DM168 Investigation

SAPS PPE scandal: Clash of top brass amid claims of massive corruption

By Marianne Thamm 17 January 2021
Caption
Illustrative Image/Police commissioner Khehla Sithole.

Top cops investigating suspended Crime Intelligence head are themselves in sights of Hawks and Special Investigations Unit for PPE corruption.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

  • At least R200-million was spent procuring emergency PPE equipment from four SA companies, which appear to be brokers rather than suppliers or manufacturers and which do not appear on the SAPS  supplier’s database.
  • Two top cops assigned by Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole to investigate and suspend Crime Intelligence head Peter Jacobs on charges of alleged PPE tender irregularities are themselves at the  centre of  a  Hawks and Special Investigations Unit probe into the R200-million PPE procurement fraud.

Two senior SAPS officers tasked by the Police Commissioner to investigate and suspend Crime Intelligence head Peter Jacobs, on charges of alleged personal protective equipment (PPE) tender irregularities, are themselves the subjects of a Hawks investigation into an alleged R200-million SAPS PPE tender spree.

Lieutenant-General Francinah Vuma, Divisional Commissioner: Financial Management and Administration, as well as Major General Johannes Riet, acting and later Divisional Commissioner: Supply Chain of SAPS, were both in command when the deals went down between 29 March and 3 April 2020, days after the announcement of a national Level 5 lockdown.

In that short space of time, at least R200-million was spent procuring emergency PPE equipment from four South African companies that appear to be brokers rather than suppliers or manufacturers, and that do not appear on the SAPS suppliers database.

The allegedly inflated tenders are now being investigated by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), known as the Hawks, as well as the Special Investigative Unit (SIU), which are both part of the intergovernmental anti-corruption “Fusion Centre” set up in August 2020 by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The multidisciplinary unit comprises SARS, the SIU, the Hawks and the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC).

In May 2020, the Hawks raided the homes of the directors of at least two of the implicated companies, Before Sunset’s pastor Lleka Putuka and Tombo Investments’s Azwodowhi Ramabulana.

The Hawks publicly confirmed the investigation in August 2020, the same month Police Minister Bheki Cele disclosed to Parliament that SAPS had spent about R1.4-billion on PPE as at mid-July 2020.

Whereas Vuma and Riet feature at the centre of these serious allegations, unlike Jacobs, they have not been placed on precautionary suspension or informed of any pending disciplinary proceedings. They continue to work.

Vuma, in fact, was tasked by Sitole to conduct an internal investigation of Jacobs, and it was Riet who, acting on behalf of the National Commissioner, served Jacobs on 30 November 2020 with a notice of intention to suspend in terms of SAPS’s disciplinary regulations.

All of this was contained in Jacobs’s 3 December letter to Sitole challenging the intended suspension.

“I am aware that investigations are underway about the SAPS procurement of PPEs amounting to R1-billion and possibly more. This office has submitted information about the beneficiaries to the relevant investigating authorities,” said Jacobs in his letter to Sitole.

Sitole, in his responding affidavit to Jacobs’ urgent court application, confirmed that he had in fact appointed Vuma to internally investigate Jacobs.

This after allegations contained in a preliminary report by the Inspector General of Intelligence, Setlhomamaru Dintwe, that Jacobs and five fellow senior officers were implicated in the abuse of the Secret Service Account to procure emergency PPE for SAPS were forwarded to Sitole.

Jacobs’s fellow officers, Brigadier Albo Lombard, SAPS Section Head Intelligence Planning and Monitoring; Colonel Isaac Walljee, acting Section Head: Supply Chain Management; Colonel Manogaran Gopal, Section Commander: Vehicle Fleet Management and Asset Management Secret Services Account: Supply Chain Management; Major General Maperemisa Lekalakala, Acting Component Head and CFO: Secret Services Account; and Colonel Bale Matamela, Section Commander: Procurement Secret Services Account were all suspended by Sitole in early December.

Sitole revealed that it was Vuma who on 24 March 2020 had sent out a circular “relating to the guidelines and instruction pertaining to the procurement of products to counter the effects of the CoronaVirus pandemic” and that these would be “centralised by Division Supply Chain Management” from the SAPS open account.

These would all ultimately still be viewed as “emergency” procurements, which would allow for a deviation only for amounts up to R500,000.

Sitole said that given the seriousness of the allegations and the seniority of Jacobs and others implicated in the preliminary report by the IG, “as the National Commissioner, I, on 30 November 2020 appointed Lieutenant General Vuma to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations”.

The question that is raised of course is whether Vuma might have been conflicted in this regard, because she herself was at that stage being investigated by the Hawks and the SIU  also for PPE irregularities.

DM168 asked the National Commissioner’s office why Vuma and Riet were still at work while Jacobs is fighting to have his suspension declared unlawful for similar allegations.

Brigadier Vish Naidoo, the SAPS spokesperson, said in response to detailed questions that no action could be taken against any SAPS member because “no formal report” had been received by Sitole.

“Whenever there is an investigation against any SAPS member or implicating any SAPS member by any investigation entity then such entity would usually submit a formal factual report to the National Commissioner entailing the details of the investigation as well as the extent of the involvement of the member or members. Once that happens, internal processes are then activated,” said Naidoo.

Jacobs took his impending suspension to the High Court, seeking to have it declared unlawful and stating in an affidavit that he was being targeted because he had exposed corruption within SAPS.

The Crime Intelligence head challenged the legality of Sitole’s suspension, a matter he lost when the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruled that the National Commissioner was not only legally obliged but compelled to act on allegations of corruption.

DM168 has obtained documents that the cargo of PPE was delivered to South Africa by Ethiopian Airlines on 8 April 2020 with the order placed by a company listed as SA CH Trading Pty Ltd, No 2 Centex Office Park extension 4, Sandton.

SA CH Trading’s director is currently listed as Xiao Ke Hu, with a South African identity number, whereas the former director is Lin Hu, also a South African resident.

Tebogo Wageng is listed on the invoice as director of Exotiq Logistics South Africa, located at Amathumbu Street, Riverside, Mogale City, and who appears to have been responsible for collecting the shipment.

The cargo destined for SAPS was dispatched by the Chinese firm Beijing Benge International Trading Company, which sourced the materials.

DM168 has viewed several “SAPS supplier’s advice (order of goods and services)” invoices which indicate SAPS paid four companies, Basadi Pele, Related Connection, Tombo Investments and Before Sunset R36 3356000.00 (sic), R36,052,500.00 and two tranches of R60-million respectively between 29 March and 3 April.

The figure on the Before Sunset invoice should read R36,335,600.00 but, in their enthusiasm, someone added an extra zero.

None of the companies lists a VAT number on the invoices, which were signed off by an individual named C Human, from SAPS SCM, with the rider that a Brigadier Mahlangu had provided “verbal authorisation” for payment.

DM168 has learned that a senior officer of the “bid committee” (whose name is known to us) objected to the procurement at the time and would not be party to authorising it. The officer was allegedly removed by Vuma and replaced with another officer.

DM168 was warned by Naidoo not to contact individual SAPS members with queries in regard to the DPCI/SIU PPE investigation.

What the invoices show is that Basadzi Pele, of 58 Park Street, Riviera, Tshwane, was paid R36,335,600.00 for sanitisers and masks on 29 March 2020 and, on the same day, Related Connection, of 119 Tak Street, Menlyn, supplied SAPS with surgical masks worth R36,052,500.00.

Tombo Investments, of 42 Erica Street, Sunnyside, was paid R60-million for surgical masks on 3 April – the same day that a Hartbeespoort company, Before Sunset, also supplied surgical masks worth R60-million.

The address listed for Tombo Investments is a block of residential flats in the Tshwane central business district.

The crisis in Crime Intelligence, a key division in the SAPS, impedes the vital work that is meant to be carried out to prevent endemic crime and gather information that flushes out threats to society.

All four of the companies have opaque electronic footprints and are not registered on the SAPS supplier database.

Questions will no doubt be asked if due diligence was conducted on any of these companies by SAPS leadership and whether Vuma’s alleged removal of an official who objected to the bid could be considered as irregular.

Questions with regard to the progress of the investigation that DM168 sent to SIU spokesperson Kaiser Kyangago were not responded to or acknowledged at the time of writing.

The abuse of the Secret Service Account is central to the State Capture project of the Zuma years, with Richard Mdluli, the now convicted and jailed former Crime Intelligence head and a key ally of the former president, being accused of squandering multi-millions on a range of bogus projects and to further political witch hunts.

Much evidence has been provided to the Zondo Commission with regard to the serial abuse of the Secret Service Account by Crime Intelligence members. Many of those recruited by Mdluli remain in the system.

Minister of Police Bheki Cele appointed Jacobs to head the division in March 2018 and has since been at loggerheads with Sitole about Jacobs’s suspension, which the minister ordered the National Commissioner to “put in abeyance”.

Sitole countered Cele’s instruction.

Sitole, who was appointed by Zuma in November 2017, has committed himself to oversee attempts at eradicating widespread and deep corruption among senior SAPS members. This has already seen at least 20 high-ranking officers criminally charged.

The suspensions of Jacobs and his colleagues effectively removed the entire senior chain of command from the Crime Intelligence division, placing it under the exclusive control of Deputy Commissioner Lieutenant General Sindile Mfazi.

It is no secret that Jacobs and Mfazi have been at loggerheads since Mfazi’s appointment in March 2020 as Deputy National Commissioner responsible for Crime Detection. Jacobs has accused Mfazi of workplace bullying and threats.

Jacobs has previously set out how, when he took the helm in 2018, he found “credible evidence” that the Secret Service Account had been looted by a number of CFOs and/or Divisional Commissioners and other senior Crime Intelligence officers over the years.

He set out how “parallel management systems” had been set up inside Crime Intelligence and that the Agent Programme “was being abused by the placement of a number of officials and/or families and friends, at full pay for an extended period with little or no work to be done”.

Investigations and “revenge” investigations took place under the watch of now-disgraced former acting National Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane, who faces criminal charges with regard to the procurement of blue lights.

Phahlane and Jan Mabula, of the notorious North-West detective squad, were ordered in 2018 by the High Court in Pretoria to desist from investigating Indepedndent Police Investigative Division (IPID) investigators who were probing Phahlane.

The crisis in Crime Intelligence, a key division in the SAPS, impedes the vital work that is meant to be carried out to prevent endemic crime and gather information that flushes out threats to society.

In Jacobs, Sitole has met a soft-spoken but formidable opponent. The Crime Intelligence head has said he is prepared to face a disciplinary hearing but that it should be overseen by an independent body. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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  • As disturbing as this article is, it comes as no surprise. Crime in the police force is common at all levels. However it is at senior level where the damage is irreversible, and it starts at the very very top, with Cele, our so-called minister of police. This wannabee movie star spends his life travelling around the country, with around 30 followers, addressing anyone prepared to listen, and continuously threaten everybody. And that is where the disrespect for the police stars. This man has gone to extremes to get rid of Robert McBride, precious Head of IPID. Why, because McBride exposed the crimes of senior police officers. How this government can expect citizens to trust the polices when the very top is fraudulent, goes beyond me

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