South Africa

SAPS IN CRISIS

Déjà vu as Peter Jacobs transferred out of Crime Intelligence, suspension lifted

National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jaco Marais) / SAPS Crime Intelligence head Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs. (Photo: ANA / Tracey Adams)

National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole has told suspended Crime Intelligence head Peter Jacobs to return to work, but not the same position. He will head a different division, in a situation reminiscent of what happened to him in 2016.

Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs, who has been suspended for three months, may return to work on Thursday, but not as Crime Intelligence head.

Instead, National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole, in a letter to Jacobs, which Daily Maverick has seen, told him: “You are hereby instructed to assume duty at Division Inspectorate, immediately.

“Kindly note that your placement into the post for the Divisional Commissioner: Inspectorate is being affected (sic) in the interest of the Service and, for service delivery requirements.”

It is not clear how long this will be in effect, and it is understood Jacobs may challenge the decision.

Some police officers see the move as an effective demotion.

The police’s 2019/20 annual report says the Inspectorate is “responsible for the professional knowledge-based management of interventions, focusing on non-compliance and/or poor performance of the organisation towards achieving its constitutional objectives”.

National police spokesperson Vish Naidoo did not reply to a query about the matter by the time of publication. He has said previously that disciplinary matters will not be discussed in the public domain.

On Wednesday, the day Sitole’s letter to Jacobs was dated, a Labour Court matter launched by Jacobs relating to his suspension was set to proceed, but did not because police bosses were not prepared.

The overall matter that has led to Jacobs approaching the court and to his transfer out of Crime Intelligence, somewhat mirrors what happened to him in June 2016 when he was head of Crime Intelligence in the Western Cape and was suddenly transferred.

A court later stated that transfers within the SA Police Service (SAPS) needed to be made in the public interest and the police had not proved that this had been the motivation behind Jacobs’s 2016 transfer.

In the latest case, the incidents that led to Jacobs approaching the Labour Court in Johannesburg appeared to start when he and five colleagues were served suspension notices in late November and early December 2020.

These related to allegations of personal protective equipment procurement irregularities involving the secret service account.

However, Jacobs previously countered that there was evidence suggesting that police officers, including Crime Intelligence colleagues, had abused the account.

There are therefore some within the police who believe Jacobs is being unfairly targeted to try to stifle him or distract from what he was exposing – pilfering from a critical state account.

Moving him away from an investigation was believed to have been behind his transfer in June 2016.

The run-up to his latest transfer has involved four months of intense legal to-ing and fro-ing between the country’s top police officers.

It unfolded as follows:

  • 4 November 2020 – an investigation into fraudulent claims involving Crime Intelligence wrapped up. Part of the findings said: “The depth of irregular claims at Head Office undercover office [has] not yet been established.” Jacobs was therefore advised to push forward with an audit;
  • 30 November 2020 – Jacobs was served with a suspension notice, as were five of his colleagues after that;
  • 23 December 2020 – it was reported that Jacobs approached the Pretoria High Court to declare the suspensions unlawful;
  • 8 January – the court ruled the suspension of Jacobs and his five colleagues was lawful;
  • 27 January – it was reported that Jacobs was unexpectedly told he could return to work on 3 March when his suspension was set to end;
  • 22 February – a disciplinary hearing focusing on Jacobs and five colleagues proceeded. However, it was claimed that three officers running this process did not have security clearance and were therefore not legally entitled to access classified documents crucial to the matter. A criminal complaint, on behalf of Jacobs – who said Sitole should have known better than to proceed with the disciplinary under such conditions – was therefore lodged at the Silverton police station in Pretoria relating to the contravention of the Protection of Information Act and the Intelligence Act;
  • 24 February – the disciplinary process against Jacobs and his five colleagues was temporarily halted as Jacobs approached the Labour Court in Johannesburg to try to prevent police bosses pushing ahead with it;
  • 3 March – this Labour Court matter was set to be heard, but police bosses, despite having advance knowledge of what was expected of them, did not file their affidavits in time. Sitole, in a letter, informed Jacobs he was “to assume duty at Division Inspectorate, immediately”;
  • 4 March – Jacobs’s suspension is set to be lifted.

The Labour Court matter is expected to proceed in a week.

It is the second time in five years that Jacobs, as a head within South Africa’s Crime Intelligence division, has approached the court over a transfer.

In the 2016 debacle, he was head of Crime Intelligence in the Western Cape and together with the province’s acting head of detectives at the time, Major-General Jeremy Vearey, was running the country’s biggest gun-smuggling investigation yet.

This investigation, codenamed Project Impi, involved unravelling how police officers were channelling firearms to gangsters, among other things. 

But in June 2016, Jacobs and Vearey were suddenly transferred. 

This, they said, effectively derailed Project Impi.

The duo, who believed they were incorrectly viewed as being part of a political faction within the police, approached the Labour Court in Cape Town to try to overturn their transfers.

In August 2017, Vearey and Jacobs were successful.

According to the judgment in the case, the court found that Jacobs was told he was being transferred from provincial Crime Intelligence head “in the interest of the service-delivery needs of SAPS”.

“The issue of whether the decisions were made in the public interest looms large. The transfer of employees, including those in senior management service of the SAPS, must be effected in the public interest,” the judgment said.

“Taking into account the respondents’ failure to provide any evidence of open and accountable decision making such as to conform to minimum standards of lawfulness and non-arbitrariness, it is the court’s view that the decision to transfer Vearey and Jacobs stand to be reviewed and set aside and remitted back… for decision afresh.”

However, they were only promoted – Jacobs to national Crime Intelligence head and Vearey to provincial detective head in a permanent capacity – after Cyril Ramaphosa replaced Jacob Zuma as head of state in February 2018.

Two years later, though, Jacobs finds himself in a strangely similar situation, which, like the Project Impi saga, is playing out at a national level. DM

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  • If one tries to put all the pieces of the SAPS power struggles, it seems to me that Jacobs, like Kinnear, is being punished for drawing attention to corruption and cooperation with gangs among the SAPS upper ranks.

  • Wow. Somebody needs to interview our NPC to ask him what he understands by classified and security clearance. Claiming that documents are classified to keep the person with the highest security clearance in the nation from reading them seems ‘less than sagacious’, if we’re using charitable words.