soon after, media reports about the Cato Manor death squad surfaced, later leading to Booysen’s arrest.

He told the State Capture Commission that the mess started in early May 2010, shortly after a colleague had given him a preliminary file on the Panday case.

Booysen’s then boss, provincial police commissioner Mmamonnye Ngobeni, ordered him to drop it. She would do this multiple times, even summoning Booysen to meetings in her office where the main culprit, Panday, would effectively “chair” the meetings as he sat and berated him over this “unlawful” investigation.

It later turned out that Panday had funded a surprise birthday party for Ngobeni’s husband.

When Booysen later issued a letter to SAPS finance to immediately freeze a final R15-million payment due Panday’s company as a result of the corruption investigation, it would be none other than Panday’s “silent partner”, the son of former President Jacob Zuma, Edward Zuma, who rocked up at his office to try to have the money released.

Booysen would make two attempts, via a friend, to chat to then-president Zuma about his son’s business ties with this criminal suspect.

Once he would be left in the car outside Zuma’s home at Nkandla. The second time, he only got as far as discussing some political generalities with the former Number One.

Although he had initially agreed to stop the investigation, the case continued and Booysen and his investigators became more and more unpopular.

Panday at some point tried to accuse lead investigator Soobramoney of having tried to extort him. When Booysen asked for an affidavit, a half-pager arrived speaking only of an anonymous caller who had made a demand in exchange for dropping the case.

But Booysen investigated and submitted the docket to the NPA, which declined to prosecute.

He also testified how once, while attending a domestic violence seminar, he received a call from a colleague, Warrant Officer Paul Mostert.

Mostert allegedly told him that Panday had been in touch; he wanted Mostert to “steal” the evidence and if that failed, to set the building in which it was kept on fire. This was an old Scorpions office and the police kept exhibits there.

Booysen encouraged him to entertain Panday and informed his team while they tried to arrange a sting operation.

Panday must have caught a whiff that something was up because the plan crashed, Booysen said.

How Panday knew where the evidence was being kept is a mystery, but Booysen told the commission that a Colonel Welcome Mhlongo, who worked in the same building as his team, had been picked up in intercepted telephone conversations with Panday.

As a result, he said, he had good reason to assume that Mhlongo may have been a mole.

Mhlongo, Booysen said, had previously been seconded to the NPA to help solve cold cases and had at some point been asked, allegedly by former acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba, to help dig up dirt on her predecessor, Mxolisi Nxasana, Booysen said.

Jiba would later sign off on the Cato Manor prosecution and has denied ulterior motives in having done so.

At R60-million, the Panday case is peanuts on South Africa’s corruption scale, but the Durban businessman is known to have powerful political allies — and Booysen, well, he seemingly just couldn’t turn a blind eye to it, not even for R2-million in R100 and R50 notes, handed over in the basement of the Hawks office in Durban.

Booysen’s testimony continues on Thursday. DM

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In other news...

South Africa is in a very real battle. A political fight where terms such as truth and democracy can seem more of a suggestion as opposed to a necessity.

On one side of the battle are those openly willing to undermine the sovereignty of a democratic society, completely disregarding the weight and power of the oaths declared when they took office. If their mission was to decrease society’s trust in government - mission accomplished.

And on the other side are those who believe in the ethos of a country whose constitution was once declared the most progressive in the world. The hope that truth, justice and accountability in politics, business and society is not simply fairy tale dust sprinkled in great electoral speeches; but rather a cause that needs to be intentionally acted upon every day.

However, it would be an offensive oversight not to acknowledge that right there on the front lines, alongside whistleblowers and civil society, stand the journalists. Armed with only their determination to inform society and defend the truth, caught in the crossfire of shots fired from both sides.

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