Cele’s smoking gun?

2012-03-06 00:00

DID day one of the long-awaited inquiry into suspended top cop Bheki Cele’s fitness to hold office produce a smoking gun?

Yesterday, former SA Police Service procurement head Lieutenant-General Hamilton Hlela testisfied that in March 2010, Cele advised him to urgently search for extra office space.

Hlela said in an affidavit that Cele had told him about two floors in a building in central Pretoria that were available for rent.

When he asked who owned the building, Cele replied: “Someone will phone or come to see you.”

The next day, Roux Shabangu, whose Middestad building the police ended up leasing, phoned him out of the blue on his cellphone, Hlela said.

But under cross-examination, Cele’s defence team tried to turn the heat on Hlela.

Advocate Vincent Maleka SC, asked Hlela why he had arranged a meeting with Shabangu on March 31 without telling Cele.

Hlela said he didn’t think it was necessary to inform the police chief, because he had got the impression that Cele wanted him to determine if the space was suitable.

Asked by Maleka whether Cele’s instruction to lease a particular building was improper, Hlela said the market had to be tested, and that one could not just point a finger at a building.

Asked why he had not raised that fact with Cele, he said: “I did not because he wanted the building.”

At times yesterday, Cele shook his head in response to Hlela’s testimony.

Maleka asked Hlela if he agreed with the argument that Cele was corrupt.

“That’s not in my statement,” he said.

“I would have laid a corruption charge if I felt he was guilty,” he added.

The state’s evidence leader, advocate Vince Notshe SC, said at the start of the hearing that Cele proposed the two disputed building leases, in Pretoria and Durban, and then tried to shift the blame when questions were raised.

President Jacob Zuma suspended Cele last October after the release of two damning reports by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela over two leases worth about R1,7 billion for police headquarters in Pretoria and Durban.

Madonsela found that the suspended national police commissioner was guilty of maladministration and had acted unlawfully.

She found that the leases with Shabangu were illegal and invalid.

The commission of inquiry, under Judge Jake Moloi, must determine if Cele is fit for his office.

Introducing Hlela’s evidence, Notshe said it would show that Cele personally identified the Sanlam Middestad building in Pretoria and the Transnet building in Durban for police headquarters.

Hlela resigned last year, shortly before the publication of Madonsela’s reports.

Those reports found that Cele did not personally sign the leases with Shabangu.

Maleka warned Notshe against a “general tendency” of promising evidence that failed to prove anything in the end, particularly relating to Cele’s alleged contravention of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

Before proceedings began, Moloi said the inquiry would not re-investigate what the public protector had already investigated.

It would rather seek to establish whether Cele acted corruptly or dishonestly, or with an undeclared conflict of interest in relation to the two police leases.

“The board is also not sitting as a court of law to review the correctness and accuracy of the public protector’s report,” said Moloi.

The cross-examination of Hlela will continue today.

Another four people are expected to give testimony in the course of the week, while Cele is expected to appear tomorrow.

 

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