Robert McBride in the firing line

2015-03-08 06:00

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Ipid head accused of changing the findings of a reportin an attempt to protect Hawks bosses – but has asked Parliament for a chance to ‘explain’

Robert McBride is in the firing line and could soon join Hawks bosses Anwa Dramat and Shadrack Sibiya on suspension in the wake of the illegal rendition of five Zimbabweans.

Police Minister Nathi Nhleko has accused McBride, who is the head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), of deliberately changing the findings of a report into the roles Dramat and Sibiya played in the renditions.

Nhleko has also accused McBride of illegally obtaining an “information storage device” from Sibiya’s office without his permission or the permission of national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega.

Two senior sources – one within Ipid and a senior police officer – told City Press that talk of McBride’s suspension began last week.

It is believed he will be suspended “soon”.

The two said McBride and Nhleko’s fallout followed conflicting reports Ipid issued into the role of senior Hawks officers in the renditions.

Last week, in an apparent attempt to save his job, McBride wrote to the parliamentary portfolio committee on police to ask for an opportunity to explain why there were such glaring differences between the two reports.

In the letter, McBride blamed “leaks” for “speculation about the existence of ‘two reports’ and a ‘U-turn’ by Ipid”, which meant that “it is in the interests of justice and the public that Ipid account on the conflicting reports”.

He asked for a special sitting of the committee.

The committee’s chair, Francois Beukman, confirmed receiving McBride’s letter last week.

“We discussed the matter on Wednesday and decided that we will not invite him, because the issues he is raising are also dealt with in the request made by the minister [Nhleko],” he said.

In January, Nhleko asked the committee to axe Dramat, who remains on special leave while settlement negotiations are under way.

“There is also a pending case in the North Gauteng High Court, which prevents us from dealing with the matter,” Beukman said, referring to acting Hawks head Mthandazo Ntlemeza’s appeal to overturn a ruling declaring Sibiya’s suspension unlawful.

City Press has learnt that McBride will write to Beukman again this week to contest his refusal to grant him a special sitting.

In the earlier draft report, Ipid found Dramat and Sibiya were directly involved in the renditions. But the final report – issued two months later and two weeks after McBride’s appointment – cleared them based on additional evidence.

After Dramat and Sibiya were suspended, McBride sent letters to their lawyers saying they had been exonerated.

The senior Ipid source said: “Nhleko called McBride, asking him to explain why there were differences in the two Ipid reports. McBride explained that technical evidence conflicted with statements obtained from witnesses, and it appeared that crime intelligence was the third force in the investigation.”

Crime intelligence officers were the complainants in the case and, the Ipid source said, much of what they and other witnesses said in their statements was contradictory, could not be verified, or was contradicted by “technical evidence”, including the GPS coordinates of cellphones.

“Nhleko was unhappy with his explanation and asked him why he wrote to Dramat and Sibiya informing them that they were cleared of wrongdoing,” he said.

Nhleko’s spokesperson, Musa Zondi, said on Friday that the minister had appointed a law firm to conduct a thorough forensic investigation to establish why the reports differed. City Press has learnt that Zondi was referring to top Sandton firm Werksmans Attorneys.

“The lawyers have been given two weeks to finalise the investigation and we hope by next week they will have completed the process,” Zondi said.

The Ipid source said lawyers called the watchdog’s Limpopo head, Innocent Khuba, who headed the renditions investigation, to get a statement from him. But Ipid bosses and lawyers didn’t let him give a statement.

The source said Ipid regarded Nhleko’s appointment of lawyers to investigate their work as interference with their constitutional mandate.

“Ipid is of the view that, should Nhleko’s lawyers be allowed to interview the investigators, it would set the wrong precedent,” said the source.

The source added that Ipid feared moves to implicate McBride in changing the report, which amounted to defeating the ends of justice, which would provide grounds to suspend him.

“This is the same strategy that was used to suspend Dramat,” he said.

However, a senior source in Nhleko’s office said the minister was just doing his job and ensuring that whoever led the Hawks did not have a cloud hanging over his head. He said Nhleko suspected that McBride was protecting Dramat from investigations and would make sure that, if he were doing so, he would “face the wrath of the law”.

The senior police officer said McBride told several people within the SA Police Service and Ipid that he was aware of Nhleko’s plans to suspend him.

McBride’s request last week for an opportunity to explain, two sources said, was done in the belief that, if he could bypass Nhleko and explain the discrepancies to the committee, he could save his job.

The Ipid source, who was privy to discussions between Nhleko and McBride, said Nhleko asked McBride why he told Dramat and Sibiya about the outcome of the Ipid investigation.

“McBride told him he didn’t see anything wrong in informing the two, because even if they were found guilty, they would also be informed. We understand [Nhleko] has appointed lawyers?...?to establish if McBride changed the findings to protect Dramat. It was clear they were going to dismiss Dramat and Sibiya based on the Ipid draft report, but evidence obtained could not sustain this,” the source said.

The senior police officer said McBride told both Dramat and Sibiya that he was aware of plans to suspend him. “They are also accusing him of theft after obtaining some device from Sibiya’s office,” he said.

The sources did not know what information was contained on the device. Two crime intelligence officials allegedly went to Sibiya’s office to ask for it, but left empty-handed because Sibiya had left with the safe keys.

It is alleged he then asked McBride to take the device.

Ipid spokesperson Moses Dlamini referred all questions to Zondi.

Zondi declined to comment on McBride’s impending suspension and other matters, saying the department did not comment on “rumours”.

In 2010, five men, including Witness Ndeya, Gordon Dube and Pritchard Tshuma, were illegally repatriated to Zimbabwe by the Hawks, but the proper extradition process was not followed. Ndeya and Dube were allegedly murdered by the Zimbabwean police and Tshuma went missing.

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