South Africa

TAINTED COPS

A Pandora’s box of police corruption: Senior officers are coaching juniors into crime

National Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Khehla Sitole. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Moeletsi Mabe)

Extensive corruption within the South African Police Services is in the spotlight, through a series of high-profile arrests and the assassination of a top officer in Cape Town. But just how deep is the rot? As National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole goes after the top dogs, it’s clear he also has to keep an eye on the new generation of potential police leaders.

High-ranking police officers are roping in juniors to help them carry out corrupt activities, which has contributed to most officers implicated in dubious incidents coming from the lower ranks of the service.

This means that clean police bosses intent on stamping out corruption are dealing with a trickle-down effect – not only do they have to tackle senior officers and counterparts embroiled in crimes, but they also have to focus on many up-and-coming cops.

There have been 546 police members, including two lieutenant-generals, three major-generals and eight brigadiers linked to 286 SAPS corruption cases involving fraud, extortion, theft, aiding an escapee and defeating the ends of justice.

This emerged on Tuesday during a quarterly police briefing to the parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on corruption and cases relating to supply chain management.

“The junior members are foot soldiers for seniors. In most instances you’ll find they’re conniving with senior members,” police manager Lieutenant-General Sindile Mfazi said during the briefing.

National Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Khehla Sitole said that some corrupt activities being picked up now were dated.

“Most of the transgressions by senior police officers are not necessarily new transgressions. They come from the past. Most of them we’ve been sitting with,” he said. “But we didn’t know what was behind the curtain.”

An overview of corruption within the police service was presented during the briefing. Sitole has repeatedly and publicly vowed to root out corruption within the service – regardless of who may be taken into custody.

On 27 October 2020, two Gauteng station commanders were detained for their alleged involvement in a massive fraudulent firearm licencing network involving more than two dozen other suspects, including 15 police officers (two of them retired) and civilians, including Cape Town underworld suspect Nafiz Modack.

This network was investigated by Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, a member of the Anti-Gang Unit, when he was murdered in a hit outside his Bishop Lavis home in Cape Town on 18 September. 

His assassination shifted national focus to police corruption. 

But in December 2018, Kinnear had written a 59-page letter of complaint to his bosses, claiming that a group of police officers with links to Crime Intelligence were targeting him and some of his colleagues in the Western Cape. The implicated officers made counter-claims. The country’s head of Crime Intelligence, Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs, labelled the officers identified by Kinnear as a “rogue team”, recommending that the unit be disbanded. This never happened.

Kinnear was assigned a protection detail at his home at some point, but this was removed at the end of December, raising questions about who had ordered this.

Meanwhile, in another high-profile arrest earlier in October, the second most senior police officer in South Africa, Lieutenant-General Bonang Mgwenya, was arrested and charged in a case involving 14 other police officers, including former acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane, relating to a police blue lights tender scam.

In August, police made a string of arrests targeting their own in Gauteng, announcing that: “Fifteen people have been arrested on warrants… in connection with alleged corruption in supply chain processes in the R56-million car markings tender.”

Nine of the suspects arrested are former and serving SAPS members.

Also in August, 12 police officers in Gauteng were arrested for offences relating to corruption at OR Tambo International Airport.

On Tuesday, the presentation to Scopa on corruption within the police service said that Sitole “has acknowledged that police corruption has become increasingly topical, following the increasing reports of employees’ involvement in criminal activities. A perception of police corruption negatively undermines the entire policing fraternity.”

The presentation detailed several high-profile cases involving senior police managers.

It showed that since the beginning of April 2020, 79 employees – 50 of them senior members – were implicated in alleged corruption.

The Western Cape’s prosecutions record of police corruption cases is significant as the province, with the most severe gang-related crime problem in the country, has for long been dogged by claims of police infighting and officers siding with suspects instead of working against them.

The so-called blue lights case, in which Mgwenya was arrested, resulted in seven arrests. Ten other employees are implicated.

Of these 17 employees, seven disciplinary proceedings are in progress, five officers have left the police service, four have been exonerated and one dismissed in an unrelated matter.

In terms of irregular expenditure, 85 cases involving 92 employees (23 of them senior) were picked up, but in 50 of these matters it was found there was no prima facie case.

According to the presentation, there were 397 corruption cases countrywide. Various agencies were involved in these investigations.

Of these 397 cases, 237 were being handled by the police’s Detective Service’s National Anti-Corruption Unit, 146 were being probed by the Hawks, nine by the Investigative Directorate and five by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid). Some of the cases are being handled by more than one agency.

The presentation focused mostly on the 237 cases handled by the detective’s National Anti-Corruption Unit and showed that 257 police employees had been arrested. One was a major-general, two were brigadiers, three were lieutenant-colonels, five were captains, 33 warrant officers and the rest comprised constables, sergeants and others, including reservists.

It did not detail the specific cases or provide a breakdown of what these related to.

Of the 237 cases, the presentation showed that the bulk of these – 178 – resulted in arrests and prosecutions. 

Forty-five of these 178 court matters stemmed from the Western Cape, making the province the worst in South Africa in terms of the number of detective-investigated cop corruption cases that made it to court.

Gauteng ranked second in this arena with 25 cases making it to court, and the Free State was third, with 23 cases.

The Western Cape’s prosecutions record of police corruption cases is significant as the province, with the most severe gang-related crime problem in the country, has for long been dogged by claims of police infighting and officers siding with suspects instead of working against them.

But aside from the 178 court matters, none of the remaining National Anti-Corruption Unit cases – of which 29 were under investigation and 30 pending National Prosecuting Authority decisions – included the Western Cape.

This could mean that other state agencies, including the Hawks or Ipid, are investigating cases of police corruption linked to the province. 

Sitole on Tuesday reiterated that he was hellbent on tackling corruption within police ranks.

He explained that if police officers were suspected of acting outside the law and resigned while disciplinary processes were under way, it did not mean they had walked away from accountability.

Sitole said when officers resigned, checks were done to see if they faced pending criminal processes and if they had caused the state to lose money. If they had caused the state financial loss, their pensions would immediately be frozen.

“I’ve further tasked (Crime Intelligence) to establish the whereabouts of these people,” Sitole said, referring to officers who had resigned in the face of pending disciplinary matters, adding that this would enable police management to inform future employers of their past or see to it that their salaries could be docked if they owed the state money.

Processes were also in place to allow Crime Intelligence to conduct lifestyle audits and thorough vetting procedures.

The ANC’s Bheki Hadebe pointed out that the police service faced a long-term corruption conundrum – if corrupt senior officers were using juniors, it meant juniors were being tainted and if they were promoted, the “corrupt to the core” would effectively become the next crop of senior police officers.

Sitole said a succession plan for the police had been phased in two years ago.

This meant officer promotion was minimised and more focus was placed on increasing posts that were advertised. This, paired with strict scrutinising criteria of job applicants, was meant to prevent potentially crooked cops from being absorbed into police ranks.

Sitole ended by reciting a quote that has been attributed to philosopher Chuang Tzu:

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” DM

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All Comments 5

  • So as normal citizens….where do we go? How do we know if someone is crooked. Basically, it says , stay away from the police, If you are raped, burgled, assaulted, left for dead, whatever, it means you can’t go to the police. So, where do we go?

  • “Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs, labelled the officers identified by Kinnear as a “rogue team”, recommending that the unit be disbanded. This never happened.” Why has this never happened and who should have made it happen?

  • About the police stopped talking of reform and did some. Again a legacy of JZ but we really need to stop painting ourselves into a corner and reimagine an ethical police force. I say remove the top brass and start again.

  • Why should we be surprised? The SAPS is really just another form of SOE filled mostly with incompetent and corrupt cadres as the others are.