State to paint picture of rogue cops

2012-08-24 00:00

DURBAN’S Organised Crime unit was nothing more than a mafia operation whose members killed and stole and then doctored crime scenes for their own gain.

And at the apex of that criminal organisation was the “Don” himself — Major-General Johan Booysen, whose position as provincial head of the Hawks allowed him to run the enterprise with ruthless and deadly efficiency.

That, in essence, is what the state will set out to prove when one of the most anticipated trials involving police members gets under way.

A trial date will be set today in the Durban Regional Court when Booysen and 29 other policemen appear together for the first time.

Yesterday, Booysen and 11 officers entered the court as suspects linked to more than two dozen extra-judicial killings between May 2008 and September 2011 by the Organised Crime Unit.

They walked out on bail of R5 000, having spent the night in the Durban North police cells following their arrests on Wednesday.

Another 18 of their colleagues arrested and bailed in June will join them in the dock today.

All of them face more than 100 charges of murder, theft, defeating the ends of justice and possession of illegal firearms and ammunition.

But the key charge is one of racketeering, which has been added after prosecutors felt the unit’s alleged illegal activities amounted to organised crime.

Just how they expect to prove it will become clearer when the indictment, which usually details the specific nature of the charges, is presented in court.

It is expected to cite Booysen and a handful of commanders at various levels within the unit as being the enterprise’s bosses.

At least one of those bosses is thought to be Captain Willie Olivier, who was the section commander of Serious and Violent Crimes based at Cato Manor, which fell under Durban’s Organised Crime unit, before SVC, as it was known, was subsumed in 2006.

When the first 18 were arrested two months ago, charges centred on the suspicious deaths of suspects and civilians.

At the time, Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) spokesperson Moses Dlamini hinted that further charges and arrests would likely follow. IPID, the independent police watchdog, is the investigative authority behind the arrests.

It is almost certain that the extra charges mentioned then by Dlamini relate to deaths in the taxi industry and those of alleged suspects linked to ATM bombings.

And that undoubtedly would put the focus on the murder of Superintendent Zethembe Chonco, who was mediating between warring associations when he was killed in August 2008.

Nine members of the KwaMaphumulo Taxi Association, blamed for carrying out the hit on Chonco, were shot dead in the course of the following year by Cato Manor members.

In roughly the same period they also shot dead five people suspected of being part of a syndicate carrying out ATM bombings.

Yesterday Dlamini refused to discuss details of the indictment.

“An unsigned copy of the indictment has been given to the defence and tomorrow we will enter a formal version into the court record.”

He also refused to disclose details of state witnesses, whose numbers could run well into the hundreds.

However, Dlamini did say they were confident their forensics, coupled with eyewitness accounts, would present formidable evidence.

The decision to prosecute Booysen for racketeering would not have been taken lightly as the state must prove a pattern of such activity.

And although theft charges are among the allegations, it is unclear how far these would go towards convincing a judge that the goal, if any, was monetary gain.

But The Witness has established that prosecutors may argue the members scored increases at work because they came across as successful crime fighters.

Details from the first charge sheet claimed the shootings were staged to look like they were conducted in self-defence, with firearms allegedly planted at the scene to enhance the impression.

The Witness has also learnt that the racketeering count relies on claims that members were given rewards by rivals of some of those shot dead.

Booysen handed over his passport as part of his bail conditions yesterday, and was ordered to do the same with his cellphone.

• brett.horner@witness.co.za

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