Military intelligence, frozen funds and 5 000 guns: Details of national firearms probe

2017-08-04 16:39
Major-General Jeremy Vearey (left) and Major-General Peter Jacobs outside the Cape Town Labour Court. (Caryn Dolley, News24)

Major-General Jeremy Vearey (left) and Major-General Peter Jacobs outside the Cape Town Labour Court. (Caryn Dolley, News24)

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Cape Town - Police investigators paired up with SA National Defence Force (SANDF) generals to gather intelligence on how guns were stolen from military bases and then sold as part of a mammoth countrywide firearms investigation.

Details of the probe, as well as the impact more than a thousand stolen guns had on the public, are contained in documents submitted in the Cape Town Labour Court.

Two top Western Cape police officers previously involved in the investigation - Major-General Jeremy Vearey, who was deputy provincial commissioner for detective services, and Major-General Peter Jacobs, who headed the province's crime intelligence unit - were in June 2016 suddenly transferred from these posts.

They found this unfair and turned to the Cape Town Labour Court, which on Thursday set aside their transfers.

READ: 10 things you should know about the national gun smuggling investigation

National police spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe on Friday told News24 management was studying the court's decision and its implications.

"Once this has been concluded, we will consider our options and decide on a way forward that will be in the best interest of the service."

A report on the firearms investigation - named Project Impi, by Vearey, and dated September 13, 2016 - details the probe.

READ: Labour Court sets aside 'demotion' of 2 Western Cape top cops

5 000 guns

The report said he and Jacobs had initiated Project Impi in December 2013 after the police ballistics unit in the Western Cape "detected a unique signature" in the way some guns used in gang violence were altered.

"The investigation team, under supervision of Maj General Veary [sic] seized and took control of approximately 5 000 firearms from the Gauteng Firearm stores… these firearms were to be 'illegally' destroyed and then sold to Cape Town gangs."

Vearey's report said that, between 2010 and 2016, at least 1 666 murders, 1 403 attempted murders and 315 other crimes were committed with guns stolen from the police.

It said that, in 2015, it was discovered that SANDF firearms meant to destruction, as well as heritage guns, were being illegally sold by police.

He and Jacobs consulted with SANDF generals.

"This resulted in the allocation of military intelligence support to Operation Impi," the report said.

Another court document said: "It was further discovered that certain persons are in possession of fully automatic military rifles which are licensed (suspiciously). There are indications that these people belong to Rightwing groups and an urgent need to investigate this exist."

The report by Vearey said further investigation was still needed into several areas: The illegal import and export of firearms; the theft of guns from military bases; the reactivation of dismantled firearms; and the unlawful manufacturing of firearms using stolen gun components.

READ: Police managers 'decimated' gun smuggling investigation resulting in murders - 2 top cops

'Challenges'

Under a section headed "Challenges", the report said Lieutenant-Colonel Clive Ontong, who was also leading the probe into the firearms, had reported that his provincial investigating team had been reduced to four detectives.

In a sworn statement, Ontong said Vearey had approached him in December 2013 about the influx of guns into the Western Cape.

He said, on September 9, 2016, he applied to go to Gauteng to get a witness placed under protection as part of the investigations.

"I was told by Lt Col Geldenhuys from the provincial finance office that Project Impi was not renewed and he would not make funds available. I thus could not go to Gauteng."

The scale of the impact the stolen guns had was hinted at in the court papers - 261 children in the Western Cape were shot with guns stolen from police.

A list of them is attached to Vearey's court papers.

The children were shot in areas including Belhar, Bishop Lavis, Delft, Elsies River, Manenberg and Lentegeur.

These areas are known gang hot spots.

READ: Man killed, 3 injured in shooting at Cape Town shopping centre

Children killed

According to the list, in 2011 a 1-year-old boy was wounded in Bishop Lavis, which is currently one of the Western Cape's most volatile areas in terms of gang violence.

While most children on the list are named, some are simply listed as "unknown".

A source with intimate knowledge of the gang situation in the province told News24 it was suspected that many of the approximately 1 200 stolen police guns which were unaccounted for were now with 28s gang members.

The 28s gang has a stronghold in areas like Bishop Lavis.

Read more on:    police  |  jeremy vearey  |  cape town  |  corruption  |  crime

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