New twist in Cato Manor 'hit squad' saga

2015-07-15 13:20
Cato Manor officers appear in court. (Jeff Wicks, News24)

Cato Manor officers appear in court. (Jeff Wicks, News24)

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Durban - New indications of irregular interference have emerged in the prosecution of the so-called “Cato Manor Death Squad”, with an allegation of a tacit instruction from then police minister Nathi Mthethwa.

The squad, members of the now disbanded Serious and Violent Crimes Unit, as well as KZN Hawks head Johan Booysen, were arrested and charged with racketeering, murder and other crimes in 2012.

The justification for their arrest, made by the National Prosecuting Authority, had been that under Booysen the unit had run a hit squad, with one scenario that they had taken part in revenge killings for criminals who had murdered police officers.

News24 has seen minutes of a meeting between Mthethwa, the acting police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi and high-level NPA officials, where the former allegedly gives an instruction to arrest the squad "within a week".

Serious questions raised over instruction

The minutes, dated July 8, 2012, go on to say that in preparation for this, the team was to “work through the weekend”.  

The NPA, an autonomous body, would not normally take “instruction” from the Minister of Police and the irregularity of the notion raises serious questions.

These allegations were put to Mthethwa through his spokesperson Sandile Memela, who declined to comment.

“Thank you very much for your inquiry. Unfortunately, we do not comment on police matters. There is a department that handles that.

“We advise you to get in touch with the SAPS, the office of the minister or even the spokesperson. Sorry for any inconvenience. I hope you find this in order,” he said, despite the fact that the issues pertain particularly to Mthethwa.

Advocate Paul Hoffman, of the Institute for Accountability in South Africa, said that if the minutes were genuine, Mthethwa’s involvement is highly irregular.

“According to the Constitution a police commissioner is appointed by the President and thereafter a member of Cabinet must be responsible for policing matters. He would have absolutely no business ordering the manager and controller of the police to make arrests.

“He [Mthethwa at the time] had political oversight other than operational functions. At Marikana he made it very clear that he was responsible for the police, but did not get involved in operational matters,” Hoffman added.

The National Prosecuting Authority was approached for comment, but had not responded to questions at the time of publishing.  

High court application

Last week the Cato Manor officers launched a high court application to have the racketeering charges against them set aside.

The officers assert that the decision by then Acting NPA head Nomgcobo Jiba to charge them with racketeering, a legal term for running a criminal enterprise, is irrational and unlawful.

Their application mirrors that of a similar one launched by Booysen, who successfully had racketeering charges against him set aside.

Judge Trevor Gorven, who set aside the charges, had scathing words for Jiba.

“Even accepting the least stringent test for rationality imaginable, the decision of the NDPP does not pass muster. I can conceive of no test for rationality, however relaxed, which could be satisfied by her explanation,” he ruled.

Throughout his application, Booysen has maintained that he was targeted and prosecuted for his pursuit of businessman Thoshan Panday, who was at the time facing charges of bribery, corruption and fraud.

This after members of the unit, not under Booysen’s direct command, were “exposed” by the Sunday Times for allegedly perpetrating extra-judicial killings and making the murders look lawful.

The criminal charges against Panday have also since been withdrawn.  

Read more on:    police  |  npa  |  durban  |  police brutality  |  crime

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