SAPS knew of private Eskom corruption probe while significant portions of De Ruyter statements corroborated
The top echelons of the SA Police Service already knew in July 2022 of the private intelligence-driven investigations at Eskom. This emerged after three hours of persistent questioning by lawmakers. On Tuesday, significant portions of former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s controversial public statements were corroborated.
Two immediate take-outs emerge from Tuesday’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) proceedings: one, officials have become accustomed to accountability to Parliament being a PowerPoint presentation; and two, the SA Police Service (SAPS) and Hawks seemed to take a political line in dismissing the cartel corruption claims made by ex-Eskom CEO André de Ruyter in an e.tv interview, and later in statements to Scopa.
Controversy erupted when De Ruyter talked of the involvement of unnamed “high-level politicians” of the governing ANC in organised crime and corruption that bleeds more than R1-billion a month from Eskom.
Within days he departed from the power utility – some five weeks earlier than agreed in his resignation of December 2022. The fallout also cost him the public backing of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, under whose umbrella Eskom falls.
And, the ANC is suing De Ruyter over his comments.
On Tuesday, it seemed the SAPS and Hawks took their cue from their political bosses to downplay De Ruyter’s statements on organised crime at Eskom, informing top law enforcement agencies about this while also reporting cartel conduct involving at least R100,000 as required in Section 34 of the Prevention and Combating of Organised Activities Act (Precca).
Hawks boss Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya repeatedly told Scopa they received a statement from De Ruyter only a day before his appearance before Scopa in late April, and it remained to be “tested” to see if it complied with Precca requirements, including a so-called prescribed form.
SAPS national commissioner Lieutenant-General Fannie Masemola confirmed the 4 June and 5 July 2022 meetings involving De Ruyter, while repeatedly telling MPs nothing specific was brought to the table.
But lawmakers’ persistent questions across the party political divide, and their clearly stated dissatisfaction about police responses, shifted the meeting from official fudginess to actual detail.
“I became aware there is a private investigator that is involved. Not intelligence…” responded Masemola in an exchange with Scopa chairperson IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa, saying this had been “recently” – before settling on July 2022.
It was the response to direct questions from DA MP Alf Lees about what exactly was reported to the national commissioner by Brigadier Jaap Burger who Masemola appointed as liaison, as De Ruyter told Scopa on 26 April, although he kept mum on the name, saying it was up to the police to disclose that.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Tight-lipped De Ruyter rejects ANC claims of Eskom corruption inaction — points to Gordhan, Mufamadi for answers
Read more in Daily Maverick: Gordhan and Mufamadi to brief MPs on corruption at Eskom after De Ruyter refuses to name names
According to Masemola, it had been enough for him to learn from the brigadier that matters raised by De Ruyter were already under investigation by the Hawks, and later also by the Investigating Directorate of the National Prosecuting Authority.
But around this time in mid-2022, the SAPS established a centralised team including the uniform branch, special forces and investigators from both the SAPS and Hawks. Eventually, it based itself at Megawatt Park, Eskom’s head offices in Johannesburg.
Clearly, two-way communication existed between the SAPS and Eskom. It was only this feedback that would have made it possible for De Ruyter to tell Scopa on 26 April of 43 arrests and “raids on black sites”.
To De Ruyter, such action was proof that reaching out directly to law enforcement bosses and sharing the intelligence-driven private investigations had produced results.
It’s a view shared by Business Leadership South Africa, which has publicly confirmed it helped fund the Eskom private investigations, just as it is assisting government’s National Energy Crisis Committee with R100-million through the Resource Mobilisation Fund, according to CEO Busi Mavuso’s newsletter on Monday.
Rolling power cuts leave South Africans without electricity for up to 12 hours a day. The blackouts impact businesses whose operational costs have exploded over the need to invest in alternate sources of power like generators and diesel. Small business has particularly suffered because of a lack of resources to buffer against the blackouts.
The SA Reserve Bank has cut expected economic growth to 0.2% in 2023.
The seemingly politically influenced posturing of the police and Hawks in the political controversy surrounding De Ruyter’s comments undercuts what’s being done – even if questions must be asked about security services outsourcing their constitutional responsibilities to an entity not established in law or regulation: the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints).
Aside from the national energy security priority committee under NatJoints, 20 energy infrastructure task teams have been established. A total of 10,971 searches were conducted, 118 unregulated dealers closed down and 356 people were arrested, according to the SAPS PowerPoint presentation.
The SAPS has 1,660 general Eskom-related cases on its books, from theft to assault, with 103 arrests and 143 more complicated cases under investigation.
Inspections at 601 scrapyards and 154 unregulated coal yards – one 40-hectare farm had 28 such sites – were conducted alongside 388 visits to 14 coal power stations and 1,470 at-risk substations.
“Operational measures have clearly disrupted the activities of criminals. We are not out of the woods yet,” said Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs, who chairs the energy security priority committee.
With the SAPS’ knowledge of the Eskom private investigations dating back as far as July 2022 now on public record, it could open different perspectives in a toxic mix of politics, policing and rolling blackouts.
‘Failed to act’
Or, as ANC MP Sakhumzi Somyo later put it to Police Minister Bheki Cele: “It is a fact your commissioner is not responding satisfactorily. It looks like the former (Eskom) CEO is correct… the police have all this kind of information, but they failed to act somewhat.”
Substantial questions remain.
De Ruyter told Scopa on 26 April that Eskom had established a system to inform the Hawks in line with Section 34 of Precca.
“There are many of these incidents… more than 100 incidents. Those reports are made. There is a distinct process that is in place to ensure we keep the DPCI (Hawks) informed.”
Yet, on Tuesday, the Hawks boss told MPs De Ruyter’s statement of 25 April was the first they had received from him. Even if semantics leave the door open to the possibility of other Section 34 reports from Eskom – the Hawks are investigating 60 cases involving organised crime syndicates – it fudges matters.
And the whereabouts of the report, or reports, of the private, intelligence-driven investigation are unclear.
Special Investigating Unit boss Andy Mothibi told MPs that when they requested a copy from Eskom, “We were advised on 5 May Eskom is not in possession of that report.” DM