South Africa

AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

‘Nasrec grabber’-implicated top cop now loses bid to overturn suspension over alleged R500m PPE fraud

‘Nasrec grabber’-implicated top cop now loses bid to overturn suspension over alleged R500m PPE fraud
Former SAPS Deputy Commissioner Francinah Vuma. (Photo: Gallo Images / Laird Forbes)

Former SAPS deputy commissioner Francinah Vuma has lost a second bid to overturn her suspension — this time for alleged involvement in a corrupt R500-million personal protective equipment deal.

On Friday, 14 October, Johannesburg Labour Court Judge André van Niekerk dismissed, with costs, former SAPS deputy commissioner Francinah Vuma’s application for the upliftment of her suspension by National Commissioner Fannie Masemola.

Van Niekerk ruled that there was no evidence to suggest that Masemola’s suspension of Vuma, during an investigation into “matters raised in the [Special Investigating Unit] report”, was “arbitrary, capricious or malicious” in any way and that there was nothing exceptional about her matter.

Vuma, a lieutenant general, was previously found guilty by the Pretoria High Court, along with former National Commissioner Khehla Sitole and Lieutenant General Lebeoana Tsumane, of putting the interests of the ANC ahead of those of the country and thus having “breached their duties”.

The trio were implicated, alongside others, in the attempted procurement of a surveillance device or “grabber” at the inflated cost of R45-million before the ANC’S elective conference at Nasrec in 2017. There, Cyril Ramaphosa slipped into leadership on a banana skin of a vote.

Vuma, Sitole and Tsumane, the court found, had attempted to derail an Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) investigation into the alleged attempted fraud by senior members of the SAPS Crime Intelligence division. 

Vuma was placed on precautionary suspension on 8 July 2022 as a result of the scathing judgment. The matter has now reached a bargaining council in relation to Vuma’s charges relating to her actions with regard to the Ipid investigation.

A day before her latest suspension, Vuma addressed a “protected disclosure” to Ramaphosa, in which she accused “senior government officials” and SAPS colleagues of attempting to silence her or kill her.

As the SAPS had been unable to conclude its disciplinary against her within the required 60 days, Vuma was due to return to work on 6 October. Instead, she was slapped with a second notice of suspension on the same day.

Vuma argued in the labour court that her suspension was a breach of the Protected Disclosures Act. The court countered that what Vuma actually sought was to be granted “immunity from all disciplinary processes”.

There are still other legal avenues open to Vuma to challenge her suspension.


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Irregular expenditure

In August 2022, the SIU made it known that Vuma was implicated in an investigation into R500-million irregular expenditure by the SAPS on personal protective equipment (PPE) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Masemola has since tasked Lieutenant Koliswa Constance Otola, the Northern Cape provincial police commissioner, to determine whether disciplinary proceedings against Vuma are warranted.

It was Vuma, as deputy commissioner for support services, who had been tasked by Sitole with investigating former Crime Intelligence head Peter Jacobs, who was shafted after uncovering massive fraud in his division.

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

The R500-million dodgy PPE deal relates to the period between 29 March and 3 April 2020, days after the announcement of a national Level 5 lockdown.

In that short space of a week, millions were spent by the SAPS to procure emergency PPE equipment from South African companies that appear to have been brokers rather than suppliers or manufacturers. 

While Jacobs was immediately placed on precautionary suspension by Sitole when charges of his alleged involvement in PPE irregularities surfaced, Vuma and her co-accused were allowed to continue to work and make crucial decisions.

In a letter challenging his suspension back in December 2020, Jacobs had alerted Sitole that he had uncovered massive fraud.

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

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

Back then Sitole, who “stepped down” by “mutual agreement” in February 2022, 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.

Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole bows out after mutual agreement and ‘in the best interests of the country’

Jacobs’ suspension and firing has since been declared illegal. He now heads the police’s Inspectorate Division — vindicated, but not back in the saddle he was so crudely shoved off of. DM

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