‘Dirty cops’: two freed from custody amid talk of deal with state

2012-06-22 00:00

TWO police colleagues of Durban’s alleged “execution squad” were quietly released from custody yesterday amid speculation that they had cut a deal with the state.

After a morning of interrogation by investigators, Dumisani Nzama and Sivuyile Ngodwana were surprise omissions in court as the remaining 18 members of the disbanded Durban organised crime and intervention units were led into the dock for their bail application.

It was the first glimpse of the men following their highly publicised arrests the day before in a joint operation involving the Hawks and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

All 20 officers were held overnight in Durban Central police stations cells after failing to secure their release with an urgent application in the high court earlier in the evening.

Their arrests were linked to various operations in which suspects and civilians were killed by the Cato Manor-based unit, and the crime scenes allegedly staged to make the deaths look legitimate.

Investigations began in December last year following media reports of the unit’s activities.

Investigators brought a list of 71 charges yesterday — among them 14 counts of murder, another 14 for defeating the ends of justice and associated charges of unlawfully possessing firearms and ammunition.

Defence advocate Guido Penzhorn SC told magistrate Sharon Marks that police had denied him and instructing attorney Carl van der Merwe access to their clients.

He added that two accused — later established to be Nzama and Ngodwana — had been separated from the group and interrogated.

The provisional indictment contained the names of the men, which were missing from a later version submitted to court.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga refused to state whether the pair would turn state witnesses in return for indemnity from prosecution, saying only that “anything is possible”.

He confirmed they had been released as part of the “prosecution’s strategy” to deal with the men separately.

The defence team also appeared to be in the dark as to the status of Nzama and Ngodwana. The men had begun the day as their clients but were freed by the afternoon.

Emotions in the Durban Regional Court ran high throughout the day as family and friends of the officers squeezed into the courtroom.

Sacked police commissioner Bheki Cele arrived to a warm round of applause before proceedings started and was ushered to a seat in the gallery.

Wives and colleagues of the accused addressed him by his former rank of general and took turns thanking him for showing support.

In a statement released later, Cele paid tribute to the “legendary” and “gallant” officers “who have repeatedly put their lives in danger to give you and I the assurance that nobody will murder you in your sleep tonight”.

The state, led by prosecutor Raymond Mathenjwa and assisted by six other advocates, is opposing bail on the grounds that the officers pose a threat to their witnesses.

But Captain Neville Eva, testifying on behalf of the accused, denied he or his colleagues would intimidate witnesses, saying it was not in their interests to do so.

Eva, who is gravely ill with a terminal heart condition, refused to talk specifically about the allegations against them.

Instead, he said he and his colleagues had been prepared at all times to make themselves available to investigators and had co-operated fully when asked to hand over their weapons, documents, cellphones and laptops.

Colonel Amod Hoosen, appointed as caretaker of the unit in December when the allegations surfaced, backed the accused, saying he had ensured they fulfilled any requests in terms of the investigation. He added that the officers were in the middle of investigating other cases and needed to be available to testify and to arrange witnesses.

“The justice system will be thrown into chaos if these officers are not available to testify in cases already pending.”

There was huge outcry from the gallery when Mathenjwa told another defence witness, Warrant Officer Vishnu Pillay, it would be impossible for his relative and accused Rubendren “Shane” Naidoo to be released to attend his brother Leon’s funeral.

Leon Naidoo (27) died of a heart attack yesterday while breaking the news of his brother’s arrest to their ailing mother.

Mathenjwa demanded to know why he needed to be with the family, a comment that drew gasps from the public.

He conceded he was open to the idea of Naidoo attending the funeral under police guard. That application will be heard this morning.

Outside court, colleagues of the arrested men waited nervously, expressing concern that they also faced imminent arrest.

The prosecution’s only witness yesterday, Hawks investigator Colonel Frans Khola, said the Hawks were close to making more arrests in connection with another 17 murders linked to cases of taxi violence and ATM bombings investigated by the unit.

Returning to the charges at hand, Khola said evidence from witnesses and ballistic tests showed some of the accused had shot and killed “innocent” suspects and civilians, including a 15-year-old who was asleep on a couch inside his Melmoth home.

He said witnesses would testify that after the killings, some of the accused threatened to return and kill them if they spoke about what had happened.

“The families still live in fear that the accused will come back and do as they said. They are very scared and even if I visit there in a different car, they won’t speak to me. The families also complained about receiving anonymous threats and at one stage vehicles would appear there and shine lights on their houses …”

Khola said other ballistic reconstructions of crime scenes would show that some suspects had been killed while lying on the floor.

The prospects of the men being released on bail before the weekend — if granted — appear remote as the state still has three witnesses to testify while Marks indicated she only had the morning to hear the matter before flying out of the province for the weekend.

And there is a strong likelihood the men will be moved to Westville Prison, where many of the hardened criminals they were responsible for bringing to book are incarcerated.

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