Cop vs cop in slander spat

2013-06-02 10:00

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Head of the forensic science laboratory sues junior officers and demands they retract their statement he is to blame for acts of corruption.

One of the country’s top cops has sued three lower-ranking police officers for defamation after they blew the whistle on alleged corruption and mismanagement on his watch.

Lieutenant General Johannes Phahlane is the head of the police’s forensic science laboratory.

Phahlane is also suing the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) and is demanding a written apology.

In papers filed in the North Gauteng High Court, Phahlane demands that Popcru’s Gauteng secretary, Matsemela Matsemela, and the three officers – identified only as Lieutenant Colonel Ramalobe, Warrant Officer Malatjie and Warrant Officer Ramalepe – retract their statement that he is to blame for acts of corruption at the lab.

Popcru has rejected Phahlane’s lawsuit as a “cheap publicity-seeking stunt that will not win in court”.

The police lab deals with fingerprint, document, ballistics and physical evidence.

Phahlane’s lawyer, Mervyn Dendy, told City Press that Matsemela and the three officers, who work at the lab, “defamed” Phahlane.

They also “injured his reputation” when they held a press conference last September and called for National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega to axe him within seven days, Dendy said.

At that press conference, Popcru claimed the trio was slapped with disciplinary charges soon after the union delivered a damning dossier about the lab to Parliament’s police portfolio committee and Phiyega.

In the dossier, Popcru and the whistle-blowers claimed that widespread corruption, nepotism and theft were behind the massive backlogs at the lab – and placed the blame squarely at Phahlane’s door.

The union alleged that:

» Phahlane ignored evidence presented to him about parts of a R46 million DNA database machine allegedly being illegally sold for scrap;

» Ignored evidence about the alleged theft of drugs worth R500 million confiscated as evidence from various crime scenes; and

» Did not act on allegations of sexual harassment and sabotage of criminal cases by members of his division.

In his summons, Phahlane labels as “false” allegations in the dossier that claimed the lab had a backlog of more than

5 000 cases.

Phahlane maintains that when the dossier was drafted, the lab had a backlog of only 182 cases.

He blames Ramalobe entirely for the backlog and accuses him of sabotaging evidence analysis.

Phahlane says in his application the allegation of sabotage relates to the lab’s response to a request by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

The NPA asked the lab to fast-track an analytic report into a fraud investigation of a bogus doctor in Soshanguve, Phahlane says in court papers.

Ramalobe claimed that the lab sabotaged the case and acted in a corrupt manner when it claimed there was a shortage of senior analysts to investigate the fraud case.

But Phahlane says Ramalobe failed to “timeously” inform the lab’s management about the urgency of the NPA’s request and “instead utilised this matter as a source of a complaint to Popcru, knowing that Popcru would, or might, as a reasonable possibility, publish this allegation”.

“I am instructed that Lieutenant Colonel Ramalobe was the source of the allegations as to the sabotage of services and the person responsible for the so-called sabotage,” said Dendy.

Phahlane has also denied the union’s claims that he promoted a female colonel to brigadier within six months because he had a “personal relationship” with her.

He has rejected accusations by Popcru and the other respondents that he was guilty of “doctoring” crime statistics.

He also denies being guilty of “dereliction of duty” for failing to institute disciplinary steps against an official who allegedly stole a rhino horn and another who was accused of sexual harassment.

Dendy told City Press they were not planning to sue any of the three newspapers that published the allegations against his client because “I decide who I actually think is culpable”.

Matsemela questioned why Phahlane would target whistle-blowers. “Investigations based on our dossier are continuing and Phahlane knows that. Why would he try and make a quick buck before retirement?

“Our allegations have been proven so far on the rhino horn thief who was sentenced and is at Pretoria Central prison,” said Matsemela.

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