Sunday Times must say sorry to Byleveld

2012-06-09 08:24
The Sunday Times must apologise to former police detective Piet Byleveld for insinuating that he might have accepted a gift from someone who was under investigation. (File, Sapa)

The Sunday Times must apologise to former police detective Piet Byleveld for insinuating that he might have accepted a gift from someone who was under investigation. (File, Sapa)

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Johannesburg - The Sunday Times must apologise to former police detective Piet Byleveld for insinuating that he might have accepted a gift from someone who was under investigation, the deputy press ombudsman Johan Retief ruled on Thursday.

"The Sunday Times is directed to apologise to Byleveld for unfairly insinuating in the headline and the intro that he may have been aware of the fact that he had accepted a gift from someone who was under investigation for being part of the notorious Rolex Gang," said Retief.

"Thereby needlessly harming his reputation and integrity.... The intro may have been accurate, but it was not fair because it created the impression that Byleveld knew or ought to have known that Vardas was under investigation -- and that he nevertheless accepted the gift."

Retief said that even though his denial was published later in the story, the insinuation 'needlessly damaged his character and reputation'.

Byleveld and retired jeweller Tony Vardas complained about a front page story in the Sunday Times on February 12, stating Byleveld accepted a wedding band from a man linked to the Rolex Gang.

Among the list of complaints from Byleveld were that the contents of the story and the headline were slanted, and the story falsely suggested the wedding band was obtained through criminal activities.

Vardas complained that the story falsely linked him to the Rolex Gang. The reporter did not ask for his comment or had not tried to verify the information in an affidavit, and the story falsely says that he gave Byleveld a wedding ring.

Retief remarked that if the journalist had reported up front that Byleveld did not know about Vardas' possible link to the Rolex Gang, there probably would not have been a story.

"The intro was therefore carefully construed to allow for the story to follow. This is fundamentally unfair - to create a false impression, only to 'rectify' it later," he said.

"In the meantime, though, somebody's reputation and integrity were needlessly harmed."

Byleveld said he was unaware of an affidavit made by a person linked to the Rolex Gang, but the newspaper denied this report and said Byleveld was aware of Vardas' links to the gang, said Retief.

"I do not think, however, that there is any insinuation that Byleveld could be 'linked' to the gang just because he accepted a gift from a possible suspect," he said.

Person of interest

Retief found that the Sunday Times article was a fair and reasonable reflection of the information it had in its possession regarding Vardas' complaint about being linked to the Rolex Gang.

"I also take into account that nowhere does the story state his 'link' to the gang as fact," said Retief.

"The intro says that he was 'under investigation' [which is apparently true, based on the information obtained from four policemen] and consistently mentions his 'alleged' involvement with the gang."

In February, the Sunday Times reported that Byleveld thanked Vardas for the wedding band in a magazine article.

"He said that is what he wanted to give us, for a wedding present," Byleveld reportedly said.

At the time, Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela said Vardas and two others were subjects of an "ongoing investigation".

Vardas was "a person of interest" in the Rolex gang case, other police members told the newspaper.

The gang followed and robbed wealthy people - including Discovery chief executive Adrian Gore, and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale's wife Judy Sexwale -- of their jewellery. They were most active in Johannesburg's northern suburbs.

Byleveld retired in 2010 after an illustrious police career, during which he arrested some of the country's most notorious criminals.

He said he knew Vardas from a case he investigated "many moons ago", in which Vardas was a witness. Byleveld denied that Vardas was a friend and said Vardas had organised the ring through a jeweller, who measured his then fiancee's finger.

Vardas did not supply her engagement ring.

Retief dismissed Vardas' complaint entirely.

The Sunday Times was directed to publish one of two texts on its front page.

- SAPA
Read more on:    piet byleveld  |  johan retief  |  media
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