Top cops claim critical investigations derailed by politics

2017-08-04 08:46
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 - Former MP Vytjie Mentor’s state capture statement to police made it seem as if two senior Western Cape policemen were part of a political faction, and that ultimately led to their sudden transfers last year which jeopardised critical national investigations, the top cops say. 

These major investigations included looking into whether illicit firearms were being smuggled out of South Africa, if firearms were being stockpiled against the state by right wing groups, and how cops were colluding with gangsters to smuggle guns to them.

Labour Court papers show that at least 1 066 murders, 1 403 attempted murders and 315 other crimes were committed with guns stolen from police. Among those incidents were the shootings of 261 children. About 1 200 of these stolen guns are still unaccounted for.

Major-General Jeremy Vearey and Major-General Peter Jacobs say Mentor’s statement, and the fact that they regularly reported to then national police commissioner Riah Phiyega about the firearms probe, resulted in them being sidelined and the investigations they were instrumental in being effectively crippled.

On Thursday the Cape Town Labour Court ruled that their sudden June 2016 transfers should be set aside and reviewed.

Provincial police on Thursday referred News24's queries on the matter to the national police, who were yet to respond by the time of publication.

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

In Labour Court papers police denied Jacobs and Vearey were transferred due to "political factionalism". 

Police said officers were able to tackle gang activities without transferring the duo back to their previous posts and that it was "ludicrous" of them to suggest otherwise.

The police also said while Vearey and Jacobs played a significant role in the guns investigation, they "display a lack of due modesty" and overlooked the work of others.

Revisit probes

After the Labour Court ruling setting aside their transfers was read out on Thursday, Vearey and Jacobs said they would revisit investigations they had been busy with before.

"We'll have to understand what happened once we’re allowed access to those dockets," Jacobs said.

They would look at how their transfers impacted on investigations.

In June 2016, Vearey, who was deputy provincial commissioner for detective services, was suddenly shifted to a position he had previously filled - commander of the Cape Town cluster of police stations. 

Jacobs, who headed the province's crime intelligence unit, was appointed Wynberg cluster commander.

Their affidavits in the matter shed light on apparent deep rooted problems, linked to politics, dividing the police.

Mentor's affidavit - 'political storm'

Vearey’s affidavit said when he had been deputy provincial commissioner for detective services he was "responsible for ensuring the recording of a contentious statement to the SAPS by a certain [Vytjie Mentor] and the proper handling of its content". 

Mentor's statement detailed, among other aspects, claims about the controversial Gupta family's close ties to President Jacob Zuma.

"Although she specifically requested that I take her statement it was recorded routinely by members under my command," Vearey said.

The national police commissioner’s office had afterwards directed the statement to then-Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza.

Vearey, in his affidavit, said the statement was somehow leaked to a national Sunday news publication.

"A political storm arose because the statement related to vexing political issues of state capture.

"[Mentor] then revealed that I was the person that had arranged for the recording of her statement. This fueled the narrative... that I was involving myself in factional politics. This narrative and notion had no basis in fact."

'Phiyega's people'

Jacobs, in his affidavit, said he and Vearey were wrongly perceived as "Phiyega's people" - at the time she had been national police commissioner.

Phiyega went on to be suspended in October 2015 following the 2012 Marikana massacre in which 34 miners were killed by police in Rustenburg.

"Before we were transferred, a purge of 'Phiyega's people' occurred at a national level over a period of five months commencing during December 2015,” Jacobs said.

He said he and Vearey were perceived as siding with Phiyega due to the "firearm investigation, which affected both the SAPS and the whole country".

"We briefed her formally on the investigation on at least four occasions."

In a responding affidavit, police said there had been no such purge of "Phiyega's people".

'Compromised' police head

Jacobs and Vearey were tasked with developing an investigation and intelligence approach in dealing with taxi violence affecting both KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. This, they say, added to divisive perceptions.

Western Cape police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khombinkosi Jula had at one stage been the deputy provincial commissioner of KwaZulu-Natal responsible for visible policing.

Jacobs and Vearey’s investigation into taxi violence in that province covered the time Jula was based there.

"Our enquiry into what had been done to address the taxi violence indicated a serious lack of operational coordination and a basic lack of operational leadership. [Jula] was compromised," Jacobs said.

Vearey, in his affidavit, said he and Jacobs, together with a team, managed to clamp down on massive corruption involving stolen police guns.

Two gun smuggling networks

This related to an ex-police colonel, Chris Prinsloo, now serving a jail sentence, who previously said he had sold at least 2 000 firearms to Rondebosch businessman Irshaad “Hunter” Laher who allegedly paid him to steal guns meant for destruction.

Laher and Vereeniging arms dealer Alan Raves are the accused in a case linked to the alleged selling of firearms, meant to have been destroyed by police, to gangsters around the Western Cape.

Vearey said the Western Cape investigation became a national one.

"[Jacobs] and I, together with our team, were close to making arrests when we were transferred and disbanded," he said.

Vearey and Jacobs had also uncovered a network which distributed illicit heritage and military weapons.

"Our investigation identified role players involved in cross-border trafficking of military armaments. When we were transferred our team were investigating both networks," Vearey said.

Firearms, he said, were being smuggled from South Africa to other countries.

"The investigation had also identified that firearms were possibly being stock piled for crimes against the state by right wing groups…

"With our transfers, our specialised skills and acquired knowledge of how the network was operating was lost to the investigation."

Vearey said there was never a handover to another team.

“The whole operation has simply been allowed to grind to a halt.”

On Monday News24 reported that the gun smuggling investigation had since been transferred to the Hawks and the investigative team, without Vearey and Jacobs, was reassembled.

They were said to be going after gunmen involved in more than 1 066 murders.

Some of the suspects had since fled and others had died, while the future of the investigation had not been certain.

Read more on:    saps  |  cape town  |  politics  |  crime

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