South Africa

ANALYSIS

Smear and Loathing: Cop versus cop versus gangster in an unseemly melee that betrays the people’s trust

Charl Kinnear (Photo: Noor Slamdien) | Major-General Jeremy Vearey. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | Major-General Andre Lincoln. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

If claims levelled against certain police officers in the Western Cape prove true, devious state thugs have betrayed the residents of South Africa’s most gang-stricken province. But if the claims are malicious untruths, it will show just how low those behind the smear campaigns have sunk to undermine trust in policing.

In a Cape Town courtroom in January 2018, claims emerged that the head of detectives in the Western Cape, Major-General Jeremy Vearey, was a member of the 27s gang and worked with the gang’s leader to have an attorney murdered.

Fast-forward nearly three years and claims of a similar nature have been made in another Cape Town courtroom. This time the claims focus on the head of the Anti-Gang Unit (AGU), Major-General Andre Lincoln, and are along the lines that he wanted a criminal suspect and the suspect’s partner to help him carry out a hit on someone who had been threatening him and his colleague, AGU member Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear.

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In both these instances, the claims were made during the early stage of a court case, so neither Vearey nor Lincoln were able to immediately and officially defend themselves within the parameters of the unfolding court processes.

Claims against police officers, when viewed in the broader context of cops versus suspects, are nothing new.

Often the character of a police officer is brought into question by the defence during a court case to either legitimately show, or create the impression, that something is amiss with the officer, and therefore the investigation itself.

What makes the situation distinctive in the Western Cape is that two of the province’s most senior cops, Vearey and Lincoln, are alleged to have orchestrated killings.

Nafiz Modack. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger)

One suspect, Nafiz Modack, is linked to the claims against both cops.

Also, the suspects’ claims against cops overlay a decades-old web of claims and counterclaims among police officers themselves.

This infighting recently picked up intensity and, adding to the mix, was the assasination of Kinnear outside his Bishop Lavis home in Cape Town on 18 September this year.

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Kinnear had made scathing claims against his colleagues.

Such developments have poisoned the image of the police service and left residents questioning which police officers are trustworthy. 

It is a somewhat unfair situation as public opinion is mostly based on early, one-sided claims that surface in court and are not immediately countered, as well as documents that are leaked to the media.

Situations can be defused when a fuller picture emerges in time, but residents still may not know enough about particular cops to be able to gauge their value systems or understand the nuanced context of investigations they are conducting.

This terrain of claims against cops is almost impossible to navigate because it is a combination of solid information, probable intentionally planted disinformation and claims that may be under investigation but reach the public untested.

In the Vearey saga, the bail application in which claims of his gangsterism were made, centred on Modack, who, at that stage, was accused of extortion (of which he was subsequently acquitted).

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It emerged during proceedings in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court that Modack had told a contact Vearey was a 27s gang member who had worked with the head of the gang, Red, to have attorney Noorudien Hassan murdered.

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Hassan was fatally shot in the Cape Town suburb of Lansdowne on 7 November 2016.

It further emerged that Modack had said both Vearey and Kinnear were on the payrolls of controversial Cape Town figures Mark Lifman and Jerome “Donkie” Booysen – a duo widely viewed as Modack’s rivals.

Vearey has not been criminally charged over these claims. Kinnear was not charged. Both were investigating matters relating to Modack.

Vearey has faced several other accusations of criminality but has never been arrested. For years he has insisted smear campaigns are intended to tarnish his reputation and derail critical investigations he is conducting, some of which are internal probes.

Vearey has said some smears come from within the police service. He also reportedly said some were linked to crime intelligence.

Accusations against Lincoln – that he wanted help to orchestrate a hit — came last week during the bail application of Amaal Jantjies. She is accused alongside two men of being involved in a plot relating to a grenade allegedly found outside Kinnear’s home in November 2019.

Jantjies claimed that Lincoln and other AGU members wanted her help, and that of Janick Adonis, one of her two co-accused, to carry out a hit on someone she did not name.

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Her bail application has not concluded and is only expected to resume in the Parow Regional Court in January. The State has not yet had a chance to question Jantjies and test the veracity of her claims.

Lincoln was not present during these court proceedings.

Outside this court saga, Modack has previously levelled serious claims against both Lincoln and Vearey.

In a statement to police, which found its way to the media and was reported on by News24 at the end of October, Modack claimed someone anonymously tipped him off that Vearey and AGU members were part of a conspiracy to arrest and assassinate him.

Modack further claimed Lincoln and AGU members planned to frame him in the grenade matter – the focus of the Jantjies court case.

Lincoln is left in a potentially dangerous position, with his and the State’s versions of events not having been aired in court.

By simply heading the AGU and seen to be clamping down on organised crime, he has become a direct threat to gangsters.

On top of this, amid internal police battles at a national level and barely four months after Kinnear’s assassination, he has been portrayed a criminal.

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This may be a stomach-churching case of history repeating itself for Lincoln.

Alleged Italian mafia member Vito Roberto Palazzolo. (Photo: EPA / Narong Sangnak)
Underworld boss Cyril Beeka. (Photo: Supplied)

In the mid-1990s in Cape Town, Lincoln was tasked with investigating, among others, suspected Italian mafioso Vito Palazzolo and nightclub security kingpin (and a rumoured apartheid-state operative) Cyril Beeka.

It was suspected these men had forged relationships with corrupt police officers and politicians.

Beeka, who was murdered in 2011, was a close associate of Modack.

Lincoln was later effectively accused of working with Palazzolo. He was subsequently convicted on criminal charges, expelled from the police force in 2003, acquitted of the charges in 2009, and rejoined the police in 2010.

Lincoln maintained that apartheid-era cops framed him, although in October this year the Constitutional Court dismissed his appeal to prove he had been maliciously prosecuted.

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The situation in which Lincoln now finds himself – at the receiving end of claims of trying to collude with suspects, while investigating crimes that include cop corruption – is reminiscent of this previous saga.

Both instances fit into a much broader landscape of state authorities investigating high-profile crimes then themselves facing claims of criminality.

The mounting number of claims against and among Western Cape cops are direct blows to the province’s deeply bruised gut because, regardless of where the truth lies along the scale of fact and fiction, it means duplicitous figures are toying with residents.

Residents in several of the province’s suburbs must put up with near continuous shootings and have to try and protect children who are often caught up in gang crossfire.

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They must also contend with an increasing blur of claims that police officers meant to be protecting them are criminals.

From whatever angle the situation is looked at, residents have been repeatedly stripped of flimsy layers of trust in police, and layers of perceived or real security.

The latest claims against cops come with the sting of Kinnear’s murder still being felt.

In a letter of complaint to his bosses in December 2018, Kinnear said certain police officers, some with links to crime intelligence, were working to frame him and some of his colleagues. (This mirrored what Vearey previously said in relation to smear campaigns.)

Kinnear had also alleged that certain crime intelligence officers were aligned to Modack, who in July this year was arrested along with several cops in connection with firearm-related charges.

National head of Crime Intelligence Peter Jacobs. (Photo: Tracey Adams / ANA)

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South Africa’s head of crime intelligence, Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs, who used to be based in the Western Cape, has labelled the crime intelligence officers Kinnear referred to as a “rogue” unit and advised that it be disbanded.

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Jacobs, in a seemingly unrelated matter, now faces potential suspension.

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Together with Vearey, Jacobs previously headed a massive probe into firearms meant to be in police possession but which were being distributed to gangsters in the Western Cape.

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The duo believed this investigation, uncovering corruption within cop ranks, led to them suddenly being demoted in June 2016.

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Jacobs, Vearey, Kinnear and Lincoln have all been involved in investigating high-profile crimes and allegedly corrupt police officers – a common thread being cops suspected of firearm smuggling.

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Each one of these investigators has, at some stage, been labelled a criminal or professionally side-lined. In the case of Kinnear, his investigations may have led to his murder.

Two large questions float to the top of this tank of claim-infested murk:

Has crime reached the extreme of top police officers, with deep history in intelligence and with access to an array of exclusive state resources, becoming brazen enough to turn to seemingly lesser equipped suspects to help them carry out horrendous crimes?

Or are certain cops getting too close for criminals’ comfort, prompting a volley of concocted claims to be made against them in an elaborate and underhanded attempt to stymy investigations?

Time will hopefully reveal the truth.

For now, it is in a deepening trench of uncertainty between these two questions that residents far removed from the skirmishes are stuck. DM

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