New twist in spy saga
Johannesburg - The fallout among South Africa’s top spies took a further twist this week after claims that the controversial Gupta family was placed under high-level surveillance.
Atul Gupta reacted with shock on Saturday to the news that he and his family may have fallen victim to the possible abuse of state security services. He said the family had been unaware of any surveillance or intelligence conducted.
Gibson Njenje, the head of the State Security Agency’s domestic branch (previously known as the National Intelligence Agency, or NIA), allegedly ordered his agents to spy on the Guptas.
This, City Press was reliably told, contributed to his fallout with state security minister Siyabonga Cwele.
Cwele last week claimed Njenje had resigned, but the spy boss denied this, saying he was still in his job.
Influence at top level
City Press has learnt from a highly placed intelligence source that Njenje ordered that the Gupta family, which is closely linked to President Jacob Zuma and his family, be investigated for, among other things, alleged influence on top government officials and politicians.
Cwele ordered Njenje to stop the investigation. This, according to the source, fuelled the bad relationship between Cwele and Njenje, which ultimately resulted in the minister asking him to leave.
Sports minister Fikile Mbalula reportedly told a recent meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee that he was first told of his promotion to minister by the Guptas before Zuma informed him.
Atul Gupta rejected any notion that they may have asked Zuma to stop the surveillance.
Asked if he had ordered the surveillance of the Gupta family, Njenje said the issue was “not within my knowledge”.
Intelligence spokesperson Brian Dube said he could not comment on any of the allegations.
City Press reported last week that Cwele had asked his three top intelligence bosses to leave the State Security Agency and be redeployed elsewhere in the civil service.
Cwele had announced Njenje’s resignation last Friday “with immediate effect”.
Njenje had been given until Friday to wrap up his office duties, City Press was told.
Njenje said this week he had not resigned and has indicated that he would be back at the office on Monday.
He had told Cwele that he was willing to leave if the minister paid out the remainder of his contract, which expires in a year’s time.
Cwele also asked director-general Jeff Maqetuka and Moe Shaik, the head of the South African Secret Service - now known as the agency’s foreign branch - to leave the agency. Both have refused.
Using intelligence operatives
Njenje apparently intends to refer the issue of unauthorised spending to protect Cwele’s drug-dealing wife, Sheryl, to Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence.
City Press reported last week that Njenje took issue with Cwele using intelligence operatives to protect his wife during her drug trial. Njenje said this issue was also “not within my knowledge”.
Sheryl Cwele, who was formally divorced from Siyabonga Cwele last month, was sentenced to 12 years in prison earlier this year after she procured drug mules to smuggle cocaine. She’s appealing the sentence.
The Mail & Guardian reported on Friday that Cwele allegedly wanted Njenje to put several senior ANC leaders under surveillance and intercept their communication.
Njenje is understood to have told people around him that he was uncomfortable with being badgered by his seniors to conduct surveillance for party political reasons.
Njenje is no newcomer to controversy. He was previously the intelligence agency’s head of operations, but was suspended in 2005.
The inspector-general of intelligence found that he had acted inappropriately in the unauthorised surveillance of former ANC national executive committee member Saki Macozoma.
Njenje initially challenged the suspension, but resigned after a settlement with former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils in November 2005.
It was felt that Zuma repaid a political debt by appointing Njenje as intelligence boss in 2009. It caused a stir in some government and ANC quarters.
At the time of his appointment, there were concerns about Njenje’s links to Bosasa, a facilities management company that, according to a Special Investigating Unit report, was corruptly awarded multimillion-rand tenders by the prisons department.
Atul Gupta reiterated this week that there is an “ongoing campaign” against his family and that they hold no political influence on government.