South Africa

AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Criminal cases involving R1.5-trillion — Hawks take stock under Godfrey Lebeya’s watch

Criminal cases involving R1.5-trillion — Hawks take stock under Godfrey Lebeya’s watch
Hawks national head Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya addresses the media briefing at the Government Communication and Information System office in Pretoria on Tuesday, 23 August 2022. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Drugs, corruption, police killings and human trafficking — the Hawks delve into progress made in 22,477 cases involving more than R1.5-trillion.

The national head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI, or the Hawks), Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya, has given details of more than 40 high-profile cases of corruption, money laundering, theft, and human, drug and animal trafficking that the Hawks have dealt with since his appointment in June 2018. 

During the two-hour media briefing on Tuesday, Lebeya highlighted just 45 of the 22,477 cases the Hawks are currently handling, which involve 23,000 suspects, more than half of whom have appeared in court.

The monetary value of these cases racks up to more than R1.5-trillion. 

Unpacking the progress of their major investigations during a media briefing at the Government Communication and Information System office in Pretoria, Lebeya said that the Hawks view “corruption as one of the biggest threats in South Africa”. 

Nine more instigators linked to 2021 unrest arrested

Phala Phala scandal avoided 

The Phala Phala scandal was not addressed.

Considering that former State Security Agency boss Arthur Fraser — who lodged a criminal complaint against President Cyril Ramaphosa in June for holding and then having US dollars stolen from his Limpopo farm — met the Hawks to give a statement, the media wanted to know why.

Lebeya said that the DPCI was handling more than 22,000 cases so he could not mention all of them, particularly ones that were still ongoing.

“Most of the cases that I’ve hinted to are those that we have finalised,” said Lebeya.

He confirmed that Fraser made a statement to the Hawks, adding to the 41 statements the DPCI has filed in the docket on the Phala Phala case.

“I will not deal with the nitty-gritty of the content [of the statements filed in the docket],” said Lebeya.

“But rest assured that 41 statements is more than the statement that the complainant [Arthur Fraser] has filed.”

State corruption

Lebeya said the Hawks considered corruption to be one of the biggest threats to South Africa.

Consequently, to fast-track criminal investigations, prosecution and asset recovery, the Hawks had revitalised the Anti-Corruption Task Team and the Operational Committee.

High-profile corruption cases covered at the briefing included the eThekwini solid waste scandal, in which eThekwini’s former mayor Zandile Gumede and 21 other suspects appeared before a court in May 2019 for offences relating to a R208-million solid waste tender, thanks to the Hawks’ National Clean Audit Task Team.

The 22 suspects arrested for fraud and corruption have been on trial in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court since 22 August 2022.

Lebeya touched on the Venda Building Society (VBS) scandal where inappropriate administering of state funds deposited into the Venda Mutual Bank by municipalities was unearthed.

The investigation involves about 20 municipalities in Limpopo, North West and Gauteng that lost nearly R1.6-billion after irregularly investing with the bank. Thus far, 27 suspects have been arrested, including the former mayor of Thulamela Local Municipality, Avhashoni Tshifhango, and they face more than 188 charges.

Lebeya said more suspects were expected to be arrested and the main case had been postponed to 3 October for trial.

Other corruption cases include that of Superior Quality Trading, also known as Rekgonne Community Projects, where the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development paid more than R244-million to Rekgonne Community Projects in the Estina dairy farm scandal.


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Police officers killed

Since 2018, Lebeya said, the Hawks had arrested 187 suspects for the murder of police officials, 55 of whom were convicted and sentenced.

“In November 2019, the body of Warrant Officer Thulani Ngwabe (51) who was stationed at Margate Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit was found on the railway lines near Port Shepstone beach with multiple stab wounds.”

In 2021, Ngwabe’s wife was convicted and sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment for the murder of her husband.

Lebeya also outlined how following the murder of SAPS Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, a DPCI Task Team was established, which led to the arrest of 23 gang members on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, premeditated murder, and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.

Lebeya said the accused would appear in the Blue Downs Regional Court on 16 September.

Drug trafficking seizures amount to R3bn

Lebeya revealed that R3,383,819,154 worth of drugs had been seized from clandestine laboratories, airports, oceans, land borders and vehicles on the roads.

One of the stand-out cases involved 541kg of cocaine — valued at R216.4-million — discovered in canvas bags inside a legitimate shipment of animal food in June 2021 at Isipingo, Durban.

Lebeya said this was a typical “piggybacking” method, where perpetrators place a duplicate seal inside for easy resealing after the extraction of the drugs by the trafficking organisation.

The following month, an intelligence-driven operation discovered 1,000kg of cocaine — valued at R400-million — in black canvas bags placed inside a legitimate consignment of vehicle and truck parts. A duplicate seal was found in one of the bags.

In a case from June 2021, Lebeya detailed how South African Narcotics Enforcement Bureau (Saneb) investigators stopped a vehicle that was towing a boat on the N1 near Pretoria and found 805kg of cocaine valued at R400-million stashed in the boat.

One accused has since been convicted. Lebeya said the other seven accused had been remanded to 3 October.

Human trafficking

Between the 2018/2019 and 2021/2022 financial years, 85 suspects were arrested for trafficking in persons. In the same period, 18 accused were convicted and sentenced.

A human trafficking investigation opened by the Hawks in 2018 resulted in the arrest of Nigerian citizen Alaba Makonjuola Asabi (38) and the rescue of two Zimbabwean females who were used as “commercial sex workers”.

Lebeya said that Asabi controlled the victims by locking them in a private home for two years before they were rescued in 2018.

The victims were repatriated to Zimbabwe, and in October 2021 Asabi was found guilty and sentenced by the Pretoria High Court to two life imprisonments on two counts of trafficking in persons as well as an additional 45 years for three counts of possession and manufacturing of child pornography and for using the services of a victim.

In another case, after a year of investigation, the Hawks’ Serious Organised Crime Investigation team arrested two people for trafficking in persons, molestation and forced labour in November 2021.

“Thus far, seven victims who are males and females have come forward to lay charges. These victims came through the church between 2005 and 2020. The accused will appear at Eastern Cape High Court sitting at Bhisho on 8 November 2022,” said Lebeya. DM

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